T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian


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During an interview in , Eliot said of his nationality and its role in his work: "I'd say that my poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England. That I'm sure of. It wouldn't be what it is, and I imagine it wouldn't be so good; putting it as modestly as I can, it wouldn't be what it is if I'd been born in England, and it wouldn't be what it is if I'd stayed in America.

It's a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America. Cleo McNelly Kearns notes in her biography that Eliot was deeply influenced by Indic traditions, notably the Upanishads. From the Sanskrit ending of The Waste Land to the "What Krishna meant" section of Four Quartets shows how much Indic religions and more specifically Hinduism made up his philosophical basic for his thought process. He himself wrote in his essay on W. Yeats: "The kind of poetry that I needed to teach me the use of my own voice did not exist in English at all; it was only to be found in French.

Alfred Prufrock". Its now-famous opening lines, comparing the evening sky to "a patient etherised upon a table", were considered shocking and offensive, especially at a time when Georgian Poetry was hailed for its derivations of the nineteenth century Romantic Poets. The poem's structure was heavily influenced by Eliot's extensive reading of Dante and refers to a number of literary works, including Hamlet and those of the French Symbolists. Eliot is surely of the very smallest importance to anyone, even to himself. They certainly have no relation to poetry. Eliot's dedication to il miglior fabbro "the better craftsman" refers to Ezra Pound's significant hand in editing and reshaping the poem from a longer Eliot manuscript to the shortened version that appears in publication.

It was composed during a period of personal difficulty for Eliot—his marriage was failing, and both he and Vivienne were suffering from nervous disorders. The poem is often read as a representation of the disillusionment of the post-war generation. Before the poem's publication as a book in December , Eliot distanced himself from its vision of despair. On 15 November , he wrote to Richard Aldington , saying, "As for The Waste Land , that is a thing of the past so far as I am concerned and I am now feeling toward a new form and style.

The poem is known for its obscure nature—its slippage between satire and prophecy; its abrupt changes of speaker, location, and time. This structural complexity is one of the reasons why the poem has become a touchstone of modern literature , a poetic counterpart to a novel published in the same year, James Joyce 's Ulysses. Among its best-known phrases are "April is the cruellest month", "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" and " Shantih shantih shantih ". The Sanskrit mantra ends the poem. The Hollow Men appeared in For the critic Edmund Wilson , it marked "The nadir of the phase of despair and desolation given such effective expression in The Waste Land.

Similar to Eliot's other works, its themes are overlapping and fragmentary. Post-war Europe under the Treaty of Versailles which Eliot despised , the difficulty of hope and religious conversion, Eliot's failed marriage. Ash-Wednesday is the first long poem written by Eliot after his conversion to Anglicanism. Published in , it deals with the struggle that ensues when one who has lacked faith acquires it. Sometimes referred to as Eliot's "conversion poem", it is richly but ambiguously allusive, and deals with the aspiration to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation.

Eliot's style of writing in Ash-Wednesday showed a marked shift from the poetry he had written prior to his conversion, and his post-conversion style continued in a similar vein. His style became less ironic, and the poems were no longer populated by multiple characters in dialogue. Eliot's subject matter also became more focused on his spiritual concerns and his Christian faith. Many critics were particularly enthusiastic about Ash-Wednesday. Edwin Muir maintained that it is one of the most moving poems Eliot wrote, and perhaps the "most perfect", though it was not well received by everyone.

The poem's groundwork of orthodox Christianity discomfited many of the more secular literati.

This first edition had an illustration of the author on the cover. In , the composer Alan Rawsthorne set six of the poems for speaker and orchestra in a work titled Practical Cats.


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After Eliot's death, the book was adapted as the basis of the musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber , first produced in London's West End in and opening on Broadway the following year. Eliot regarded Four Quartets as his masterpiece, and it is the work that led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Each has five sections. Although they resist easy characterisation, each poem includes meditations on the nature of time in some important respect— theological , historical, physical—and its relation to the human condition.

