Cover image for T.S. Eliot and American poetry
T.S. Eliot and American poetry
Oser, Lee, 1958-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Columbia, MO : University of Missouri Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xviii, 172 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
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Home Location
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PS3509.L43 Z7975 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Written in a fine and lucid prose style, T. S. Eliot and American Poetry presents a critical study of Eliot's major poems as it examines what America means to its poets. Eliot's contribution to a poetic dialogue on this subject with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Robert Lowell, John Ashbery, and other literary figures plays a significant role in this groundbreaking study.

Investigating Eliot's literary inheritance through his familial traditions, represented particularly by his mother, Charlotte Eliot, and in terms of the American Renaissance, Lee Oser addresses all phases of Eliot's career as a poet. Following an introduction that reevaluates the importance of Poe and Whitman for Eliot and modernism, the discussion proceeds from Eliot's reaction against the progressive ethos of late Puritan culture, to the appearance in his writing of numerous figures of exile and disinheritance as an expression of lost American patrimony, to his flight from the realm of history, and his eventual return to the spiritual and cultural traditions of New England. A final chapter weighs Eliot's impact on Robert Lowell, John Ashbery, and Elizabeth Bishop.

Through its dialectical view of American literary and intellectual history, T. S. Eliot and American Poetry constructs a practical methodology for comparing Eliot with other American poets. Juxtaposing Eliot's poems, lectures, and essays (including generous excerpts from Eliot's uncollected prose) with landmark texts by Emerson, Poe, Whitman, and many others, Oser engages in a deeper analysis of Eliot's Americanness than has hitherto been possible. In addressing Eliot's treatment of America as symbol and topos, the work presents a multifaceted chronicle of Eliot's development that enriches formalist and historicist approaches alike.

T. S. Eliot and American Poetry makes numerous original contributions to the field of literary history. No previous work has so richly pursued Eliot's literary and familial inheritance, as well as his legacy to American poetry; the result is a highly nuanced perspective on contemporary debates about poetry, criticism, and culture.

Author Notes

Lee Oser is an Edward Bennett Williams Fellow and Assistant Professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Since Eliot identified so deliberately with all things British, his Americanness is often played down in studies of his work. Oser (English, Millikin Univ.) examines the poet's American literary heritage from such writers as Emerson, Poe, Whitman, and Hawthorne as well as his mother (Charlotte Stearns Eliot) and grandfather (William Greenleaf Eliot). The author also analyzes Eliot's influence on later American poets like Robert Lowell, John Ashbery, and Elizabeth Bishop. Oser's study is unique in that, as he notes, other works on Eliot's American roots have different focuses: Lyndall Gordon's Eliot's Early Years (LJ 1/15/77) and Eliot's New Life (LJ 9/1/88) are critical biographies, and Eric Sigg's The American T.S. Eliot (Cambridge Univ., 1989) concentrates on the poet's early works, while Oser includes later ones such as Four Quartets, considered to be Eliot's major poetic achievement. This scholarly and well-documented study is best suited for academic libraries.‘Denise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Oser (College of the Holy Cross) proposes "to consolidate the basic argument for Eliot's Americanness as a poet and then, while observing ways in which English and French writers engage Eliot's native sensibility, to offer an original picture of Eliot from the vantage of American literary history." The author reviews Eliot's work by way of Matthew Arnold, Sacvan Bercovitch, Frank Kermode, and Perry Miller. His argument suffers the usual faults of source studies, often asserting common knowledge: "Like other modernists, Eliot wanted to explore the mimetic and descriptive norms of authorship and subjectivity; because he insisted on critical distance from emotion, one must be especially cautious when reading his poetry as the witness of his personal life." Nevertheless, Oser establishes psychological and aesthetic bonds between Eliot and Poe, Eliot and English and American preachers, and Eliot's and Hawthorne's conceptions of tradition; between "Catholic sacrament and Eucharist and the immediacy of the imagist poetic; between Eliot's and Emerson's poetic sensibilities; and, most interestingly, between Eliot's literary history and "an American sense of providential history" that informs the poetry and criticism. Refreshingly free of agitprop, sociology, and theoryspeak, Oser's book will be especially useful as an introduction for undergraduates. S. R. Whited; Piedmont College