T.S. Eliot : “dated and slightly grim”?

A strikingly odd remark in yesterday’s Observer, in a review of a recording of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, read by the actor Ralph Fiennes –

“Eliot’s own reading of Four Quartets was masterly … Fiennes has maintained Eliot’s slow and incantatory measure, but has transformed the poet’s now dated and slightly grim delivery with subtle changes of mood and pace.”

I suppose it’s the idea that a poet’s reading of his own work, in his own time, can sound dated that strikes me as odd.  I’m aware that some poets dislike reading their own work, some might admit that they aren’t very good at it, and some poems simply aren’t designed to be read aloud.

I don’t feel that any of these apply to Eliot.  I can’t lay my hands on the exact quotation, but I believe he said something to the effect that his intention was to sound like a clergyman reciting some part of the Prayerbook, and I feel it’s this that enhances the vatic quality of the verse. 

Eliot reads here: the conclusion to Little Gidding (the images aren’t mine and apologies to all concerned if this constitutes some horrendous breach of copyright) – Little Gidding


3 thoughts on “T.S. Eliot : “dated and slightly grim”?

  1. I think that with a few exceptions, poets should be positively prevented from reading their own poetry. They are rarely performers and will conclude with one word to prove my point. Larkin.

    • I know how much Larkin disliked giving readings – “going round pretending to be myself” or something to that effect? I’m certainly not a fan of poetry readings.

      The ones I do like hearing are recordings of long-dead poets. I suppose it’s partly just curiosity -“is that really what he sounded like?” – but also the feeling I sometimes get of receiving some sort of spirit communication. Perhaps that’s just me.

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