Question: Discuss the term dissociation of Sensibility.
The term dissociation of sensibility was first used by Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1865) in his famous essay “The Metaphysical Poets”. It refers to the way in which intellectual thought was separated from the experience of feeling in the seventeenth century.
Basic concept on the dissociation of sensibility
The term dissociation of sensibility comprises two words which are dissociation and sensibility. The meaning of the word dissociation is separation or detachment and sensibility is sensation or feeling. So, this term stands for detachment of thought from sensation in the case of poetry writing.
The clear concept on the unification of sensibility
Before elaborating on the dissociation of sensibility, the unification of sensibility should be clarified so that we can appreciate the intellectual or metaphysical poets very well and conspicuously. The term “unification of sensibility” means fusion of thought and feeling by the early Jacobean poets, especially by John Donne first. By this term, Eliot links the modern poets and metaphysical poets.
Difference between intellectual and reflective poets
Eliot points out that the term dissociation of sensibility has made the difference between the intellectual poets, that means the metaphysical poets and the reflective poets. The intellectual poets unified thought and feeling together but the reflective poets separated the feeling or sensibility from thought. According to Eliot, Tennyson and Browning are great poets but they are devoid of the fidelity of thought and feeling simultaneously like Donne or Lord Herbert of Cherbury.
“Tennyson and Browning are poets, and they think; but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose.”
Thus, Eliot argues that the dissociation of sensibility is not better than the unification of sensibility to produce good poetry. “A Valediction Forbidding Morning” is a superb example of unification of sensibility in which the poet compares two lovers to a pair of compasses.
The natural development of poetry
According to Eliot, the dissociation of sensibility was the result of the natural development of poetry after the metaphysical. Eliot asserts that dissociation of sensibility was established by the influence of two powerful poets of the late seventeenth century – Milton and Dryden and we have never recovered. In fact, Eliot means to say that the poetic functions of Milton and Dryden were so magnificently well that the magnitude of expansion of their poetic effects concealed or covered the other poets’ merits. The critic says that their use of language was so refined but there was a huge lack of feeling in their writings that is why Eliot has preferred the unification of sensibility which means simply fusion of feeling and thought together to the dissociation of sensibility.
Distinguishing between language and feelings
Eliot goes on to tell that the other poets such as Collins, Gray, Johnson, and Goldsmith who followed this term perfectly satisfy our fastidious demands better than that of Donne, Marvell, or King. Their language also becomes more refined but the feeling is cruder. He cites an example from Gray’s poem “Country Churchyard” because the feeling or sensibility expressed in the poem is cruder than that in “Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell who is one of the excellent metaphysical poets in accordance with Eliot. Thus, he evaluates the intellectual or metaphysical poets from a very different angle which is really praiseworthy.
Though Eliot is unanimously accepted for his term “dissociation of sensibility”, he has to face a very critical question that the very term was originated because of the English civil war. He does not agree or disagree with this question and he also tells us that it is very perilous to reject Johnson’s arguments as to metaphysical poets and poetry.
From the light of the above discussion, it can be said that Eliot is not only a genius critic but also a founder of intellectual poets in the mind of the readers forever by the dint of his two terms which are the dissociation of sensibility and unification of sensibility.