Each poem is associated with one of the four classical elements , respectively: air, earth, water, and fire. Burnt Norton is a meditative poem that begins with the narrator trying to focus on the present moment while walking through a garden, focusing on images and sounds like the bird, the roses, clouds, and an empty pool. In the final section, the narrator contemplates the arts "Words" and "music" as they relate to time. East Coker continues the examination of time and meaning, focusing in a famous passage on the nature of language and poetry.

Out of darkness, Eliot offers a solution: "I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope. The Dry Salvages treats the element of water, via images of river and sea. Little Gidding the element of fire is the most anthologised of the Quartets. Eliot's experiences as an air raid warden in the Blitz power the poem, and he imagines meeting Dante during the German bombing.

The Four Quartets cannot be understood without reference to Christian thought, traditions, and history. Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language of such figures as Dante, and mystics St. John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. The "deeper communion" sought in East Coker , the "hints and whispers of children, the sickness that must grow worse in order to find healing", and the exploration which inevitably leads us home all point to the pilgrim's path along the road of sanctification.

With the important exception of Four Quartets , Eliot directed much of his creative energies after Ash Wednesday to writing plays in verse, mostly comedies or plays with redemptive endings. In a lecture he said "Every poet would like, I fancy, to be able to think that he had some direct social utility. He would like to be something of a popular entertainer and be able to think his own thoughts behind a tragic or a comic mask. He would like to convey the pleasures of poetry, not only to a larger audience but to larger groups of people collectively; and the theatre is the best place in which to do it.

After The Waste Land , he wrote that he was "now feeling toward a new form and style". One project he had in mind was writing a play in verse, using some of the rhythms of early jazz.

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The play featured "Sweeney", a character who had appeared in a number of his poems. Although Eliot did not finish the play, he did publish two scenes from the piece. These scenes, titled Fragment of a Prologue and Fragment of an Agon , were published together in as Sweeney Agonistes. Although Eliot noted that this was not intended to be a one-act play, it is sometimes performed as one. A pageant play by Eliot called The Rock was performed in for the benefit of churches in the Diocese of London. Much of it was a collaborative effort; Eliot accepted credit only for the authorship of one scene and the choruses.

Martin Browne for the production of The Rock , and later commissioned Eliot to write another play for the Canterbury Festival in This one, Murder in the Cathedral , concerning the death of the martyr, Thomas Becket , was more under Eliot's control. Eliot biographer Peter Ackroyd comments that "for [Eliot], Murder in the Cathedral and succeeding verse plays offered a double advantage; it allowed him to practice poetry but it also offered a convenient home for his religious sensibility.

Martin Browne [73]. Regarding his method of playwriting, Eliot explained, "If I set out to write a play, I start by an act of choice. I settle upon a particular emotional situation, out of which characters and a plot will emerge. And then lines of poetry may come into being: not from the original impulse but from a secondary stimulation of the unconscious mind. Eliot also made significant contributions to the field of literary criticism , strongly influencing the school of New Criticism.

He was somewhat self-deprecating and minimising of his work and once said his criticism was merely a "by-product" of his "private poetry-workshop" But the critic William Empson once said, "I do not know for certain how much of my own mind [Eliot] invented, let alone how much of it is a reaction against him or indeed a consequence of misreading him. He is a very penetrating influence, perhaps not unlike the east wind. In his critical essay " Tradition and the Individual Talent ", Eliot argues that art must be understood not in a vacuum, but in the context of previous pieces of art.

Eliot himself employed this concept on many of his works, especially on his long-poem The Waste Land. Also important to New Criticism was the idea—as articulated in Eliot's essay " Hamlet and His Problems "—of an " objective correlative ", which posits a connection among the words of the text and events, states of mind, and experiences. More generally, New Critics took a cue from Eliot in regard to his "'classical' ideals and his religious thought; his attention to the poetry and drama of the early seventeenth century; his deprecation of the Romantics, especially Shelley; his proposition that good poems constitute 'not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion'; and his insistence that 'poets Eliot's essays were a major factor in the revival of interest in the metaphysical poets.

