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The Why of How

“It is equally undesirable to think oneself a poet and to think that one is not a poet. That is something that we never find out.”—T. S. Eliot, Letters, 7: 333

“What is it that Eliot says, Fare forward? So we must.”—Robert Lowell to Allen Tate, May 13, 1974


« Le Pourquoi du comment » translates this title in France (where there's a podcast series called that).*

Mere undesirability, since moot, should not, I think, rule on our loves,

and I have my doubts about Eliot, too

—a monument to his own genius, but trapped in his age, as we in ours.

He said new things, which we already knew.

I think I may be a poet myself, but suspect simultaneously that I might be wrong.

I hope I am, but also don’t, for the poet's task is a daunting one,

rather like being on theTitanic, not the captain, but the bell boy who hands the demoiselles into their dingy,

then drowns willy nilly, bravely saluting but secretly scared

shitless—though for the others' sake he can't admit it, going down with his ship.


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