T. S. Eliot
in full Thomas Stearns Eliot
born September 26, 1888, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
died January 4, 1965, London, England
American-English poet, playwright, literary critic, and editor, a leader
of the modernist movement in poetry in such works as The Waste Land
(1922) and Four Quartets (1943). Eliot exercised a strong influence on
Anglo-American culture from the 1920s until late in the century. His
experiments in diction, style, and versification revitalized English
poetry, and in a series of critical essays he shattered old orthodoxies
and erected new ones. The publication of Four Quartets led to his
recognition as the greatest living English poet and man of letters, and
in 1948 he was awarded both the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize for
Eliot was descended from a distinguished New England family that had
relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. His family allowed him the widest
education available in his time, with no influence from his father to be
“practical” and to go into business. From Smith Academy in St. Louis he
went to Milton, in Massachusetts; from Milton he entered Harvard in
1906; he received a B.A. in 1909, after three instead of the usual four
years. The men who influenced him at Harvard were George Santayana, the
philosopher and poet, and the critic Irving Babbitt. From Babbitt he
derived an anti-Romantic attitude that, amplified by his later reading
of British philosophers F.H. Bradley and T.E. Hulme, lasted through his
life. In the academic year 1909–10 he was an assistant in philosophy at
He spent the year 1910–11 in France, attending Henri Bergson’s
lectures in philosophy at the Sorbonne and reading poetry with
Alain-Fournier. Eliot’s study of the poetry of Dante, of the English
writers John Webster and John Donne, and of the French Symbolist Jules
Laforgue helped him to find his own style. From 1911 to 1914 he was back
at Harvard reading Indian philosophy and studying Sanskrit. In 1913 he
read Bradley’s Appearance and Reality; by 1916 he had finished, in
Europe, a dissertation entitled Knowledge and Experience in the
Philosophy of F.H. Bradley. But World War I had intervened, and he never
returned to Harvard to take the final oral examination for the Ph.D.
degree. In 1914 Eliot met and began a close association with the
American poet Ezra Pound.
Eliot was to pursue four careers: editor, dramatist, literary critic,
and philosophical poet. He was probably the most erudite poet of his
time in the English language. His undergraduate poems were “literary”
and conventional. His first important publication, and the first
masterpiece of “modernism” in English, was The Love Song of J. Alfred
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table. . . .
Although Pound had printed privately a small book, A lume spento, as
early as 1908, Prufrock was the first poem by either of these literary
revolutionists to go beyond experiment to achieve perfection. It
represented a break with the immediate past as radical as that of Samuel
Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads (1798). From
the appearance of Eliot’s first volume, Prufrock and Other Observations,
in 1917, one may conveniently date the maturity of the 20th-century
poetic revolution. The significance of the revolution is still disputed,
but the striking similarity to the Romantic revolution of Coleridge and
Wordsworth is obvious: Eliot and Pound, like their 18th-century
counterparts, set about reforming poetic diction. Whereas Wordsworth
thought he was going back to the “real language of men,” Eliot struggled
to create new verse rhythms based on the rhythms of contemporary speech.
He sought a poetic diction that might be spoken by an educated person,
being “neither pedantic nor vulgar.”
For a year Eliot taught French and Latin at the Highgate School; in
1917 he began his brief career as a bank clerk in Lloyds Bank Ltd.
Meanwhile he was also a prolific reviewer and essayist in both literary
criticism and technical philosophy. In 1919 he published Poems, which
contained the poem Gerontion, a meditative interior monologue in blank
verse: nothing like this poem had appeared in English.
The Waste Land and criticism
With the publication in 1922 of his poem The Waste Land, Eliot won an
international reputation. The Waste Land expresses with great power the
disenchantment, disillusionment, and disgust of the period after World
War I. In a series of vignettes, loosely linked by the legend of the
search for the Grail, it portrays a sterile world of panicky fears and
barren lusts, and of human beings waiting for some sign or promise of
redemption. The poem’s style is highly complex, erudite, and allusive,
and the poet provided notes and references to explain the work’s many
quotations and allusions. This scholarly supplement distracted some
readers and critics from perceiving the true originality of the poem,
which lay rather in its rendering of the universal human predicament of
man desiring salvation, and in its manipulation of language, than in its
range of literary references. In his earlier poems Eliot had shown
himself to be a master of the poetic phrase. The Waste Land showed him
to be, in addition, a metrist of great virtuosity, capable of
astonishing modulations ranging from the sublime to the conversational.
The Waste Land consists of five sections and proceeds on a principle
of “rhetorical discontinuity” that reflects the fragmented experience of
the 20th-century sensibility of the great modern cities of the West.
Eliot expresses the hopelessness and confusion of purpose of life in the
secularized city, the decay of urbs aeterna (the “eternal city”). This
is the ultimate theme of The Waste Land, concretized by the poem’s
constant rhetorical shifts and its juxtapositions of contrasting styles.
But The Waste Land is not a simple contrast of the heroic past with the
degraded present; it is rather a timeless, simultaneous awareness of
moral grandeur and moral evil. The poem’s original manuscript of about
800 lines was cut down to 433 at the suggestion of Ezra Pound. The Waste
Land is not Eliot’s greatest poem, though it is his most famous.
Eliot said that the poet-critic must write “programmatic
criticism”—that is, criticism that expresses the poet’s own interests as
a poet, quite different from historical scholarship, which stops at
placing the poet in his background. Consciously intended or not, Eliot’s
criticism created an atmosphere in which his own poetry could be better
understood and appreciated than if it had to appear in a literary milieu
dominated by the standards of the preceding age. In the essay Tradition
and the Individual Talent, appearing in his first critical volume, The
Sacred Wood (1920), Eliot asserts that tradition, as used by the poet,
is not a mere repetition of the work of the immediate past (“novelty is
better than repetition,” he said); rather, it comprises the whole of
European literature from Homer to the present. The poet writing in
English may therefore make his own tradition by using materials from any
past period, in any language. This point of view is “programmatic” in
the sense that it disposes the reader to accept the revolutionary
novelty of Eliot’s polyglot quotations and serious parodies of other
poets’ styles in The Waste Land.
Also in The Sacred Wood, Hamlet and His Problems sets forth Eliot’s
theory of the objective correlative:
The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding
an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a
situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula for that
particular emotion; such that, when the external facts, which must
terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately
Eliot used the phrase “objective correlative” in the context of his
own impersonal theory of poetry; it thus had an immense influence toward
correcting the vagueness of late Victorian rhetoric by insisting on a
correspondence of word and object. Two other essays, first published the
year after The Sacred Wood, almost complete the Eliot critical canon:
The Metaphysical Poets and Andrew Marvell, published in Selected Essays,
1917–32 (1932). In these essays he effects a new historical perspective
on the hierarchy of English poetry, putting at the top Donne and other
Metaphysical poets of the 17th century and lowering poets of the 18th
and 19th centuries. Eliot’s second famous phrase appears
here—“dissociation of sensibility,” invented to explain the change that
came over English poetry after Donne and Andrew Marvell. This change
seems to him to consist in a loss of the union of thought and feeling.
The phrase has been attacked, yet the historical fact that gave rise to
it cannot be denied, and with the poetry of Eliot and Pound it had a
strong influence in reviving interest in certain 17th-century poets.
The first, or programmatic, phase of Eliot’s criticism ended with The
Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)—his Charles Eliot Norton
lectures at Harvard. Shortly before this his interests had broadened
into theology and sociology; three short books, or long essays, were the
result: Thoughts After Lambeth (1931), The Idea of a Christian Society
(1939), and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948). These
book-essays, along with his Dante (1929), an indubitable masterpiece,
broadened the base of literature into theology and philosophy: whether a
work is poetry must be decided by literary standards; whether it is
great poetry must be decided by standards higher than the literary.
Eliot’s criticism and poetry are so interwoven that it is difficult
to discuss them separately. The great essay on Dante appeared two years
after Eliot was confirmed in the Church of England (1927); in that year
he also became a British subject. The first long poem after his
conversion was Ash Wednesday (1930), a religious meditation in a style
entirely different from that of any of the earlier poems. Ash Wednesday
expresses the pangs and the strain involved in the acceptance of
religious belief and religious discipline. This and subsequent poems
were written in a more relaxed, musical, and meditative style than his
earlier works, in which the dramatic element had been stronger than the
lyrical. Ash Wednesday was not well received in an era that held that
poetry, though autonomous, is strictly secular in its outlook; it was
misinterpreted by some critics as an expression of personal disillusion.
Later poetry and plays
Eliot’s masterpiece is Four Quartets, which was issued as a book in
1943, though each “quartet” is a complete poem. The first of the
quartets, Burnt Norton, had appeared in the Collected Poems of 1936. It
is a subtle meditation on the nature of time and its relation to
eternity. On the model of this Eliot wrote three more poems, East Coker
(1940), The Dry Salvages (1941), and Little Gidding (1942), in which he
explored through images of great beauty and haunting power his own past,
the past of the human race, and the meaning of human history. Each of
the poems was self-subsistent; but when published together they were
seen to make up a single work, in which themes and images recurred and
were developed in a musical manner and brought to a final resolution.
This work made a deep impression on the reading public, and even those
who were unable to accept the poems’ Christian beliefs recognized the
intellectual integrity with which Eliot pursued his high theme, the
originality of the form he had devised, and the technical mastery of his
verse. This work led to the award to Eliot, in 1948, of the Nobel Prize
An outstanding example of Eliot’s verse in Four Quartets is the
passage in Little Gidding in which the poet meets a “compound ghost,” a
figure composite of two of his masters: William Butler Yeats and
Stéphane Mallarmé. The scene takes place at dawn in London after a night
on duty at an air-raid post during an air-attack; the master speaks in
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.
The passage is 72 lines, in modified terza rima; the diction is as
near to that of Dante as is possible in English; and it is a fine
example of Eliot’s belief that a poet can be entirely original when he
is closest to his models.