Eliot particularly praised the metaphysical poets' ability to show experience as both psychological and sensual, while at the same time infusing this portrayal with—in Eliot's view—wit and uniqueness. Eliot's essay "The Metaphysical Poets", along with giving new significance and attention to metaphysical poetry, introduced his now well-known definition of "unified sensibility", which is considered by some to mean the same thing as the term "metaphysical".

His poem The Waste Land [83] also can be better understood in light of his work as a critic. He had argued that a poet must write "programmatic criticism", that is, a poet should write to advance his own interests rather than to advance "historical scholarship". Viewed from Eliot's critical lens, The Waste Land likely shows his personal despair about World War I rather than an objective historical understanding of it. Late in his career, Eliot focused much of his creative energy on writing for the theatre; some of his earlier critical writing, in essays such as "Poetry and Drama", [85] "Hamlet and his Problems", [79] and "The Possibility of a Poetic Drama", [86] focused on the aesthetics of writing drama in verse.

Alfred Prufrock", "Portrait of a Lady", "La Figlia Che Piange", "Preludes", and "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" had "[an] effect [that] was both unique and compelling, and their assurance staggered [Eliot's] contemporaries who were privileged to read them in manuscript. The wholeness is there, from the very beginning. The initial critical response to Eliot's The Waste Land was mixed.

Bush notes that the piece was at first correctly perceived as a work of jazz-like syncopation—and, like s jazz , essentially iconoclastic. Edmund Wilson, being one of the critics who praised Eliot, called him "one of our only authentic poets". In regard to The Waste Land , Wilson admits its flaws "its lack of structural unity" , but concluded, "I doubt whether there is a single other poem of equal length by a contemporary American which displays so high and so varied a mastery of English verse.

Charles Powell was negative in his criticism of Eliot, calling his poems incomprehensible. For instance, though Ransom negatively criticised The Waste Land for its "extreme disconnection", Ransom was not completely condemnatory of Eliot's work and admitted that Eliot was a talented poet. Addressing some of the common criticisms directed against The Waste Land at the time, Gilbert Seldes stated, "It seems at first sight remarkably disconnected and confused Eliot's reputation as a poet, as well as his influence in the academy, peaked following the publication of The Four Quartets.

In an essay on Eliot published in , the writer Cynthia Ozick refers to this peak of influence from the s through the early s as "the Age of Eliot" when Eliot "seemed pure zenith, a colossus, nothing less than a permanent luminary, fixed in the firmament like the sun and the moon". As Eliot's conservative religious and political convictions began to seem less congenial in the postwar world, other readers reacted with suspicion to his assertions of authority, obvious in Four Quartets and implicit in the earlier poetry.

The result, fueled by intermittent rediscovery of Eliot's occasional anti-Semitic rhetoric, has been a progressive downward revision of his once towering reputation. Bush also notes that Eliot's reputation "slipped" significantly further after his death. He writes, "Sometimes regarded as too academic William Carlos Williams 's view , Eliot was also frequently criticized for a deadening neoclassicism as he himself—perhaps just as unfairly—had criticized Milton. However, the multifarious tributes from practicing poets of many schools published during his centenary in was a strong indication of the intimidating continued presence of his poetic voice.

Although Eliot's poetry is not as influential as it once was, notable literary scholars, like Harold Bloom [93] and Stephen Greenblatt , [94] still acknowledge that Eliot's poetry is central to the literary English canon. For instance, the editors of The Norton Anthology of English Literature write, "There is no disagreement on [Eliot's] importance as one of the great renovators of the English poetry dialect, whose influence on a whole generation of poets, critics, and intellectuals generally was enormous. The depiction of Jews in some of Eliot's poems has led several critics to accuse him of anti-Semitism.

This case has been presented most forcefully in a study by Anthony Julius : T. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form In this poem, Eliot wrote, "The rats are underneath the piles.


