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T.S. Eliot and Paul Celan: Rhythm - Time - Poetics

Vita Zilburg, Freie Universität Berlin

The scope of T.S. Eliot scholarship is almost beyond grasp.  Yet since the 1960's, most of the extensive studies on his poetic work are devoted to the later oeuvre. All the more so, if we take a look at the research on his early poetics in general, and the role of time as a central theme and characteristic of this poetics in particular. Yet one cannot speak of time and poetry without referring to meter or rhythm.  Some prominent studies elaborate on the prosodic structure of Eliot's poetry (M.M. Barry, 1969; Gardner, 1949; Hartman, 1980; Finch, 1993), others on Eliot's conception of time, with a strong emphasis on Henri Bergson's influence on the latter (Moody, 1979; Gish, 1981; Childs, 1991).  Yet the correlation between rhythm, time and poetics in Eliot's early oeuvre was thus far not thoroughly examined. 
In the proposed paper I would like to elaborate on the correlation between rhythm and time  in Eliot?s early poetics, and by doing so to suggest another perspective not only on the craft of Eliot's design, but also on the interrelation and compatibility between  rhythm and meaning in a study of poetics in general.  As former research indicates, time and temporality play a central role in Eliot's poetics - the early and all the more so in the later one.  This premise will serve therefore as one of the central starting points for my study.  Eliot's first compilation of poems Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) will stand in the center of the discussion, and the analysis shall try to articulate T.S. Eliot's early conception of time not via philosophical categories (as it had been examined in the various studies thus far) but rather from a philological point of view, which places the aesthetic effects of the text in the center of attention. The tension between sections written in free verse and those written in traditional meter as an indicator of shift in meaning will stand in the center of discussion. That is while starting out from the assumption that such shifts frequently occur in those places which are closely engaged with time (as  theme and  device), and thus shed light on aspects otherwise gone unnoticed. 
  The mode of argumentation will follow closely Finch's theoretical approach to meter, or what she refers to as "metrical-code" and Hollanders "frame theory". By doing so I shall examine the proximity and interface of those theoretical approaches with the apprehension of citation in literary research in general and in the study of poetics in particular. Thus re-evoking the debate around meter, poetic matter, self-preferentiality and the study of aesthetics.  I shall take my theoretical inclusions to the more extreme by means of a comparative perspective from the German literature, namely the poetics of Paul Celan. Very much like Eliot's poetry, Celan's poetics is also closely engaged with time. Yet unlike Eliot's poetry, which beyond any doubt poses the reader a most evident intellectual challenge, Celan poetics is not only intellectually and culturally challenging - it is hermetic.  By referring to world literature I do not only wish to offer a comparative perspective (though the latter bears of course great interest on its own), but rather to examine rhythm as one the central devices which enable an intelligible access to any poetics that is closely engaged with time.

Celan, Paul. Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger, 3rd edn, Anvil, 2007.
Childs, J. Donald. "T.S. Eliot's Rhapsody of Matter and Memory." American Literature, 63.3 (1991): 474-488.
Eliot, T.S., Prufrock and Other Observations, 1917.
Finch, Annie. The Ghost of Meter, University of Michigan Press, 1993.
Gish, Nancy K. Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot: a Study in Structure and Theme, Barnes & Noble, 1981.
Hollander, John. Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form, Oxford University Press, 1975.
Menninghaus, Wienfried. "Zum Problem des Zitats bei Paul Celan und in der Celan-Philologie," in: Paul Celan. Herrausgegeben von Werner Hamacher und Winfried Menninghaus.  Suhrkamp, 1988: 170-221.
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