By John Peck
A quick heritage of English Literature offers a full of life introductory advisor to English literature from Beowulf to the current day. The authors write of their often lucid sort which permits the reader to have interaction totally with the narrative and simply comprehend the texts in terms of the social, political and cultural contexts within which they have been written. A masterpiece of readability and compression, this booklet is a must-have for a person attracted to the heritage of literature from the British Isles.
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Having conceded that all poetry is ideologically inscribed, that it will in some way exercise an "edifying" power over its reader, Eliot quickly turns his face from the unpleasant corollary of this thesis: namely, that language and style are in large measure instruments of worldly manipulation. Thus we have his emphasis on the common style not as a calculated choice in the propagation of ideas, but as an emblem or even proof of commonness. The movement is away from disquietening relativism - "the standard of edification has been fractured into a variety of prejudices" ("Johnson" 187) - towards absolutism, in which a "common" style comes to be thought of as a "natural" one.
It is hardly necessary to detail the debt. Fresca obviously recalls Belinda, and the situation Eliot describes is precisely that with which Pope opens The Rape of the Lock: the sun enters the heroine's room, and together with the ringing of a bell, awakens her. More striking even than the repetition of events is Eliot's extraordinary care in recapturing the cadences, the characteristic details, of Pope's verse. Eliot writes in rhyming couplets, and in doing so he uses rhymes of distinctly eighteenth-century provenance - "tea" is made to rhyme with "tray," for example (Facsimile 23).
In both works, however, the adoption of an Augustan form is in the first place a literarypolitical gesture, one of the signs of the author's opposition to what he sees as the hegemony of modernist aesthetics. Davie's poem goes beyond gesture to become a witty but fundamentally serious exercise in the tradition of Pope's verse epistles, an explicit working-through of the neo-Augustan poetic which I have found variously evident in Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, and Hope. Not only does Davie commit himself to a "Woefully linear" (16) understanding of time, but he considers the verse forms that are appropriate to it.