Eliot’s plays, which begin with Sweeney Agonistes (published 1926;
first performed in 1934) and end with The Elder Statesman (first
performed 1958; published 1959), are, with the exception of Murder in
the Cathedral (published and performed 1935), inferior to the lyric and
meditative poetry. Eliot’s belief that even secular drama attracts
people who unconsciously seek a religion led him to put drama above all
other forms of poetry. All his plays are in a blank verse of his own
invention, in which the metrical effect is not apprehended apart from
the sense; thus he brought “poetic drama” back to the popular stage. The
Family Reunion (1939) and Murder in the Cathedral are Christian
tragedies, the former a tragedy of revenge, the latter of the sin of
pride. Murder in the Cathedral is a modern miracle play on the martyrdom
of Thomas Becket. The most striking feature of this, his most successful
play, was the use of a chorus in the traditional Greek manner to make
apprehensible to common humanity the meaning of the heroic action. The
Family Reunion (1939) was less popular. It contained scenes of great
poignancy and some of the finest dramatic verse since the Elizabethans;
but the public found this translation of the story of Orestes into a
modern domestic drama baffling and was uneasy at the mixture of
psychological realism, mythical apparitions at a drawing-room window,
and a comic chorus of uncles and aunts.
After World War II, Eliot returned to writing plays with The Cocktail
Party in 1949, The Confidential Clerk in 1953, and The Elder Statesman
in 1958. These plays are comedies in which the plots are derived from
Greek drama. In them Eliot accepted current theatrical conventions at
their most conventional, subduing his style to a conversational level
and eschewing the lyrical passages that gave beauty to his earlier
plays. Only The Cocktail Party, which is based upon the Alcestis of
Euripides, achieved a popular success. In spite of their obvious
theatrical defects and a failure to engage the sympathies of the
audience for the characters, these plays succeed in handling moral and
religious issues of some complexity while entertaining the audience with
farcical plots and some shrewd social satire.
Eliot’s career as editor was ancillary to his main interests, but his
quarterly review, The Criterion (1922–39), was the most distinguished
international critical journal of the period. He was a “director,” or
working editor, of the publishing firm of Faber & Faber Ltd. from the
early 1920s until his death, and as such was a generous and
discriminating patron of young poets. Eliot rigorously kept his private
life in the background. In 1915 he married Vivien Haigh-Wood. After 1933
she was mentally ill, and they lived apart; she died in 1947. In January
1957 he married Valerie Fletcher, with whom he lived happily until his
Dame Helen Gardner
T. S. Eliot
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Thomas Stearns Eliot, OM (26 September 1888–4 January 1965),
was a poet, dramatist, and literary critic. He received the Nobel Prize in
Literature in 1948. He wrote the poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,
The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday and Four Quartets; the plays
Murder in the Cathedral and The Cocktail Party; and the essay "Tradition and
the Individual Talent". Eliot was born in the United States, moved to the
United Kingdom in 1914 (at age 25), and became a British subject in 1927 at
the age of 39. Of his nationality and its role in his work, T.S. Eliot said:
"[My poetry] 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
treasurer of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis; his mother,
born Charlotte Champe Stearns (1843–1929), wrote poems and was also a social
worker. Eliot was the last of six surviving children; his parents were both
44 years old when he was born. His four sisters were between eleven and
nineteen years older than he; his brother was eight years older. Known to
family and friends as Tom, he was the namesake of his maternal grandfather,
Thomas Stearns. From 1898 to 1905, Eliot was a day student at Smith Academy,
a preparatory school for Washington University. At the academy, Eliot
studied Latin, Greek, French, and German. Upon graduation, he could have
gone to Harvard University, but his parents sent him to Milton Academy (in
Milton, Massachusetts, near Boston) for a preparatory year. There he met
Scofield Thayer, who would later publish The Waste Land. He studied at
Harvard, where he earned a B.A., from 1906 to 1909. During this time, he
read Arthur Symons's The Symbolist Movement in Literature, where, by his own
admission, he first came across Laforgue, Rimbaud, and Verlaine. The Harvard
Advocate published some of his poems, and he became lifelong friends with
Conrad Aiken. The next year, he earned a master's degree at Harvard. In the
1910–1911 school year, Eliot lived in Paris, studying at the Sorbonne and
touring the continent. Returning to Harvard in 1911 as a doctoral student in
philosophy, Eliot studied the writings of F. H. Bradley, Buddhism and Indic
philology (learning Sanskrit and Pāli to read some of the religious texts).
He was awarded a scholarship to attend Merton College, Oxford, in 1914, and,
before settling there, he visited Marburg, Germany, where he planned to take
a summer program in philosophy. When the First World War broke out, however,
he went to London and then to Oxford. In a letter to Aiken late in December
1914, Eliot, aged 26, wrote "I am very dependent upon women (I mean female
society)" and then added a complaint that he was still a virgin. Less than
four months later, he was introduced by Thayer, then also at Oxford, to
Cambridge governess Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Eliot was not happy at Merton and
declined a second year there. Instead, on 26 June 1915, he married Vivienne
in a register office. After a short visit, alone, to the U. S. to see his
family, he returned to London and took a few teaching jobs such as lecturing
at Birkbeck College, University of London. He continued to work on his
dissertation and, in the spring of 1916, sent it to Harvard, which accepted
it. Because he did not appear in person to defend his dissertation, however,
he was not awarded his PhD. (In 1964, the dissertation was published as Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H.
Bradley.) During Eliot's university career, he studied with George
Santayana, Irving Babbitt, Henri Bergson, C. R. Lanman, Josiah Royce,
Bertrand Russell, and Harold Joachim. Bertrand Russell took an interest in
Vivien (the spelling she preferred) while the newlyweds stayed in his flat.
Some scholars have suggested that Vivien and Russell had an affair , but
these allegations have never been confirmed. Eliot, in a private paper,
written in his sixties, confessed: "I came to persuade myself that I was in
love with Vivienne simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit
myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the
influence of Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England.
To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of
mind out of which came The Waste Land."After leaving Merton, Eliot worked as
a schoolteacher, most notably at Highgate School where he taught the young
John Betjeman, and later at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. To earn
extra money, he wrote book reviews and lectured at evening extension
courses. In 1917, he took a position at Lloyds Bank in London, where he
worked on foreign accounts. In August 1920, Eliot met James Joyce on a trip
to Paris, accompanied by Wyndham Lewis. After the meeting, Eliot said he
found Joyce arrogant (Joyce doubted Eliot's ability as a poet at the time),
but the two soon became friends with Eliot visiting Joyce whenever he was in
Paris. In 1925, Eliot left Lloyds to join the publishing firm Faber and
Gwyer (later Faber and Faber), where he remained for the rest of his career,
becoming a director of the firm. In 1927, Eliot took two important steps in
his self-definition. On June 29 he converted to Anglicanism and in November
he dropped his American citizenship and became a British subject. In 1928,
Eliot summarised his beliefs when he wrote in the preface to his book, For
Lancelot Andrewes that "the general point of view [of the book's essays] may
be described as classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic
in religion." By 1932, Eliot had been contemplating a separation from his
wife for some time. When Harvard University offered him the Charles Eliot
Norton professorship for the 1932-1933 academic year, he accepted, leaving
Vivien in England. Upon his return in 1933, Eliot officially separated from
Vivien. He avoided all but one meeting with his wife between his leaving for
America in 1932 and her death in 1947. (Vivien died at Northumberland House,
a mental hospital north of London, where she was committed in 1938, without
ever having been visited by Eliot, who was still her husband.) From 1946 to
1957, Eliot shared a flat with his friend, John Davy Hayward, who gathered
and archived Eliot's papers and styled himself Keeper of the Eliot Archive.
He also collected Eliot's pre-"Prufrock" verse, commercially published after
Eliot's death as Poems Written in Early Youth. When Eliot and Hayward
separated their household in 1957, Hayward retained his collection of
Eliot's papers, which he bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge in 1965.
Eliot's second marriage was happy but short. On January 10, 1957, he married
Esmé Valerie Fletcher, to whom he was introduced by Collin Brooks. In sharp
contrast to his first marriage, Eliot knew Miss Fletcher well, as she had
been his secretary at Faber and Faber since August 1949. Like his marriage
to Vivien, the wedding was kept a secret to preserve his privacy. The
ceremony was held in a church at 6.15 a.m. with virtually no one other than
his wife's parents in attendance. Valerie was 37 years younger than her
husband. Since Eliot's death she has dedicated her time to preserving his
legacy; she has edited and annotated The Letters of T. S. Eliot and a
facsimile of the draft of The Waste Land.
Eliot died of emphysema in London on January 4, 1965. For many years, he had
health problems owing to his heavy smoking, often being laid low with
bronchitis or tachycardia. His body was cremated at Golders Green
Crematorium and, according to Eliot's wishes, the ashes taken to St
Michael's Church in East Coker, the village from which Eliot's ancestors
emigrated to America. There, a simple wall plaque commemorates him with a
quote from his poem, "East Coker": "In my beginning is my end. In my end is
my beginning." On the second anniversary of his death, a large stone placed
on the floor of Poets' Corner in London's Westminster Abbey was dedicated to
Eliot. This commemoration contains his name, an indication that he had
received the Order of Merit, dates, and a quotation from his poem, "Little
Gidding": "the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond / the
language of the living."
T. S. Eliot (1938)
by Wyndham Lewis
Type of work: Poetry
Author: T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
First published: Four Quartets, 1943
At age sixty and already an elder statesman of letters, T. S. Eliot
was awarded the British Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize in Literature
in 1948, five years after publishing what would be his last masterpiece,
Four Quartets. Musing on the Nobel committee's choice, he surmised that
they made their selection having considered "the entire corpus" of his
work. Although he would go on to write three more plays, several volumes
of essays, and some more poetry, Four Quartets was to remain the
capstone of his career as a poet, the masterpiece of his maturity, very
different in style from the masterpiece of his poetic apprenticeship,
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917) and from his renowned and
no longer disputed chef d'oeuvre, The Waste Land (1922). Quite simply,
some of his poetic concerns had changed, as had his mode of expression.
