Do I dare to eat a peach?


In his general essays—“Tradition and Individual Talent,” “The Function of Criticism,” “Religion and Literature,” and others—Eliot wrote with a range and an amplitude of interest not seen in literary criticism since Matthew Arnold in the previous century or Samuel Johnson nearly two centuries earlier. This breadth, in which he spoke not for literature alone but also for the larger social context in which literature was created, made Eliot seem, somehow, grander, more significant than such estimable American critics as Wilson and Trilling. Through the power of his prose style, Eliot was able to convey, even when writing about the most narrowly literary subjects, that something greater than mere literature was at stake. Wallace Stevens’s poetry is more beautiful, and Robert Frost’s often more powerful, than Eliot’s, but the latter’s, once read, refuses to leave the mind. How much does memorability matter in literature? A vast deal, I suspect, and in poetry above all. And here, in the realm of the memorable, Eliot has left a greater literary residue than any other poet of the 20th century.

more from Joseph Epstein at Commentary here.