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It reaches out like a clear signal to the reader. In a series of lectures delivered at the University of Virginia in , published under the title After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy , Eliot wrote of societal tradition and coherence, "What is still more important [than cultural homogeneity] is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.

Craig Raine , in his books In Defence of T. Eliot and T. Eliot , sought to defend Eliot from the charge of anti-Semitism. Reviewing the book, Paul Dean stated that he was not convinced by Raine's argument. Nevertheless, he concluded, "Ultimately, as both Raine and, to do him justice, Julius insist, however much Eliot may have been compromised as a person, as we all are in our several ways, his greatness as a poet remains.

Eliot's well-earned reputation [as a poet] is established beyond all doubt, and making him out to be as unflawed as the Archangel Gabriel does him no favours. Eliot's influence extends beyond the English language. Below is a partial list of honours and awards received by Eliot or bestowed or created in his honour. These honours are displayed in order of precedence based on Eliot's nationality and rules of protocol, not awarding date.

Source: "T. Eliot Bibliography". Nobel Prize. Retrieved 25 February From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other people named Thomas Eliot, see Thomas Eliot disambiguation. English author. Eliot in by Lady Ottoline Morrell. Vivienne Haigh-Wood m. Main article: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Main article: The Waste Land. Main article: Ash Wednesday poem.

Main article: Four Quartets. Main article: T. Eliot bibliography. Carnes eds , American National Biography. In Bloom, Harold ed. Bloom's Biocritiques. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishing. Nobel Media. Retrieved 26 April Eliot" , Nobelprize. Nobel Lectures, Literature — Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company, , accessed 6 March Eliot: A Short Biography. London: Haus Publishing. Eliot, A Memoir. London: Garnstone Limited. Louis: Washington University Press, , p. The Art of Poetry No.

Eliot, The World Fair of St. Louis and "Autonomy" , Nagoya: Kougaku Shuppan , pp. Eliot", American Literary Scholarship , , p. Associates of St. Louis University Libraries, Inc. Louis, Inc. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet, Eliot , Knopf Publishing Group, p. Philosophy and Literature.

The Letters of T. Eliot, Volume 1, — Random House, , p. Knopf Publishing Group, , p.

T. S. Eliot | Poetry Foundation

Eliot: Volume 1, — London: Faber and Faber. James Joyce. Eliot's Social Criticism. Eliot in Context. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 26 October Eliot Companion: Life and Works. Palgrave Macmillan UK. Voices and Visions Series.

Suffering prayer: T.S. Eliot, his poetry and his Christianity

XVII, No. Eliot to For Lancelot Andrewes : Essays on style and order On Poetry and Poets. Beyond the Occult. London: Bantam Press. Constable , p. Eliot: The Modernist in History , p. Where Emily Hale and Vivienne were part of Eliot's private phantasmagoria, Mary Trevelyan played her part in what was essentially a public friendship. She was Eliot's escort for nearly twenty years until his second marriage in A brainy woman, with the bracing organizational energy of a Florence Nightingale, she propped the outer structure of Eliot's life, but for him she, too, represented..

Eliot, and Humanism , , p. For her their friendship was a commitment; for Eliot quite peripheral. His passion for immortality was so commanding that it allowed him to Eliot — A Twenty-first Century View , p. Retrieved 1 July Eliot: An Imperfect Life. Norton , p. Eliot's widow Valerie Eliot dies at 86". Associated Press via Yahoo News.

Retrieved 12 November Books on Google Play T. Eliot: The Critical Heritage, Volume 1. Psychology Press. The Independent. Retrieved 3 January Retrieved 27 February The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December Eliot Blue Plaque". Retrieved 23 November Woods, April 21, Eliot , vol. Valerie Eliot ed. Eliot: The Harvard Advocate Poems ". Retrieved 3 August The Paris Review.