More seemingly direct and more apparently accessible than Eliot's early
work, Four Quartets exhibits a certain simplicity of statement that
leads into the depth of his thought. The sequence, like some of his
earlier poetry, grew incrementally over an eight-year period. "Burnt
Norton" (1935), the first of the quartets, was formed from lines
originally intended for the verse drama Murder in the Cathedral (1935)
and contains themes common to the play. Its title refers to a specific
country house with a rose garden in the Cotswolds. "East Coker" (1940)
invokes the place from which Eliot's forebears emigrated in the
seventeenth century; Eliot would be buried in East Coker, Somerset, in
1965. "The Dry Salvages" is also linked to Eliot's own geography: In his
youth his family spent summers in New England, principally in Rockport
and Gloucester, Massachusetts, on Cape Ann, near the rocks known as the
Dry Salvages (a corruption, Eliot speculates, of les trois sauvages).
Finally, "Little Gid-ding* (1942), which some have called Eliot's
Paradise, recalls the seventeenth century High Church religious
community founded near Huntingdon by Nicholas Fer-rar. Each of the poems
is a meditation about place or inspired by place; together they form a
devotional sequence linked by considerations of time, place, memory,
consciousness of the self and of others, transcendence, and the act of
Eliot has endowed the poems, each a quartet, with musical qualities and
repetitive motifs. All of Eliot's poetry should be read aloud, and Four
Quartets in particular should be heard. Walter Pater, to whom Eliot owed
many debts he was eager to conceal, once wrote that "all art continually
aspires to the condition of music." In these poems, Eliot's verbal art
seems to aspire to that condition, so that in every phrase and sentence
that is right, one finds "the complete consort dancing together."
Structurally, the poems follow the five-part plan Eliot had used in a
more startling way in The Waste Land. These five movements, patterned on
the form of a musical quartet or sonata, concern the varied
relationships between time and eternity, the meaning of history, and the
experience of Joycean epiphanies. Ñ. Ê. Stead has provided lengthy and
useful analyses of each of the poems by probing each according to a
naming of the parts. The first part of each poem is concerned with the
movement of time in which fleeting moments of eternity are caught. The
second part examines worldly experience, which leads to an inevitable
dissatisfaction. In the third part, the speaker seeks purgation in the
world and seeks to divest the soul of love for created things. Part 4,
the briefest, is a lyric prayer for or affirmation of the need for
spiritual intercession. The final part deals with the problems of
attaining artistic wholeness, which become analogs for, and blend into,
the problems of achieving spiritual health.
"Burnt Norton" begins with two epigraphs from the fragments of the great
philosopher of flux, Heraclitus. These are central to the concerns of
Eliot as a modern-day poet-philosopher of the Word. Heraclitus'
fragments mark him as a profound thinker who assigned the divine
attribute of eternity to the universal Logos (word). This Logos Eliot
would also find resonating in the later Logos of St. John's Gospel.
Heraclitus did not believe that the universe began in time but that
there exists a perpetual stream of creation in which "all things are an
exchange for fire and fire for all things" in a world order that "was,
is, and will be everliving fire being kindled in measures and quenched
in measures." That for which Heraclitus is generally renowned becomes
the more important for Eliot as he reflects, desiderative and expectant,
upon his own craft in these poems: Heraclitus was the first Greek writer
to explore the nature of discourse and to find an intelligible principle
of the universe not only in the Logos but also in the depths of the
philosophic soul, depths which deepen even as the soul attempts to
fathom them. In particular, Eliot cites two sentences from H. Diels's
Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, likely from the fifth edition of 1934.
The first may be loosely translated, "While the Law of Reason (Logos) is
common, the majority of people live as though they had an understanding
(wisdom) of their own." The second is a paradox fundamental to Eliot's
poem: "The way upward and downward are one and the same."
The poem opens with a reflection on the nature of time and leads to the
proposition "If all time is eternally present/ All time is
unredeemable," a notion that puts in question the need for a redemption
and possibly the lack of such a need in a cosmos ruled by the redemptive
Logos. The mix of memory and desire leads to the rose garden: Directed
by the bird "into our first world," one finds that "the leaves are full
of children,/ Hidden excitedly, containing laughter." This, possibly one
of those brief encounters with eternity, is ended by the bird: "Go, go,
go, said the bird: human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality."
Part 2 focuses upon individual humanity and the tension between an
ascending spirit and a descending body. Eliot continues to pit
Heraclitean opposites against each other "at the still point of the
turning world. . . . Where past and future are gathered." Here is "inner
freedom from the practical desire," "release from action and suffering,
release from the inner/ And the outer compulsion." The human condition
of incompleteness and temporality is an unsatisfactory one. What redeems
the time and releases one from it is consciousness, but only in time can
memory function. Paradoxically, he concludes, "Only through time time is
conquered." Here, as in Her-aclitus, the philosophic soul adds to its
depths as it seeks to plumb them.
The poem's third part reveals "a place of disaffection," a twilight that
has neither the light that turns shadow into transient beauty nor the
darkness that purifies the soul. Indeed, spiritual purification is the
speaker's goal with his command to "descend lower . . ./ Into the world
of perpetual solitude" and his enumeration of necessary negations in
abstention to achieve a present "while the world moves/ In appetency, on
its metalled ways/ Of time past and time future." The search for
purgation reiterates the Heraclitean virtue of desiccation, the "dry
soul" approaching the condition of fire.
The short lyric that is part 4 celebrates the darkness in which the soul
may be purified and places the speaker in the lower depths, below the
sunflower's tendrils and the yew's fingers. Here, in the darkness "the
light is still/ At the still point of the turning world." The questions
in this section of the poem may hint at the need for intercession, but
the mention of the "kingfisher's wing" is a more obvious allusion to the
celebrated image Gerard Manley Hopkins had used for Christ.
In part 5 the speaker muses that "words move, music moves/ Only in time"
and continues to meditate on the temporal nature of music, words,
silence, ends and beginnings. Here Eliot examines the adequacy and
inadequacy of words and moves to consider the Johanine Logos as he
reflects that "the word in the desert/ Is most attacked by voices of
temptation." In a further contrast between desire (movement) and love (a
stillness that impels motion), he finds the latter timeless except for
the temporality that is necessary to the difference between un-being and
being. Finally, to draw the sequence full circle to part 1, there is the
"hidden laughter/ Of children in the foliage" and a repetition, without
attribution, of the bird's directives, and the closing statement
"Ridiculous the waste sad time/ Stretching before and after." The
questions of artistic wholeness and spiritual health involve a
consideration of words as part of the Word and of love as a timeless
present. By association, love participates in Logos; also by
association, the laughter of children in the past in the rose garden
becomes present and eternal in the remembered words "Quicknow, here,
now, always—' and has a connection, however tenuous, with love and
This type of analysis is only one among many possible approaches to the
poem in itself and as part of a sequence. Some have read "Burnt Norton"
as the first of a series which features God the Father and concerns the
element of air, with "East Coker" focusing on God the Son (earth), "The
Dry Salvages" dealing with Mary the Mother of God (water), and "Little
Gidding" devoted to God the Spirit (fire). While this scheme offers
suggestive possibilities, it presents a somewhat limited view of the
poem and the sequence as a whole. What it does suggest is a range of
possible interpretations suggested by the text.
To use Stead's fivefold analyses as applied to "Burnt Norton" in
considering its three companion pieces is to develop a deep and rich
appreciation of the poet at work in exploring his own consciousness.
"East Coker" pursues the poet's beginning in his end (part 1),
especially in light of family history, and is a much more explicit
meditation on the role of the poet as craftsman of words (part 5). Like
the speaker of Dante's The Divine Comedy, he is in the middle way; in
his case he has spent twenty years—"years largely wasted, the years of
Ventre deux guerres"—trying to learn to use words. "The Dry Salvages"
recalls Eliot's youthful life in America not only in Massachusetts but
also in St. Louis, Missouri, alongside the "strong brown god," the
river. This poem, more than the first two, is explicitly concerned with
religious thought, with direct references to God and the Annunciation
(part 2), Krishna (part 3), and a prayer to the Queen of Heaven, "Figlia
del tuo figho" (daughter of your son). Again, the work of the poet in
search of artistic wholeness and spiritual health becomes the clear
focus of part 5, as the speaker considers varied attempts to
communicate, spiritually and at times fantastically. He does offer a
clue to his sense of his own purpose in probing language and time and
eternity: "The point of intersection of the timeless/ With time, is an
occupation for the saint." It is also an occupation for the poet and for
The most anthologized poem of the Four Quartets, "Little Gidding,"
contains Eliot's most mature and virtually final poetic statement.
Musing on the place Little Gidding and its significance—historically, as
a seat of spiritual life in the seventeenth century, and currently, as a
source of spiritual strength—he finds "the intersection of the timeless
moment/ Is England and nowhere. Never and always." Part 2 describes
another sort of spiritual encounter reminiscent of Eliot's earlier
dramatic poetry, Here, in Dantean fashion, he encounters the shade "of
some dead master" whose burden is a total disillusion expressed in a
disclosure of "the gifts reserved for age." He offers these observations
as one poet to another, "since our concern was speech, and speech
impelled us/ To purify the dialect of the tribe."
Part 3 contains echoes of Dame Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century
mystic, as the speaker reflects upon the inevitability of sin and the
mystic knowledge of forgiveness based upon beseeching. The lyrical part
4 combines the "dove" of part 2, which had been a bomber, with the
descent of the Spirit at Pentecost and the Heraclitean fire foreshadowed
in the epigraph to "Burnt Norton," as the speaker reflects upon love and
fire. Finally, in some of his most memorable lines, a paean on poetic
practice as a unifying, health-giving activity, Eliot achieves a
synthetic vision, summarizes the varied strands of the poem, and ends at
an unqualified affirmation. He unifies the sequence in the poem's
closing lines by echoing the moments of insight he had revealed in the
earlier poems and earlier in this one.
