T. S. Eliot’s influence upon Modern Literary Criticism: Unification of Sensibility and Dissociation of Sensibility
“In the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in from which we have never recovered.”
- T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)
Selected Essays, "The Metaphysical Poets"
By ‘Unification of sensibility’, T. S. Eliot means ‘a fusion of thought and feeling’, ‘are creation of thought into feeling’, and ‘a direct sensuous apprehension of thought’. He argued that the Metaphysical poets, together with the Elizabethan and the Jacobean dramatists, had a mechanism of sensibility which could accommodate any kind of experience. Eliot points out to Donne's most successful and characteristic effect secured by brief words and sudden contrasts:A bracelet of bright hair about the bone, where the most powerful effect is produced by the sudden contrast of associations of 'bright hair' and of 'bone'… This telescoping of images and multiplied associations were characteristic of some of the dramatists of the period Shakespeare, Middleton and Webster, and is one of the sources of the vitality of their language. He further states that the poets of the seventeenth century (up to the Revolution) were the direct and normal development of the precedent age. However, a dissociation of sensibility set in after the age of Donne, in the late 17th century; there was a split between thought and feeling. The influence of Dryden and Milton has been particularly harmful in this respect.
In essays and lectures
and as well as an
editor of The Criterion,
T. S. Eliot profoundly
a literary forum
for many prominent
The poets in question have, like other poets, various faults. But they were, at best, engaged in the task of trying to find the verbal equivalent for states of mind and feeling. And this means both that they are more mature, and that they were better, than later poets of certainly not less literary ability. It is not a permanent necessity that poets should be interested in philosophy, or in any other subject.
Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning.