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Old Tuesday, June 28, 2005
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Default T. S. Eliot: Dissociation of sensibility

Another of the popular clichés of Eliot is the phrase, “Dissociation of Sensibility”, and its opposite, “Unification of Sensibility”. The phrase was first used by Eliot in his essay on the Metaphysical Poets of the early 17th century. By unification sensibility, T. S. Eliot means “a fusion of thought and feeling”, “a recreation of thought into feeling”, “a direct sensuous apprehension of thought”. Such fusion of thought and feeling is essential for good poetry. This poetry results when there is, “dissociation of sensibility” i.e. the poet is unable to feel his thoughts. Eliot finds such unification of sensibility in the Metaphysical poets, and regrets that a dissociation of sensibility set in the late 17th century; there was a split between thought and feeling and we have not yet recovered from this dissociation. The influence of Dryden and Milton has been particularly harmful in this respect.

In his essay of “The Metaphysical Poets”, T. S. Eliot explains show this fusion of thought and feeling takes place:

“Tennyson and Browning are poets; and they think, but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose. A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility. When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experiences; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet thee experiences are always forming new wholes.”

Eliot does not regard Browning to be a great poet, for, no doubt, he has ideas, but he fails to transmit his ideas into emotions and sensations. Merely dry thoughts or logic do not make a great poet. A poet creates in heat, in a moment of inspiration, but he corrects at leisure. The poet must create, but he must also bring the critical faculty to work upon what he has created. He must revise and polish, and thus lick his creation into shape. A great poet must of necessity be a great critic as well, for he must constantly analyze, reject, and select.
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