Eliot once wrote that his favorite author, Dante, is "a poet to whom one
grows up over a lifetime." Eliot himself has achieved something of that
stature: He is a poet to whom one returns without exhausting meaning or
the possibility of meaning, especially when one reads his later poetry
in light of the earlier work. In particular, Four Quartets is a sequence
to which a reader may return after few or many years, exploring it anew
and coming away with fresh insight.
MIDDLEMARCH: A Study of Provincial Life
Type of Work: Novel
Author: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
First published: 1871-1872
Middlemarch is the most comprehensive and sweeping of George
Eliot's novels and is usually considered her masterpiece. Structuring
the book around four major plotlines—the story of Dorothea Brooke, the
story of Lydgate's marriage, the history of Mary Garth, and the fall of
banker Bulstrode—the author creates a dynamic pattern that encompasses
an entire spectrum of life, attitudes, and events in early nineteenth
Dorothea Brooke (Dodo), the sensitive and well-bred heroine who, in her
desire to devote herself to something meaningful, marries an arid
clerical scholar, Edward Casaubon. After Casaubon's death Dorothea,
against the advice of friends and family, marries Will Ladislaw, an
impulsive artist and political thinker. Dorothea also befriends the
progressive young doctor of Middlemarch, Tertius Lydgate.
The Rev. Edward Casaubon, the clergyman at Lo-wick, near Middlemarch.
Casaubon is a gloomy, severe, unimaginative, and unsuccessful scholar
who soon destroys Dorothea's enthusiasm. He is so jealous of Dorothea's
friendship with his cousin, Will Ladislaw, that he adds a codicil to his
will depriving Dorothea of his property should she marry his younger
Will Ladislaw, Casaubon's young cousin, whose English heritage is mixed
with alien Polish blood. Ladislaw is forceful, imaginative, energetic,
and unconventional. An artist and a liberal, he represents an
appropriate object of devotion for Dorothea, although many in
Middle-march are shocked by his views. After marrying Dorothea, he
becomes a member of Parliament.
Celia Brooke, called Kitty, Dorothea's younger sister, a calm and placid
young lady. She has none of Dorothea's aspirations, but a great deal of
affection. She marries Sir James Chettam, a staid landowner.
Sir James Chettam, the owner of Freshitt Hall. A conservative gentleman,
Sir James loves, first, Dorothea, then Celia, whom he happily weds.
Dr. Tertius Lydgate, a young doctor who comes to Middlemarch to
establish a new hospital along progressive lines and to pursue
scientific research. His noble career is destroyed by his improvident
marriage and consequent debts.
Rosamond Vincy Lydgate, the beautiful, spoiled, and selfish daughter of
the mayor of Middlemarch. Once married, she insists on living in a style
that her husband, Dr. Lydgate, cannot afford.
Mr. Arthur Brooke, of Tipton Grange, the genial, rambling, and
ineffectual uncle of Dorothea and Celia. His vague benevolence leads him
to run for Parliament and he is soundly beaten.
Fred Vincy, Rosamond's brother, equally spoiled but less selfish.
Although Fred gets into debt as a student and rebels against his
family's plans to establish him as a respectable vicar, he later
reforms, becomes an industrious farmer, and marries Mary Garth.
Mary Garth, the level-headed, competent daughter of a large,
old-fashioned family securely tied to the land. She takes care of her
aged, ailing relative, Peter Feath-erstone, before she marries Fred
Vincy, her childhood sweetheart.
Mr. Walter Vincy, the mayor of Middlemarch and a prosperous
manufacturer. Mr. Vincy, who loves comfort and genial company, is
neither wise nor sympathetic in dealing with the problems his children
Mrs. Lucy Vincy, his wife, a warm, sentimental woman who spoils her
children and has vast pretentions to social gentility. She objects to
Fred's relationship with the simple, commonplace Garths.
Mr. Nicholas Bulstrode, the enormously pious, evangelical, wealthy
banker of Middlemarch. Bulstrode uses his public morality and his money
to control events in Middlemarch; however, the questionable connections
and the shady early marriage that built up his fortune are eventually
Mrs. Harriet Vincy Bulstrode, his wife and the sister of Mayor Vincy.
Although she seems to care only for social prestige, she loyally
supports her husband after his disgrace.
Peter Featherstone, the wealthy aged owner of Stone Court. He tries to
give his fortune to Mary Garth while she is nursing him during his final
illness, but she refuses. His capricious will, cutting off all his
grasping relatives, brings to Middlemarch strangers who precipitate
Bulstrode 's disgrace.
The Rev. Camden Farebrother, the vicar of St. Botolph's, a genial and
casual clergyman. An expert whist-player and a friend of Lydgate, he is
also, unsuccessfully, in love with Mary Garth.
The Rev. Humphrey Cadwallader, of Freshitt and Tipton, another genial
clergyman who is particularly fond of fishing.
Mrs. Elinor Cadwallader, his wife, a talkative woman always acquainted
with the latest scandal.
Caleb Garth, Mary's father, a stalwart and honest surveyor, land agent,
and unsuccessful builder. He pays Fred Vincy's debts.
Susan Garth, his loyal, devoted wife, who educates her children with
scholarly care and insight.
Mrs. Selina Plymdale, a Middlemarch gossip, friendly with the Vincys and
Ned Plymdale, her son, a disappointed suitor of Rosamond Vincy.
Borthrop Trumbull, a florid auctioneer and cousin to old Featherstone.
John Raffles, an old reprobate and blackmailer who enters Middlemarch
because he has married the mother of Featherstone's unexpected heir and
periodically appears to get money. Just before he dies he reveals
Bulstrode's sordid past.
Joshua Rigg, an enigmatic man who inherits Featherstone's house and
money. He must adopt Featherstone's name as well.
Mr. Tyke, an evangelical clergyman, supported by Bulstrode and Lydgate
for the post of chaplain at the new hospital.
Naumann, a German artist and a friend of Will Ladislaw.
Mrs. Jane Waule, the widowed, avaricious sister of Peter Featherstone.
Solomon Featherstone, her wealthy and equally avaricious brother.
Jonah Featherstone, another of Peter's disappointed brothers.
Mrs. Martha Cranch, a poor sister of Peter Featherstone, also neglected
in his will.
Tom Cranch, her unintelligent and unenterprising son.
Ben Garth, the active, athletic son of the Garths.
Letty Garth, the Garths' very bright younger daughter.
Alfred Garth, the son for whose engineering career the Garths are saving
the money they use to pay Fred Vincy's debts.
Christy Garth, the Garths' oldest son, who becomes a scholar and tutor.
Mrs. Farebrother, the mother of the Reverend Mr. Camden.
Miss Henrietta Noble, her pious, understanding sister.
Miss Winifred Farebrother, Camden's sister, who idolizes him.
The Dowager Lady Chettam, Sir James's stiff and formal mother.
Arthur Chettam, the child of Sir James and Celia.
Sir Godwin Lydgate, of Quallingham in the north of England, Lydgate's
distant and distinguished cousin. Rosamond appeals to him for money, but
Tantripp, Dorothea's faithful and understanding maid.
Mme. Laure, a French actress whom Lydgate once loved.
Dr. Sprague and Dr. Minchin, conservative Middle-march physicians.
Mr. Wrench, at first physician to the Vincys, replaced by the more
competent and progressive Lydgate.
Mr. Standish, the local lawyer who represents Peter Featherstone.
Mr. Mawmsey, a Middlemarch grocer.
Mrs. Mawmsey, his wife, a Middlemarch gossip.
Harry Toller, a local brewer.
Miss Sophy Toller, his daughter, who finally marries Ned Plymdale.
Edwin Larcher, a local businessman.
Mrs. Larcher, his wife, a local gossip.
Mr. Bambridge, a horse dealer who swindles Fred Vincy.
Mr. Horrock, his friend.
Mr. Hawley, a local citizen who frequently comments on people and
Mr. Chichely, another local citizen.
Dagley, an insolent farmer on Arthur Brooke's land.
Pinkerton, Mr. Brooke's political opponent in the election for
Dorothea Brooke and her younger sister, Celia, were young women of good
birth, who lived with their bachelor uncle at Tipton Grange near the
town of Middle-march. So serious was Dorothea's cast of mind that she
was reluctant to keep jewelry she had inherited from her dead mother,
and she gave all of it to her sister. Upon reconsideration, however, she
did keep a ring and bracelet.
At a dinner party where Edward Casaubon, a middle-aged scholar, and Sir
James Chettam both vied for her attention, she was much more attracted
to the seriousminded Casaubon. Casaubon must have had an inkling that
his chances with Dorothea were good; for the next morning, he sought her
out. Celia, who did not like his complexion or his moles, escaped to
That afternoon, Dorothea contemplated the wisdom of the scholar. As she
was walking, she encountered Sir James by chance; he was in love with
her and mistook her silence for agreement, supposing she might love him
When Casaubon made his proposal of marriage by letter, Dorothea accepted
him at once. Mr. Brooke, her uncle, thought Sir James a much better
match; Dorothea's acceptance of Casaubon's proposal merely confirmed his
bachelor views that women were difficult to understand. He decided not
to interfere in her plans, but Celia felt that the event would be more
like a funeral than a marriage and frankly said so.
Casaubon took Dorothea, Celia, and Mr. Brooke to see his home so that
Dorothea might order any necessary changes. Dorothea intended to defer
to Casaubon's tastes in all things and said she would make no changes in
the house. During the visit, Dorothea met Will Ladislaw, Casaubon's
second cousin, who did not seem in sympathy with his elderly cousin's
While Dorothea and her new husband were traveling in Italy, Tertius
Lydgate, an ambitious yet poor young doctor, was meeting pretty Rosamond
Vincy, to whom he was much attracted. Fred Vincy, Rosamond's brother,
had indicated that he expected to receive a fine inheritance when his
uncle, Mr. Featherstone, died. Vincy, meanwhile, was pressed by a debt
he was unable to pay.
