Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 22, 2009

T.S. Eliot Says “Keep Your Day Job”

On how working a “day job” can often be good for the growth, vision and artistry of a poet or creative artist:

“I feel quite sure that if I’d started by having independent means, if I hadan’t had to bother about earning a living and could have given all my time to poetry, it would have had a deadening influence on me… I think that for me it’s been very useful to exercise other activities, such as working in a bank, or publishing even. And I think also that the difficulty of not having as much time as I would like has given me a greater pressure of concentration. I mean it has prevented me from writing too much. The danger, as a rule, of having nothing else to do is that one might write too much rather than concetrating and perfecting smaller amounts. That would be my danger.”

Mine too, Tom. Now if only I can find a day job that doesn’t sap all that creative energy. If only I can be useful without becoming “used up”.

On [Christian] humility and uncertainty, or valuing one’s work –whatever that work is– without overvaluing it:

[Eliot in 1942:] “No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what s/he has written. He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing.”

Interviewer: “Do you feel the same now [in 1959], at age seventy?”

Eliot: “There may be poets who do feel sure. I don’t.”

If no less a genius than T.S. Eliot was unsure whether he was groping in the dark, then who am I to feel so bad about my own uncertainty?

[The above quotes lifted from The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1 (Picador, 2006) ]


Responses

  1. Ah Mark, this hits me where I live (as you know). At least it’s good to know that uncertainty is endemic to the beast.

    However, if Thomas Stearns were still alive, I think I’d have a few choice words to say to him about the difference between the banking and publishing of his day and what we have to endure in those fields now.


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