Discuss the term “dissociation of sensibility” by T.S. Eliot

The concept of the “dissociation of sensibility” was introduced by T.S. Eliot, a renowned modernist poet, and critic in his essay “The Metaphysical Poets”. It refers to a perceived split or separation between the intellect and the emotions in poetry. According to Eliot, this dissociation occurred in the works of poets from the 17th century onwards, leading to a fragmentation and loss of the unified sensibility found in earlier poetry.

Eliot argued that in earlier periods, such as the Elizabethan era, there was a harmonious integration of thought and feeling in poetry. However, he claimed that this unity gradually eroded, resulting in a division where intellectual thought and emotional expression became detached from each other. This dissociation was seen as a decline in the quality and depth of poetic expression.

Examples of the dissociation of sensibility can be found in various poets and their works. Here are a few illustrations:

  1. John Donne: In the metaphysical poetry of John Donne, there is a deliberate use of wit, conceits, and intellectual complexity that often overshadows the emotional resonance of his themes. This emphasis on intellectual ingenuity is seen in poems such as “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” where Donne explores metaphysical ideas of love and separation.
  2. Alexander Pope: Pope’s neoclassical poetry, characterized by its satirical and didactic nature, exhibits a rational and intellectual approach that can overshadow the emotional depth of the subject matter. His famous work, “An Essay on Man,” presents philosophical and moral ideas in a logical and systematic manner, subordinating the expression of emotions.
  3. John Dryden: As a prominent figure of the Restoration era, Dryden’s poetry often prioritized wit, satire, and intellectual acumen over emotional depth. His work, “Absalom and Achitophel,” is a political satire that uses allegory and intellectual argument to critique political figures of the time.

These examples illustrate how the dissociation of sensibility became evident in the works of poets who prioritized intellectual complexity, wit, and reason over emotional immediacy and depth. According to Eliot, this divide weakened the impact and overall effectiveness of poetry, as it failed to capture the full range of human experience.

T.S. Eliot’s concept of the dissociation of sensibility aimed to highlight the need for a reunification of thought and feeling in poetry, emphasizing the importance of engaging both the intellect and the emotions. He argued for a return to a more holistic approach to poetic expression, one that would reintegrate these aspects and restore the unity of sensibility found in earlier periods of literature.

Also read; What is Objective Correlative by T.S. Eliot?