Lydgate became involved in petty local politics. When the time came to
choose a chaplain for the new hospital of which Lydgate was the head,
the young doctor realized that it was to his best interest to vote in
accordance with the wishes of Nicholas Bulstrode, an influential banker
and founder of the hospital. A clergyman named Tyke received the office.
In Rome, Ladislaw encountered Dorothea and her middle-aged husband.
Dorothea had begun to realize too late how pompous and incompatible she
found Casaubon. Seeing her unhappiness, Ladislaw first pitied and then
fell in love with his cousin's wife. Unwilling to live any longer on
Casaubon's charity, Ladislaw announced his intention of returning to
England and finding some kind of gainful occupation.
When Fred Vincy's note came due, he tried to sell a horse at a profit,
but the animal turned out to be vicious. Caleb Garth, who had signed his
note, now stood to lose a hundred and ten pounds because of Fred's
inability to raise the money. Fred fell ill, and Lydgate was summoned to
attend him. Lydgate used his professional calls to further his suit with
Dorothea and her husband returned from Rome in time to hear of Celia's
engagement to Sir James Chettam. Will Ladislaw included a note to
Dorothea in a letter he wrote to Casaubon. This attention precipitated a
quarrel that was followed by Casaubon's serious illness. Lydgate, who
attended him, urged him to give up his studies for the present time.
Lydgate confided to Dorothea that Casaubon had a weak heart and must be
guarded from all excitement.
Meanwhile, all the relatives of old Mr. Featherstone were waiting
impatiently for his death, but he hoped to circumvent their desires by
giving his fortune to Mary Garth, daughter of the man who had signed
Fred Vincy's note. When she refused it, he fell into a rage and died
soon afterward. When his will was read, it was learned he had left
nothing to his relatives; most of his money was to go to Joshua Riggs,
who was to take the name of Featherstone, and a part of his fortune was
to endow the Featherstone Almshouses for old men.
Plans were made for Rosamond's marriage with Lydgate. Fred Vincy was
ordered to prepare himself finally for the ministry, since he was to
have no inheritance from his uncle. Mr. Brooke had gone into politics;
he now enlisted the help of Ladislaw in publishing a liberal paper. Mr.
Casaubon had come to dislike Ladislaw intensely after his cousin had
rejected further financial assistance, and he had forbidden Ladislaw to
enter his house.
Casaubon died suddenly. A codicil to his will gave Dorothea all of his
property as long as she did not marry Ladislaw. This strange provision
caused Dorothea's friends and relatives some concern because, if
publicly revealed, it would appear that Dorothea and Ladislaw had been
Upon the advice of his Tory friends, Mr. Brooke gave up his liberal
newspaper and thus cut off his connection with Ladislaw. Ladislaw
realized that Dorothea's family was in some way trying to separate him
from Dorothea, but he refused to be disconcerted about the matter. He
resolved to stay on in Middlemarch until he was ready to leave. When he
heard of the codicil to Casaubon's will, he was more than ever
determined to remain so that he could eventually disprove the suspicions
of the village concerning him and Dorothea.
Meanwhile, Lydgate and Rosamond had married, and the doctor had gone
deeply in debt to furnish his house. When he found that his income did
not meet his wife's spendthrift habits, he asked her to help him
economize. He and his wife began to quarrel. His practice and popularity
A disreputable man named Raffles appeared in Middlemarch. Raffles knew
that Ladislaw's grandfather had amassed a fortune as a receiver of
stolen goods and that Nicholas Bulstrode, the highly respected banker,
had once been the confidential clerk of Ladislaw's ancestor. More than
that, Bulstrode's first wife had been his employer's widow. Upon money
inherited from her, money that should have gone to Ladislaw's mother,
Bulstrode had built his own fortune.
Bulstrode already had been blackmailed by Raffles, and he reasoned that
the scoundrel would tell Ladislaw the whole story. To forestall trouble,
he sent for Ladislaw and offered him an annuity of five hundred pounds
and liberal provision in his will. Ladislaw, feeling that his relatives
had already tainted his honor, refused; he was unwilling to be
associated in any way with the unsavory business. Ladislaw decided to
leave Middlemarch and went to London without the assurance that Dorothea
Lydgate drifted deeper into debt. When he wished to sell what he could
and take cheaper lodgings, Rosamond managed to make him hold on, to keep
up the pretense of prosperity a little longer. At the same time,
Bulstrode gave up his interest in the new hospital and withdrew his
Faced at last with the seizure of his goods, Lydgate went to Bulstrode
and asked for a loan. The banker advised him to seek aid from Dorothea
and abruptly ended the conversation; but when Raffles, in the last
stages of alcoholism, returned to Middlemarch and Lydgate was called in
to attend him, Bulstrode, afraid the doctor would learn the banker's
secret from Raffles' drunken ravings, changed his mind and gave Lydgate
a check for a thousand pounds. The loan came in time to save Lydgate's
goods and reputation. When Raffles died, Bulstrode felt at peace at
last. Nevertheless, it soon became common gossip that Bulstrode had
given money to Lydgate and that Lydgate had attended Raffles in his
final illness. Bulstrode and Lydgate were publicly accused of
malpractice in Raffles' death. Only Dorothea took up Lydgate's defense.
The rest of the town was busy with gossip over the affair. Rosamond was
anxious to leave Middlemarch to avoid public disgrace. Bulstrode also
was anxious to leave town after his secret, which Raffles had told while
drunk in a neighboring village, became known; but he became ill, and his
doctors would not permit him to leave his bed.
Sympathetic with Lydgate, Dorothea was determined to give her support to
the hospital and to try to convince Rosamond that the only way Lydgate
could recover his honor was by remaining in Middlemarch. Unfortunately,
she came upon Will Ladislaw, to whom poor Rosamond was pouring out her
grief. Dorothea was afraid that Rosamond was involved with Ladislaw, and
she left abruptly. Angered at the false position Rosamond had put him
in, Ladislaw explained that he had always loved Dorothea, but from a
distance. When Dorothea forced herself to return to Lydgate's house on
the following morning, Rosamond told her of Ladislaw's declaration.
Dorothea realized she was willing to give up Casaubon's fortune for
Despite the protests of her family and friends, they were married
several weeks later and went to London to live. Lydgate and Rosamond
lived together with better understanding and prospects of a happier
future. Fred Vincy became engaged to Mary Garth, with whom he had long
been in love. For a time, Dorothea's family disregarded her. but they
were finally reconciled after Dorothea's son was born and Ladislaw was
elected to Parliament.
Modestly subtitled "A Study of Provincial Life," George Eliot's
Middlemarch has long been recognized as a work of great psychological
and moral penetration. Indeed, the novel has been compared with
Tolstoy's War and Peace and Thackeray's Vanity Fair for its nearly epic
sweep and its perspective of early nineteenth century history. These
comparisons, however, are partly faulty. Unlike War and Peace,
Middlemarch lacks a philosophical bias, a grand Weltanschauung that
oversees the destinies of nations and generations. Unlike Vanity Fair,
Eliot's novel is not neatly moralistic. In fact, much of Middlemarch is
morally ambiguous in the modern sense of the term. Eliot's concept of
plot and character derives from psychological rather than philosophical
or social necessity. This is another way of saying that Middlemarch
despite its Victorian trappings of complicated plot and subplot, its
slow development of character, its accumulated detail concerning time
and place, its social density is—in many other respects—a "modern" novel
that disturbs as well as comforts the reader.
At the height of her powers, Eliot published Middle-march in eight
books, from December 1871 to December 1872, eight years before her
death. She had already achieved a major reputation with Adam Bede
(1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), and Silas Marner (1861).
Nevertheless, her most recent fiction, Felix Holt, Radical (1866) and
The Spanish Gypsy (1868), both inferior to her best writing, had
disappointed her public. Middle-march, however, was received with
considerable excitement and critical acclaim. Eliot's publisher.
Blackwood, was so caught up with the action as he received chapters of
her novel by mail that he wrote back to her asking questions about the
fates of the characters as though they were real people with real
histories. Eliot, in fact, researched the material for her novel
scrupulously. Her discussion of the social climate in rural England
directly before the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832 is convincingly
detailed; she accurately describes the state of medical knowledge during
Lydgate's time; and she treats the dress, habits, and speech of
Middlemarch impeccably, creating the metaphor of a complete world, a
piece of provincial England that is a microcosm of the greater world
The theme of the novel itself, however, revolves around the slenderest
of threads: the mating of "unimportant" people. This theme, which
engages the talents of other great writers as well—such as Jane Austen,
Thomas Hardy, Henry James, D. H. Lawrence—allows Eliot the scope to
examine the whole range of human nature. She is concerned with the
mating of lovers, because they are most vulnerable in love, most nearly
the victims of their romantic illusions. Each of the three sets of
lovers in Middlemarch—Dorothea Brooke/Edward Casaubon/Will Ladislaw;
Rosamond Vincy/Tertius Lydgate; and Mary Garth/Fred Vincy—mistakes
illusion for reality. Eventually, all come to understand themselves
better, whether or not they are completely reconciled with their mates.
Each undergoes a sentimental education, a discipline of the spirit that
teaches the heart its limitations.
The greater capacity Eliot's characters have for romantic
self-deception, the greater their suffering and subsequent tempering of
spirit. Mary Garth—plain, witty, honest—is too sensible to arouse the
reader's psychological curiosity to the same degree that one is
interested in the proud Dorothea, rash Ladislaw, pathetic Casaubon,
ambitious Lydgate, or pampered Rosamond. Mary loves simply, directly.
Fred, her childhood sweetheart, is basically a good lad who must learn
the lessons of thrift and perseverance from his own misfortunes. He
"falls" in class, from the status of an idle landowner to that of a
decent but socially inferior manager of property. In truth, what he
seems to lose in social prominence he more than recovers in the
development of his moral character. Moreover, he wins as a mate the
industrious Mary, who will strengthen his resolve and make of him an
admirable provider like her father Caleb.
