Michael Molan - Milton and Eliot in the Work of Geoffrey Hill 81
Michael Molan Milton and Eliot in the Work of Geof frey Hill 1 T. S. Eliot casts a long shadow over the twentieth-century reception of Milton, and his first essay on Milton is a key text in the ‘controversy’ which animated Milton studies at the beginning of the century.1 The complicated structure of the controversy involves arguments about various features of Milton’s poetry, theology, and politics, but Eliot’s initial essay focuses on a stylistic analysis, amounting to a symbolic rejection of a canonical writer by a leading poet. The essay is not a general condemnation of Milton’s poetry; rather, Eliot delivers a particular critique of Milton, claiming that his ‘rhetorical style’ is a bad inf luence on contemporary poets. In this style, ‘a dislocation takes place, through the hypertrophy of the auditory imagination at the expense of the visual and tactile, so that the inner meaning is separated from the surface’.2 This places the essay in line with Eliot’s theory of the seventeenth- century ‘dissociation of sensibility’, which he had claimed ‘was aggravated by the inf luence of the two most powerful poets of the century, Milton and Dryden’.3 Milton is mentally and physically bound to this theory: 1 T. S. Eliot, ‘A Note on the Verse of John Milton’, Essays and Studies, 21 (1936), 32–40; reprinted as ‘Milton I’ in On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber and Faber, 1957), pp. 138–45. For a standard account of the Milton controversy, see Patrick Murray, Milton: The Modern Phase (London:...
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