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T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). Outline. Biography Reception Reviews Influence Three Analogies Music Art Dance Unity Method Modulation Composition and Revision The Past Tradition and the Individual Talent Attitudes toward the Past Themes Section by Section Ending.

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Three Analogies







Composition and Revision

The Past

Tradition and the Individual Talent

Attitudes toward the Past


Section by Section


william morton payne 1913
William Morton Payne, 1913

A dream world of elusive shapes and tremulous imaginings is half revealed to our vision by the subdued lyrics which Mr. Robert Frost entitles "A Boy's Will." It is a world in which passion has been stilled and the soul grown quiet--a world not explored with curious interest, but apprehended by the passive recipient. The sun does not shine, but the pale grey of twilight enfolds nature with a more gracious charm. The song called 'Flower-Gathering' offers an exquisite example of the wistful and appealing quality of the author's strain."

eliot hamlet and his problems 1919
Eliot, “Hamlet and His Problems,” 1919

Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is nothing to interpret; we can only criticize it according to standards, in comparison to other works of art; and for 'interpretation' / the chief task is the presentation of relevant historical facts which the reader is assumed not to know.

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 of the particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked."

eliot professional or 1918
Eliot, “Professional, or . . .”1918

"But we must learn to take literature seriously."

j c squire
J.C. Squire

I read Mr. Eliot's poem several times when it first appeared; I have now read it several times more; I am still unable to make head or tail of it. . . . Conceivably, what is attempted here is a faithful transcript, after Mr. Joyce's obscurer manner, of the poet's wandering thoughts when in a state of erudite depression. A grunt would serve equally well; what is language but communication, or art but selection and arrangement?

louis untermeyer
Louis Untermeyer

The poem is a “formless plasma,” a “mingling of wilful obscurity and weak vaudeville.” The pleasure one receives from reading this poem is the “gratification attained through having solved a puzzle.”

gilbert seldes
Gilbert Seldes

Eliot “understands and practices the art of poetry.” The poem does not express an idea, “it deals with emotions.” Argues that this is the only form possible for the emotion being communicated, for “the theme . . .is seen to have dictated the form.”

edmund wilson
Edmund Wilson

Wilson describes Eliot as “one of our only authentic poets [who] hears in his own parched cry the voices of all the thirsty men of the past.” Eliot “feels intensely, and with distinction and speaks naturally in beautiful verse.” However, “in spite of its lack of structural unity [the poem is] simply one triumph after another.” It “is intelligible at first reading.” Readers “feel the force of the intense emotion” and are brought “into the heart of the singer.”

conrad aiken
Conrad Aiken

“The poem has an emotional value far clearer and richer than its arbitrary and rather unworkable logical value.” Therefore, the poem must be taken,—most invitingly offers itself,—as a brilliant and kaleidoscopic confusion . . . so as to give us an impression of an intensely modern, intensely literary consciousness which perceives itself to be not a unit but a chance correlation or conglomerate of mutually discolorative fragments.” Thus, “these things are not important parts of an important or careful intellectual pattern, but they are important parts of an important emotional ensemble."

“We reach thus the conclusion that the poem succeeds—as it brilliantly does—by virtue of its incoherence, not of its plan; by virtue of its ambiguities, not of its explanations. Its incoherence is a virtue because its donnée is incoherence. Its rich, vivid, crowded use of implication is a virtue asimplication is always a virtue;—it shimmers, it suggests, it gives the desiredstrangeness.”

ezra pound bel esprit 1922
Ezra Pound, “Bel Esprit,” 1922

Last winter he broke down and was sent off for three months' rest. During that time he wrote 'Waste Land,' a series of poems, possible the finest that the modern movement in English has produced, at any rate as good as anything that has been done since 1900, and which certainly lose nothing by comparison with the best work of Keats, Browning or Shelley.

gilbert seldes 1922
Gilbert Seldes, 1922

The Waste Land is a "complete expression of the spirit which will be 'modern' for the next generation."

louis untermeyer 1930
Louis Untermeyer, 1930

Our reaction to life in the trenches was far greater than our participation in it. Suffering less from shell-shock that post-war disillusion, many of the younger writers indulged themselves in prolonged literary nerves. T.S. Eliot (mistakenly) became their prophet, detachment and despair their contradictory gods.

bonamy dobr e 1929
Bonamy Dobrée, 1929

I would be prepared to lay odds that the year 1922, which saw The Waste Land, will prove to be as important a year in the history of the development of English poetry as the year 1798, in which Wordsworth and Coleridge produced their transforming volume, Lyrical Ballads.

I put all the things I like into my pictures. The things—so much the worse for them; they just have to put up with it.

—Pablo Picasso

montage collage theory
Montage & Collage Theory

“Eliminating all literal representation, the Picassos, the Braques, and the Archipenkos have shown again that which is essential in the works of a Claude Lorrain or a black man: the optical relations of the MATERIAL.”—Amedeé Ozenfant

The realism in these objects “requir[es] the rest of the picture to oppose itself to them.”

—Gertrude Stein

If a prospective buyer of one of my collages “acquires the picture, he is free to replace the print [within the picture] by another one, even by his own portrait if he wishes. That can make it better or worse in the same way as the frame one picks out for a picture. It cannot harm the basic qualities of the picture.”

