Not long ago I read an interesting article about what William Faulker (1897-1962) said in the speech he delivered on December 10, 1950, in Stockholm, when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was convinced that men are inmortal, not because they live literally forever, but because they have a soul, a spirit that is capable of endurance even in the hardest times. He went on to say that the poet has the responsibility to lift men's hearts and help them "endure and prevail". Here is his quote:
"I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poets, the writers, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poets voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
Faulkner's view of a poet's role differs very much from T.S. Eliot's views (1888-1965). As Eliot stressed in a 1943 lecture the poet's duty "is only indirectly to the people: his direct duty is to his language, first to preserve, and second to extend and improve." I have the feeling that Eliot's main interest is in the language and he does not seem to pay attention to what many may regard as the social function of poetry.
Anyway, today I am including the first lines of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock"
LET us go then, you and I,
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.