Modernism And The Ideal Society

The First World War turned the modernists from poet—aesthetes cultivating the objective correlative and the image into poet—critics concerned with the regeneration of society. In his preface to the 1928 edition of The Sacred Wood, Eliot commented that, since writing its emphatically literary essays eight years before, he had 'passed on to another problem not touched upon in this book: that of the relation of poetry to the spiritual and social life of its time and of other times' (1976: viii). Pound, more candidly, remarked that 'the symbolist position, artistic aloofness from world affairs, is no good now' (1921: 1). During the 1920s, as Europe struggled to recover from the social and economic effects of the war, Eliot and Pound joined many other intellectuals disillusioned with the political leadership in setting out their own analyses of the post-war situation and their prescriptions for a way forward.

This chapter is concerned with Eliot's and Pound's social beliefs — and 'belief' is an appropriate word here. Eliot joined the Anglican Church in 1927 and presented his social proposals from a Christian standpoint. Pound, profoundly averse to institutional religion, nevertheless underwent what critics have described as an ideological 'conversion experience' after the war: to a theory of economics that was the major formative influence on his political and social ideas (Surette 1999: 13). In turning from the literary to the public sphere,

Eliot and Pound sought out new audiences, and their writing began to cross a range of genres: in the 1920s both poets founded periodicals that published social comment alongside literature, Pound began to popularize his literary and economic ideas in the form of textbooks, and Eliot began to write for the theatre.

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