Archived from the original PDF on 3 October Retrieved 7 November Retrieved 8 March Retrieved 23 April The Waste Land and Other Poems. Broadview Press. Wagner omits the word "very" from the quote. Eliot: the making of an American poet, — Eliot , Vol. Tavistock: Northcote House, Eliot: the Critical Heritage. Eliot orig Modern American Poetry. Hartcourt Brace, , pp.

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He believed that unless England and America recovered a form of Christian society, they would fall into the paganism that had overtaken Germany and Russia. He believed that liberalism was a corrosive force, for it provided people with no positive values. A liberal society is a negative society, for it does not work toward any end, it merely creates a vacuum.

The intellectual world of the s was treated to a delicious irony. A pioneer of the modernist movement, T. Eliot, known for his fragmented, elusive poetry, became, in his own words, a "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion. At this time, Eliot also shifted the focus of his intellectual energy from poetry to social theory.

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He truly believed that the very existence of Western civilization was threatened. Communism arose in the East and fascism on the Continent. What future was there for the West other than uninterrupted decay or a descent into some form of authoritarianism? Eliot knew of only one alternative: a vigorous rediscovery of what it means to live Christianly. A liberal society is a negative society, he said; it does not work toward any end, it merely creates a vacuum. Eliot distrusted individualism in both literature and politics. Though some intellectuals might be able to order their lives around arbitrary moral principles, the great mass of society, Eliot thought, needed something more substantive.

There is no humanistic habit; humanism is, I think, merely the state of mind of a few persons, in a few places, at a few times. In a essay "Christianity and Communism" The Listener , Eliot argued that only the Christian scheme made a place for those values "which I maintain or perish, the belief, for instance, in holy living and holy dying, in sanctity, chastity, humility, austerity. Russian communism is a religion, he said, and religion can only be fought with another religion.

Only the church can galvanize a united response to the chaos of civilization. In a radio talk addressed to Germany after World War II, he called Christianity the most important unifying factor in Europe and said that only against the background of Christian faith does Western thought have any significance. To critique an entire civilization is one thing; to present a reasonable alternative is quite another.

In these books, which show a progression from virulence to tolerance, Eliot gave some indication of why he had come to believe so strongly in tradition. Christian tradition, for him, was a counterweight to the emptiness of liberalism and the rigidity of conservatism. Chesterton defined tradition as "democracy extended through time," and for Eliot, tradition offered the advantages of democracy -- diverse viewpoints and a protection against tyranny -- nestled in the cocoon of time. Apart from tradition, democracy could too easily degenerate into hysteria.

Eliot saw this as a particular danger in industrial society, which creates "people detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words a mob. And a mob will be no less a mob if it is well fed, well clothed, well housed, and well disciplined" Idea, p. Eliot thought the ruling class should not be determined by lineage or by economics but by common interests.

Yet these elites must be attached to some class, for Eliot thought the family was the primary channel for transmitting cultural values; he doubted whether education or political institutions alone could transmit. In a BBC interview in , Eliot concluded that "when one considers the classless society, even so far as it has adumbrated itself in the present situation of the world — its mediocrity, its reduction of human beings to the mass. But how could Christian values be disseminated by a Christian upper class apart from some form of oppressive rule?

The most practicable idea Eliot set forth on this score was what he called the Community of Christians. He noted the peril of specialization in modern culture, which tends to isolate religious thinkers from those in philosophy, art, politics and science. The Community of Christians would bring together the most fertile minds from various fields for the express purpose of defining Christian values for society at large.

It would serve as a "Church within the Church. Eliot participated in several groups that attempted to be a Community of Christians, and in them he learned the limitations of such a plan. His own groups could rarely agree on practical programs, or even whether it was desirable for them to discuss practical programs.

Commonality of Christian commitment did not guarantee any kind of consensus agreement on ethical issues. As the years passed, Eliot grew increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of reaching a Christian consensus in the West, resigning himself to the prospect of "centuries of barbarism.

T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian
T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian
T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian
T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian
T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian T.S. Eliot: The Poet as Christian

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