Dorothea, on the other hand, more idealistic and noble-hearted than
Mary, chooses the worst possible mate as her first husband. Edward
Casaubon, thirty years her senior, is a dull pedant, cold, hopelessly
ineffectual as a scholar, absurd as a lover. Despite his intellectual
pretensions, he is too timid, fussy, and dispirited ever to complete his
masterwork, "A Key to All Mythologies." Even the title of his project is
an absurdity. He conceals as long as possible his "key" from Dorothea,
fearing that she will expose him as a sham. Nevertheless, it is possible
that she might have endured the disgrace of her misplaced affection were
Casaubon only more tender, reciprocating her own tenderness and
self-sacrifice; but Casaubon, despotic to the last, tries to blight her
spirit when he is alive and, through his will, to restrict her freedom
when he is dead.
Dorothea's second choice of a mate, Will Ladislaw, is very nearly the
opposite of Casaubon. A rash, sometimes hypersensitive lover, he is
capable of intense affection, above all of self-sacrifice. He is a
worthy suitor for Dorothea, who finds greatness in his ardor if not his
accomplishments; yet Will, allowing for his greater vitality, is after
all a logical successor to Casaubon. Dorothea had favored the elderly
scholar because he was unworldly, despised by the common herd. In her
imagination, he seemed a saint of intellect. In time, she comes to favor
Will because he is also despised by most of the petty-minded bigots of
Middlemarch, because he has suffered from injustice, and because he
seems to her a saint of integrity. A Victorian St. Theresa, Dorothea is
passive, great in aspiration rather than deed. Psychologically, Dorothea
requires a great object for her own self-sacrifice and therefore she
chooses a destiny that will allow her the fullest measure of heroism.
Quite the opposite, Tertius Lydgate is a calculating, vigorous, and
ambitious young physician who attempts to move others to his own iron
will. His aggressive energy contrasts with Dorothea's passiveness. Like
her, however, he is a victim of romantic illusion. He believes that he
can master, through his intelligence and determination, those who
possess power. Nevertheless, his choice of a mate, Rosamond Vincy, is a
disastrous miscalculation. Rosamond's fragile beauty conceals a
petulant, selfish will equal to his own. She dominates him through her
own weakness rather than strength of character. Insensitive except to
her own needs, she offers no scope for Lydgate's sensitive intelligence.
In his frustration, he can only battle with himself. He comes to realize
that he is defeated not only in his dreams of domestic happiness but
also in his essential judgment of the uses of power.
For Eliot, moral choice does not exist in a vacuum; it requires an
encounter with power. To even the least sophisticated dwellers in
Middlemarch, power is represented by wealth and status. As the widow
Mrs. Casaubon, Dorothea depends upon her personal and inherited fortune
for social prestige. When she casts aside her estate under Casaubon's
will to marry Ladislaw, she also loses a great measure of status. At the
same time, she acquires moral integrity, a superior virtue for Eliot.
Similarly, when Mary Garth rejects Mr. Featherstone's dying proposition
to seize his wealth before his relatives make a shambles of his will,
she chooses morally, justly, and comes to deserve the happiness that she
eventually wins. Lydgate, whose moral choices are most nearly ambiguous,
returns Bulstrode's bribe to save himself from a social embarrassment,
but his guilt runs deeper than mere miscalculation. He has associated
himself, first through his choice of Tyke instead of the worthier
Farebrother as vicar, with Bulstrode's manipulation of power. Lydgate's
moral defeat is partial, for at least he understands the extent of his
compromise with integrity. Bulstrode's defeat is total, for he loses
both wealth and social standing. As for Middlemarch, that community of
souls is a small world, populated with people of good will and bad, mean
spirits and fine, and is the collective agent of moral will. After all,
it is the town that endures, the final arbiter of moral judgment in a
less than perfect world.
THE WASTE LAND
Type of work: Poem
Author: T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
First published: 1922
By the time T. S. Eliot startled the literary world with the
publication of The Waste Land in The Criterion and The Dial (1922), he
had already achieved considerable recognition as an innovative and
prolific essayist and reviewer and a highly original poet of
considerable depth and complexity. His earlier poems, particularly "The
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917), "Portrait of a Lady" (1917),
and "Gerontion" (1920), contain arresting images, dramatic situations
and monologues, highly allusive language, and linguistic virtuosity
reminiscent of the work of John Donne and Robert Browning. They also
serve as preludes to the most famous poem of the twentieth century, one
which has engendered more commentaries, exegeses, and speculations than
any other, The Waste Land. Indeed, Eliot considered "Gerontion" to be a
prologue to the longer work. It is useful, then, for readers coming to
Eliot's work for the first time to read The Waste Land in the context of
his earlier poetry, since those poems contain the seeds of the later
work and, in many respects, introduce it. Thematically, they anticipate
The Waste Land's examination of aridity, the burden of history, the use
of memory (personal history), a larger economy of spiritual dimensions,
the problems raised by sexuality and love, and the quest to find meaning
by ordering and reordering personal, historical, and mythic experience.
Technically, they are of a piece with it in that they employ a stream of
consciousness centered in various characters, an approach that owes much
to Eliot's admiration for French Symbolist poetry, especially the poetry
of Jules Laforgue and others he had found revealed to him in Arthur
Symons' The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899).
The Waste Land is a series of five poems that together form one poem.
Each is separable, but all are joined together by the vision of the
blind Tiresias, into whom Gerontion (the little old man) has been
transformed. When he published the poem in book form, also in 1922,
Eliot added some fifty notes to it, only some of which are helpful to
reading the poem as a poem rather than as a compendium of literary and
cultural allusions. One note (to line 218) helps readers to focus on the
unified nature of the work by claiming that "what Tiresias sees, in
fact, is the substance of the poem." Tiresias, he has noted, is the
poem's "most important personage, uniting all the rest." The male
characters, he suggests, melt into each other and are not wholly
distinct from each other; likewise, " all the women are one woman, and
the two sexes meet in Tiresias," the androgynous seer. Following Eliot's
clue, the reader may enter into the vision of the ancient Theban, his
vision of the future which is the poet's present and, now, the reader's
present and past. The vision is both temporal and timeless, linked to
the post-World War I era of disillusion and transcending it in its
universality and visionary quality.
This latter, dreamlike aspect is important to bear in mind when
attempting to make sense of one's own experience of the poem. If one
considers the work as a Symbolist poem, many of its historical and
cultural elements diminish in importance. The archetypal elements of
infertility, the barren land and the sterile sexuality, ritual death and
rebirth are played out symbolically within the dreamscape in fragmented
fashion. Indeed, a key to understanding the nature of the poem lies near
its end (line 431): "These fragments I have shored against my ruins."
The fragments of speech, action, thought, and emotion are the very words
of the poem, shored up against the ruins of culture or of an individual
sense of its dilapidation the reader is invited to share.
The poem's title, epigraph, and dedication merit attention. The Waste
Land is a phrase common to the varied medieval tellings of the Grail
Quest, a tale rooted in earlier myths of Indo-European culture. The land
is a waste as a result of some grievous wrong that can be righted only
by a naive and sometimes reluctant adventurer (reader), who must ask the
right question of its wounded ruler, the Fisher King, to free the land
from its curse. Eliot refers to Jessie L. Weston's From Ritual to
Romance (1920) as a clue to understanding the poem's title and to Sir
James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890-1915) for its detailed study of
vegetation myths and rituals. The epigraph, in Latin and Greek, about
the Cumean Sibyl, a seer who was granted immortality but not eternal
youth, points to the necessity of inquiry (the boy asks what the Sibyl
wants), the impossibility of her wish (to die), and the prophetic nature
of the poem. The dedication, to Ezra Pound, "the better craftsman,"
directs the reader to Pound's poetry as a way of thanking the poet who
"discovered" Eliot in 1914 and who had a principal hand in editing the
poem. More important, the dedication points to Pound's innovative work
as a context for reading and thinking about Eliot's poem. Thus, before
reading the first line of the poem the reader is conditioned to think of
ancient myths and modernist poetry.
Part 1, "The Burial of the Dead," presents the reader with a perplexing
wealth of images, allusions in English, German, and French, the arcana
of the Tarot, and varied voices mixing memory and desire in the
paradoxical season of rebirth in which burial is remembered and
reenacted. The speakers range from Marie to a biblical seer to Madame
Sosostris, "famous clairvoyante," to Stetson and his acquaintance. The
profusion of images, particularly those of water, vegetation, growth,
aridity, decay, decomposition, and rebirth, imitates dream sequences and
promotes a confusion of time and place, of incidents and meanings. Part
1 also foreshadows events of subsequent sections (such as the heap of
broken images and death by water) and instills in the reader a
disquietude. Familiar acts such as the rush-hour walk over London Bridge
take on an aspect of Dantean menace, and the commonplace errand of
delivering a horoscope becomes a dangerous business: "One must be so
careful these days." Its concluding line, from Charles Baudelaire's
Flowers of Evil, serves to startle the reader, now directly addressed as
a reader who is both hypocrite and brother, into a sharp and eager
observation and reflection on the lines preceding it. The keynotes of
the section, as Bernard Bergonzi has observed, are movement in time
across day, season, year, and centuries, and change from youth to age,
from motion to stillness in death, and reluctant rebirth. These give the
reader an emotional sense of the poem but not necessarily a rational
sense of logical connections between the stanzas or verse paragraphs.
"A Game of Chess" (part 2) continues to meld the mythic with the banal,
joining the story of Philomel and the tale of Lil, both of which involve
unsatisfactory sexuality, while the entire sequence presents a
disenchantment with worldly experience at both ends of the social
spectrum. The sequence opens with evocations of royalty in the richly
ornate, overwrought boudoir and proceeds to depict the emptiness of
luxury and the means by which the speakers choose to while away their
time. The scene shifts from mindless opulence to a gossipy late evening
in a pub at closing time. Here one learns of Albert and Lil in a catty
postwar monologue punctuated by the barman's call, which, for want of an
apostrophe, becomes a plea for the advent of some long-awaited event:
"HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME."
