T.S. Eliot on The Social Function of Poetry

Poetics and Faith

Without the poet’s unique gift of combining an exceptional sensibility with an exceptional power over words, our ability, not merely to express, but even to feel any but the crudest emotions, will degenerate.

– T. S. Eliot, The Social Function of Poetry

The essential social function of poetry is first the most obvious function – to give pleasure.  A poem must perform this function if it is to perform any.  What kind of pleasure?  Eliot writes, “I can only answer, the kind of pleasure that poetry gives.”

Eliot starts with pleasure but moves beyond this first function.  “For if it were only pleasure, the pleasure itself could not be of the highest kind.”  While there are various types of poetry, one general function is the communication of some new experience of something we have experienced but have no words for, which enlarges our consciousness or refines our…

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