—Juan Gris

ezra pound on montage
Ezra Pound on Montage

“In this process of compounding, two things added together do not produce a third thing but suggest some fundamental relation between them. . . . Relations are more real and more important than the things which they relate” (Instigations, 377).

sergei eisenstein
Sergei Eisenstein

“ . . .two film pieces of any kind, placed together, inevitably combine into a new concept, a new quality, arising out of that juxtaposition.

This is not in the least a circumstance peculiar to the cinema, but is a phenomenon invariably met with in all cases where we have to deal with juxtaposition of two facts, two phenomena, two objects. We are accustomed to make, almost automatically, a definite and obvious deductive generalization when any separate objects are placed before us side by side.”

eisenstein cont
Eisenstein, cont.

“. . .The juxtaposition of two separate shots by splicing them together resembles not so much a simple sum of one shot plus another shot—as it does a creation. . . .

What is essentially involved in such an understanding of montage? In such a case, each montage piece exists no longer as something unrelated, but as a given particularrepresentation of the general theme that in equal measure penetrates all the shot-pieces. The juxtaposition of these partial details in a given montage construction calls to life and forces into the light thatgeneral quality in which each detail has participated and which binds together all the details into a whole, namely, into that generalized image, wherein the creator, followed by the spectator, experiences the theme.”

sacre du printemps
Sacre du Printemps

In everything in the Sacre du Printemps, except in the music, one missed the sense of the present. Whether Strawinsky’s music be permanent or ephemeral I do not know; but it did seem to transform the rhythm of the steppes into the scream of the motor horn, the rattle of machinery, the grind of wheels, the beating of iron and steel, the roar of the underground railway, and the other barbaric cries of modern life; and to transform these despairing noises into music.

—T.S. Eliot. “London Letter,”Dial (1921)

the metaphysical poets 1921
“The Metaphysical Poets,” 1921

We can only say that it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning.

textual unity
Textual Unity
  • single speaker
  • single narrative
  • problem-resolution
  • recurring motifs, themes
  • recurring images
  • meta-statement that seems to encapsulate all
  • recurring method




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

As I sat upon the shore,

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

I asked: Shall I at least set my lands in order?—

I asked it as I saw that London Bridge was falling down.

And so, for the same reason that Daniel "hid himself in the fire that refines him,"

I ask, "when shall I be as the silent swallow?"

preface to anabasis 1930
“Preface” to Anabasis, 1930

Any obscurity of the poem [Anabasis], on first readings, is due to the suppression of ‘links in the chain’, of explanatory and connecting matter, and not to incoherence, or to the love of cryptogram. The justification of such abbreviation of method is that the sequence of images coincides and concentrates into one intense impression of barbaric civilization. The reader has to allow the images to fall into his memory successively without questioning the reasonableness of each at the moment; so that, at the end, a total effect is produced.

Such selection of a sequence of images and ideas has nothing chaotic about it. There is a logic of the imagination as well as a logic of concepts.”

shakespeherian rag
Shakespeherian Rag

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 Shakespeherian rag--

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 do?

The hot 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.

reflections on vers libre 1917
Reflections on ‘Vers Libre,’ 1917

The simpler metres are a repetition of one combination, perhaps a long and a short, or a short and a long syllable, five times repeated. there is, however, no reason why, within the single line, there should be any repetition; why there should not be lines (as there are) divisible only into feet of different types. How can the grammatical exercise of scansion make a line of this sort more intelligible? Only by isolating elements which occur in other lines, and the sole purpose of doing this is the production of a similar effect elsewhere. But repetition of effect is a question of pattern. . . . But the most interesting verse which has yet been written in our language has been done either by taking a very simple form, like the iambic pentameter, and constantly withdrawing from it, or taking no form at all, and constantly approximating to a very simple one. It is this contrast between fixity and flux, this unperceived evasion of monotony, which is the very life of verse.

reflections on vers libre cont
Reflections on ‘Vers Libre,’ cont.

We may therefore formulate as follows: the ghost of some simple metre should lurk behind the arras in even the ‘freest’ verse; to advance menacingly as we doze, and withdraw as we rouse. Or, freedom is only true freedom when it appears against the background of an artificial limitation. . . . Freed from its exacting task of supporting lame verse, it [rhyme] could be applied with greater effect where it is most needed. There are often passages in an unrhymed poem where rhyme is wanted for some special effect, for a sudden tightening-up, for a cumulative insistence, or for an abrupt change of mood. . . . we conclude that the division between Conservative Verse and vers libre does not exist, for there is only good verse, bad verse, and chaos.

the chair she sat in
“The Chair she sat in”

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 sevenbranched cnadelabra

Reflecting light upon the table as

The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,

opening lines
Opening lines

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,

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 the winter.



Composition and Revision

section by section
Section by Section

I. Burial of the Dead: Consciousness, Communication, and no regeneration

coming to consciousness, no water, lack of communication, Madame Sosostris, vision of London w/ corrupt regeneration myth

II. A Game of Chess: three encounters, all corrupted

overdone elegance, Philomela, disconnected conversation, Lil

III. The Fire Sermon: seductions, & dealing with passions

Thames and Thames daughters, musing about king’s death, Eugenides, typist, Thames seduction, Augustine

IV. Death by Water: prophecy

Phlebas, and a moralizing

V. What the Thunder Said: redemption, regeneration, or suffering?

Gethsemane, no water, coming of rain, give, sympathize, control, ending: performative language?

ending lines
Ending Lines

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 à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih shantih shantih