The title of the poem's third part, "The Fire Sermon," refers to a
refining fire of purgation. This section introduces Tiresias as one
among many voices, including those of the Fisher King, the three
Thames-daughters, Saint Augustine, and the Buddha. The ordinary but
sordid sexual encounters along the Thames, in a flat, in a canoe, in the
heralded tryst of Sweeney and Mrs. Porter, and in Mr. Engenides'
proposition conspire to equate sexuality with seaminess and to present
it as a mindless and emotionless, automatic and animal impulse. Over
against this view of the body is the exaltation of the soul, as Eastern
and Western spirituality join at the end of the sequence in a burning
away of the physical to free the spirit. As the omniscient narrator who
foresees all, Tiresias subsumes the other voices; thus the unifying
technique of the poem begins to work.
In the briefest, ten-line part of the poem, part 4, "Death by Water,"
the reader considers the drowned Phlebas the Phoenician and recalls the
cards dealt by Madame Sosostris earlier with the warning to "fear death
by water" (line 55). Phlebas serves as an appropriate memento mori and
possibly as something of a model in the liberation of the soul: Two
weeks dead, he "forgot" the usual concerns as he passed, in reverse,
"the stages of his age and youth" and entered the whirlpool. In
counterpoint to the burning of "The Fire Sermon," here "a current under
sea/ Picked his bones in whispers" as water becomes a cleansing agent.
In part 5, "What the Thunder Said," the waste land, still parched, is
haunted by a "dry sterile thunder without rain" until "a damp gust/
Bringing rain" arrives. The thunder speaks in the words of the
Upanishads, "datta, dayadhvam, damyata" (give, sympathize, control). The
thunder's words bring revitalizing rain and a wisdom that allows for the
possibility of revivification. As Eliot had blended the journey of
Jesus' disheartened disciples to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel
Perilous, and "the present decay of eastern Europe" in the beginning of
this final part of the poem, so he introduces a more ancient spiritual
element to begin to change the present state of spiritual decay and to
retrieve the land from waste. How he does so is, characteristically,
with words, words the thunder speaks, words presumably still reported by
Tiresias, words the poet, after all, writes. The quest for spiritual
health is, the poem suggests, achieved through the recovery of artistic
Elsewhere, Eliot has written about seeing the end in the beginning and
the beginning in the end. At the end of The Waste Land, one finds the
possibility for beginning the poem anew, for reading it anew with the
knowledge gleaned from Tiresias and with a sense of direction. In the
last stanza, for example, the Fisher King, no longer fishing in the dull
canal behind the gashouse as he did in part 3, has the arid plain behind
him and is fishing on the shore. He poses himself a healing question
that seems to precipitate a multivocal and multilingual chorus in the
poem's concluding lines. If the Fisher King can contemplate "at least"
setting his lands in order, this notion implies his ability to do so,
and the words of the thunder seem to have had some effect. Immediately
after the question is posed, as is so often the case in the Grail Quest
narratives, the king and the land revive. The next line of the poem
borrows from the children's nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling
Down" and heralds the destruction of the pathway to the burial of the
dead (part 1). It is followed by a citation from Dante's Purgatory in
which the lustful Arnaut Daniel leaps voluntarily into the refining fire
(possibly glossing "The Fire Sermon"). Next, a phrase from the poem
Pervigliam Veneris and the song of the nightingale (which in the Latin
poem sadly silences the speaker) serve to recall Philomel (parts 1 and
2). An allusion to Gerard de Nerval's "El desdichado" suggests yet
another approach to yet another tower, reinforcing the quest motif. The
line that follows, as already noted, highlights the poet's act of
shoring up verbal fragments against his ruins, just as the Fisher King
shores up fragments to set his lands in order and Tiresias shores up
fragmented visions into a continuous discourse. Eliot's citation from
Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy may also be self-referential, since the
mad Hieronymo proposes to "fit" together a play using poetic fragments
in several languages. The penultimate line's repetition of what the
thunder said reinforces the ostensibly salvific effect of these words,
since the poem concludes with the repetition of "Shantih"—the formal
ending, Eliot's note explains, to an Upanishad, equivalent to the phrase
"the peace which passeth understanding." The journey from the crudest
month to this peace, while foreseen by Tiresias, is one which the reader
may wish to undertake again with Tiresias as guide.
Eliot's mastery of the Symbolist poem and his virtuosity in the use of
language mark The Waste Land as a singular achievement in English poetry
of the twentieth century. His multiple allusions, suggesting a place in
world literature and cultural traditions for his work, serve to make it,
indeed, part of those traditions while adding to them. As is the case
with the best poetry, The Waste Land is a poem to which readers return,
to contemplate and to find a newly familiar voice of considerable
relevance to succeeding generations.
The Waste Land
I The Burial of the
- April is the cruelest
- Lilacs out of the dead
- Memory and desire,
- Dull roots with spring
- Winter kept us warm,
- Earth in forgetful
- A little life with
- Summer surprised us,
coming over the Starnbergersee* [A lake
- With a shower of rain;
we stopped in the colonnade
- And went on in
sunlight, into the Hofgarten*,
park in Munich]
- And drank coffee, and
talked for an hour.
- Bin gar keine Russin,
stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.* ['I am
not Russian at all,
- And when we were
children, staying at the arch-duke's, [I
am a German from
- My cousin's, he took me
out on a sled,
- And I was frightened.
He said, Marie,
- Marie, hold on tight.
And down we went.
- In the mountains, there
you feel free.
- I read, much of the
night, and go south in winter.
- What are the roots that
clutch, what branches grow
- Out of this stony
rubbish? Son of man,
- You cannot say, or
guess, for you know only
- A heap of broken
images, where the sun beats,
- And the dead tree gives
no shelter, the cricket no relief,
- And the dry stone no
sound of water. Only
- There is shadow under
this red rock
- (Come in under the
shadow of this red rock),
- And I will show you
something different from either
- Your shadow at morning
striding behind you
- Or your shadow at
evening rising to meet you;
- I will show you fear in
a handful of dust.
- Frisch weht der
['fresh blows the breeze from the homeland']
- Der heimat zu
- Mein Irisch
Irish child, why do you wait?']
- Wo weilest du?
- "You gave me hyacinths
first a year ago;"
- "They called me the
- --Yet when we came
back, late, from the hyacinth garden,
- Your arms full, and
your hair wet, I could not
- Speak, and my eyes
failed, I was neither
- Living nor dead, and I
- Looking into the heart
of light, the silence.
- Oed' und leer das
['waste and empty is the sea']
- Madame Sosostris,
- Has a bad cold,
- Is known to be the
wisest woman in Europe,
- With a wicked pack of
cards. Here, said she,
- Is your card, the
drowned Phoenician Sailor.
- (Those are pearls that
were his eyes. Look!)
- Here is Belladonna, the
Lady of the Rocks,
- The lady of situations.
- Here is the man with
three staves, and here the Wheel,
- And here is the
one-eyed merchant, and this card,
- Which is blank, is
something that he carries on his back,
- Which I am forbidden to
see. I do not find
- The Hanged Man. Fear
death by water.
- I see crowds of people,
walking round in a ring.
- Thank you. If you see
dear Mrs. Equitone,
- Tell her I bring the
- One must be so careful
- Unreal City
- Under the brown fog of
a winter dawn,
- A crowd flowed over
London Bridge, so many,
- I had not thought death
had undone so many.
- Sighs, short and
infrequent, were exhaled,
- And each man fixed his
eyes before his feet,
- Flowed up the hill and
down King William Street
- To where Saint Mary
Woolnoth kept the hours
- With a dead sound on
the final stroke of nine.
- There I saw one I knew,
and stopped him, crying, "Stetson!
- You who were with me in
the ships at Mylae!
- That corpse you planted
last year in your garden,
- Has it begun to sprout?
Will it bloom this year?
- Or has the sudden frost
disturbed its bed?
- Oh keep the Dog far
hence, that's friend to men,
- Or with his nails he'll
dig it up again!
- You! hypocrite
lecteur!--mon semblable!--mon frère!"
II. A Game of Chess
- The Chair she sat in,
like a burnished throne,
- Glowed on the marble,
where the glass
- Held up by standards
wrought with fruited vines
- From which a golden
Cupidon peeped out
- (Another hid his eyes
behind his wing)
- Doubled the flames of
- Reflecting light upon
the table as
- The glitter of her
jewels rose to meet it,
- From satin cases poured
in rich profusion.
- In vials of ivory and
- Unstoppered, lurked her
strange synthetic perfumes,
- Unguent, powdered, or
- And drowned the sense
in odors; stirred by the air
- That freshened from the
window, these ascended
- In fattening the
- Stirring the pattern on
the coffered ceiling.
- Huge sea-wood fed with
- Burned green and
orange, framed by the coloured stone,
- In which sad light a
carved dolphin swam.
- Above the antique
mantle was displayed
- As though a window gave
upon the sylvan scene
- The change of Philomel,
by the barbarous king
- So rudely forced; yet
there the nightingale
- Filled all the desert
with inviolable voice
- And still she cried,
and still the world pursues,
- "Jug Jug" to dirty
- And other withered
stumps of time
- Were told upon the
walls; staring forms
- Leaned out, leaning,
hushing the world enclosed.
- Footsteps shuffled on
- Under the firelight,
under the brush, her hair
- Spread out in fiery
- Glowed into words, then
would be savagely still.
- "My nerves are bad
tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
- "Speak to me. Why do
you never speak. Speak.
- "What are you
thinking of? What thinking? What?
- "I never know what you
are thinking. Think."
- I think we are in rats'
- Where the dead men lost
- "What is that noise?"
wind under the door.
- "What is that noise
now? What is the wind doing?"
- "You know nothing? Do
you see nothing? Do you remember
- I remember
- Those are pearls that
were his eyes.
- "Are you alive, or not?
Is there nothing in your head?"
- O O O O that
- It's so elegant
- So intelligent
- "What shall I do now?
What shall I do?"
- "I shall rush out as I
am, and walk the street
- "With my hair down, so.
