In a review of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Stevie Smith lamented that “so many writers of these times, which need courage and the power of criticism, and coolness, should find their chief delight in terrifying themselves and their readers with past echoes of cruelty and nonsense.” Paradoxically, those twin nouns—“cruelty and nonsense”—have often been used to describe her own poetry. This essay examines Smith’s allusions to Eliot, Algernon Swinburne, and John Keats and demonstrates that such “past echoes” helped her weigh the risk of dwelling on cruelty to the point of morbidity against that of finding too much pleasure in the cruel and absurd. More broadly, Smith’s allusiveness presents a significant alternative to Harold Bloom’s anxiety of influence. Her attitude toward her predecessors is not agonistic but playful, elusive, and polyvalent. She writes through the poetry of the past to work out problems of ethics and aesthetics that were of great importance to her.

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