Good Manners, Good Literature

For this very welcome and unexpected award, I thank The Ingersoll Foundation and all concerned. When I was in high school, there were certain books that I carried around in order to impress people with my literariness. One was the Collected Poems of Hart Crane, whom I didn't altogether understand, but whose words made me dizzy. Another was a slender book of James Joyce's poems; the poems inside it were melodious, conventional, and easy to understand, but the book's cover gave other people the impression that I was reading an author both difficult and scandalous. A third book that I carried with me like a sword or attribute was T.S. Eliot's Collected Poems of 1935. The book was physically delectable; it was bound in blue, and its pages were crisp and creamy like hearts of lettuce; it was a kind of transcendental sandwich, and though I didn't understand all the poems in it, I did consume them. It seems to me that the books I used for purposes of ostentation were in fact well-chosen, for I was truly drawn to them, and when I was through showing off by their means, I went on to know them better and better. What I first loved in Eliot was his mastery of tone and of changes of tone, his power to marshal various voices, and his ability, in such a poem as "Sweeney Among the Nightingales," to take a form suggestive of light verse and be savagely serious in it. I still admire all those things, though for...

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