What shall we do tomorrow?
- "What shall we ever
water at ten.
- And, if it rains, a
closed car at four.
- And we shall play a
game of chess,
- Pressing lidless eyes
and waiting for a knock upon the door.
- When Lil's husband got
demobbed, I said--
- I didn't mince my
words, I said to her myself,
- HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S
[British call-out at pub closing time]
- Now Albert's coming
back, make yourself a bit smart.
- He'll want to know what
you done with that money he gave you
- To get yourself some
teeth. He did, I was there.
- You have them all out,
Lil, and get a nice set,
- He said, I swear, I
can't bear to look at you.
- And no more can't I, I
said, and think of poor Albert.
- He's been in the army
four years, he wants a good time.
- And if you don't give
it him, there's others will, I said.
- Oh is there, she said.
Something o' that, I said.
- Then I'll know who to
thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
- HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S
- If you don't like it
you can get on with it, I said.
- Others can pick and
choose if you can't.
- But if Albert makes
off, it won't be for lack of telling.
- You ought to be
ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
- (And her only
- I can't help it, she
said, pulling a long face,
- It's them pills I took,
to bring it off, she said.
- (She's had five
already, and nearly died of young George.)
- The chemist said it
would be all right, but I've never been the same.
- You are a proper
fool, I said.
- Well, if Albert won't
leave you alone, there it is, I said.
- What you get married
for if you don't want children?
- HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S
- Well, that Sunday
Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
- And they asked me in to
dinner, to get the beauty of it hot--
- HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S
- HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S
- Goonight Bill. Goonight
Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
- Ta ta. Goonight.
- Good night, ladies,
good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
III. The Fire Sermon
- The river's tent is
broken; the last fingers of leaf
- Clutch and sink into
the wet bank. The wind
- Crosses the brown land,
unheard. The nymphs are departed.
- Sweet Thames, run
softly, till I end my song.
- The river bears no
empty bottles, sandwich papers,
- Silk handkerchiefs,
cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
- Or other testimony of
summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
- And their friends, the
loitering heirs of city directors;
- Departed, have left no
- By the waters of Leman
I sat down and wept . . .
- Sweet Thames, run
softly till I end my song,
- Sweet Thames, run
softly, for I speak not loud or long.
- But at my back in a
cold blast I hear
- The rattle of the
bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
- A rat crept softly
through the vegetation
- Dragging its slimy
belly on the bank
- While I sat fishing in
the dull canal
- On a winter evening
round behind the gashouse
- Musing upon the king my
- And on the king my
father's death before him.
- White bodies naked on
the low damp ground
- And bones cast in a
little low dry garret,
- Rattled by the rat's
foot only, year to year.
- But at my back from
time to time I hear
- The sound of horns and
motors, which shall bring
- Sweeney to Mrs. Porter
in the spring.
- O the moon shone bright
on Mrs. Porter
- And on her daughter
- They wash their feet in
- Et O ces voix
d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole!
oh, the voices of the children singing in the
- Twit twit twit
- Jug jug jug jug jug jug
- So rudely forc'd
- Unreal City
- Under the brown fog of
a winter noon
- Mr. Eugenides, the
- C.i.f. London:
documents at sight,
- Asked me in demotic*
- To luncheon at the
Cannon Street Hotel
- Followed by a weekend
at the Metropole.
- At the violet hour,
when the eyes and back
- Turn upward from the
desk, when the human engine waits
- Like a taxi throbbing
- I Tiresias, though
blind, throbbing between two lives,
- Old man with wrinkled
female breasts, can see
- At the violet hour, the
evening hour that strives
- Homeward, and brings
the sailor home from sea,
- The typist home at
teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
- Her stove, and lays out
food in tins.
- Out of the window
- Her drying combinations
touched by the sun's last rays,
- On the divan are piled
(at night her bed)
- Stockings, slippers,
camisoles and stays.
- I Tiresias, old man
with wrinkled dugs
- Perceived the scene,
and foretold the rest--
- I too awaited the
- He, the young man
- A small house agent's
clerk, with a bold stare,
- One of the low on whom
- As a silk hat on a
- The time is now
propitious, as he guesses;
- The meal is ended, she
is bored and tired.
- Endeavors to engage her
- Which still are
unreproved, if undesired.
- Flushed and decided, he
assaults at once;
- Exploring hands
encounter no defense.;
- His vanity requires no
- And makes a welcome of
- (And I Tiresias have
- Enacted on this same
divan or bed;
- I who have sat by
Thebes below the wall
- And walked among the
lowest of the dead.)
- Bestows one final
- And gropes his way,
finding the stairs unlit . . .
- She turns and looks a
moment in the glass,
- Hardly aware of her
- Her brain allows one
half-formed thought to pass:
- "Well now that's done,
and I'm glad it's over."
- When lovely woman
stoops to folly and
- Paces about her room
- She smoothes her hair
with automatic hand,
- And puts a record on
- "The music crept by me
upon the waters",
- And along the Strand,
up Queen Victoria Street.
- O City city, I can
- Beside a public bar in
Lower Thames Street,
- The pleasant whining of
- And a clatter and a
chatter from within
- Where fishmen lounge at
noon: where the walls
- Of Magnus Martyr hold
- Inexplicable splendor
of Ionian white and gold.
- The river
- Oil and tar
- The barges
- With the
- Red sails
- To leeward,
swing on the heavy spar.
- The barges
- Drifting logs
- Past the Isle
- Elizabeth and
- Beating oars
- The stern was
- A gilded
- Red and gold
- The brisk
- Rippled both
- Carried down
- The peal of
- White towers
- "Trams and
- Highbury bore
me. Richmond and Kew
- Undid me. By
Richmond I raised my knees
- Supine on the
floor of a narrow canoe."
- "My feet are
at Moorgate, and my heart
- Under my
feet. After the event
- He wept. He
promised `a new start.'
- I made no
comment. What should I resent?"
- "On Margate
- I can connect
- Nothing with
- The broken
fingernails of dirty hands
- My people
humble people who expect
- To Carthage
then I came
burning burning burning
- O Lord thou
pluckest me out
- O Lord thou
IV. Death by Water
- Phlebas the Phoenician,
a fortnight dead,
- Forgot the cry of
gulls, the deep sea swell
- And the profit and
A current under sea
- Picked his bones in
whispers. As he rose and fell
- He passed the stages of
his age and youth,
- Entering the whirlpool.
- O you who turn the
wheel and look to windward,
- Consider Phlebas, who
was once handsome and tall as you.
V. What the Thunder
- After the torchlight
red on sweaty faces
- After the frosty
silence in the gardens
- After the agony in
- The shouting and the
- Prison and palace and
- Of thunder of spring
over distant mountains
- He who was living is
- We who were living are
- With a little patience
- Here is no water but
- Rock and no water and
the sandy road
- The road winding above
among the mountains
- Which are mountains of
rock without water
- If there were water we
should stop and drink
- Amongst the rock one
cannot stop or think
- Sweat is dry and feet
are in the sand
- If there were only
water amongst the rock
- Dead mountain mouth of
carious teeth that cannot spit
- Here one can neither
stand nor lie nor sit
- There is not even
silence in the mountains
- But dry sterile thunder
- There is not even
solitude in the mountains
- But red sullen faces
sneer and snarl
- From doors of
there were water
- And no rock
- If there were rock
- And also water
- And water
- A spring
- A pool among the rock
- If there were the sound
of water only
- Not the cicada
- And dry grass singing
- But sound of water over
- Where the hermit-thrush
sings in the pine trees
- Drip drop drip drop
drop drop drop
- But here there is no
- Who is the third who
walks always beside you?
- When I count, there are
only you and I together
- But when I look ahead,
up the white road
- There is always another
one walking beside you,
- Gliding wrapt in a
brown mantle, hooded
- I do not know whether a
man or a woman
- --But who is that on
the other side of you?
- What is that sound high
in the air
- Murmur of maternal
- Who are those hooded
- Over endless plains,
stumbling in cracked earth
- Ringed by the flat
- What is the city over
- Cracks and reforms and
bursts in violet air
- Falling towers
- Jerusalem Athens
- Vienna London
- A woman drew her long
black hair out tight
- And fiddled whisper
music on those strings
- And bats with baby
faces in the violet light
- Whistled, and beat
- And crawled head
downward down a blackened wall
- And upside down in air
- Tolling reminiscent
bells, that kept the hours
- And voices singing out
of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.
- In this decayed hole
among the mountains,
- In the faint moonlight,
the grass is singing
- Over the tumbled
graves, about the chapel
- There is the empty
chapel, only the wind's home.
- It has no windows, and
the door swings,
- Dry bones can harm no
- Only a cock stood on
- Co co rico co co rico
- In a flash of
lightning. Then a damp gust
- Bringing rain
- Ganga was sunken, and
the limp leaves
- Waited for rain, while
the black clouds
- Gathered far distant,
- The jungle crouched,
humped in silence.
- Then spoke the thunder
- Datta: what have
- My friend, blood
shaking my heart
- The awful daring of a
- Which an age of
prudence can never retract,
- By this, and this only,
we have existed,
- Which is not to be
found in our obituaries
- Or in memories draped
by the beneficent spider
- Or under seals broken
by the lean solicitor
- In our empty rooms
- Dayadhvam: I
have heard the key
- Turn in the door once
and turn once only
- We think of the key,
each in his prison
- Thinking of the key,
each confirms his prison
- Only at nightfall,
- Revive for a moment a
- Damyata: the
- Gaily, to the hand
expert with sail and oar
- The sea was calm, your
heart would have responded
- Gaily, when invited,
- To controlling hands
I sat upon the shore
- Fishing, with the arid
plain behind me
- Shall I at least set my
lands in order?
- London bridge is
falling down falling down falling down
- Poi s'ascose nel
foco che gli affina
- Quando fiam uti
chelidon--O swallow swallow
- Le prince
d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie
- These fragments I have
shored against my ruins
- Why then Ile fit you.
Hieronymo's mad againe.
- Da. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih