Imageries Apply in Murder in The Cathedral

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       Eliot's use of imagery again is as functional as his versification. It is not used merely for decorative purposes. The images help to convey the author's meaning more precisely, while contributing to the emotional intensity as well. Once again it is the Chorus that exemplifies Eliot's use of imagery. The principal images are drawn from two sources, from nature and from the life of the poor. The images from the latter source go to emphasize the dreariness and loneliness of their lives which is barely above that of animals - "Living and partly living".

Murder in the Cathedral presents a cycle of spiritual experience. The Chorus represents a pattern of spiritual development and this pattern is given wider implication by the overtones of seasonal renewal. The imagery of nature, is here, important.
Murder in the Cathedral

Relevant Theme:-

      Murder in the Cathedral presents a cycle of spiritual experience. The Chorus represents a pattern of spiritual development and this pattern is given wider implications by the overtones of seasonal renewal. The imagery of nature, is here, important. The cycles of day and night, summer and winter, spring and autumn relate the Chorus to "the great turning wheel of creation and corruption, growth and ruin". (Grover Smith)

The imagery of Seasons:-

      At the beginning of the play, the Chorus's unwillingness to submit to spiritual rebirth is embodied in its rejection of the return of life with the spring. They want the Archbishop to go back and they fear the disturbance of the quiet season, as something sterile and destructive

"Winter shall come bringing death from the seas,

Ruinous spring shall beat at our doors

Root and shoot shall eat our eyes and ears,

Disastrous summer burn up the beds of our streams

And the poor shall wait for another decaying October."

      The same theme is taken up and developed in Part II - here positive note emerges:

"And the world must be cleaned in the winter, or we shall have only

A sour spring, a parched summer, an empty harvest."

      In the end, the seasons are no longer "disturbed" and the voices of the seasons, the scuffle of winter, the song of spring, the drone of summer are evidence of the spiritual renewal that has come about through Thomas's martyrdom. Thus, the Chorus's spiritual development is represented in the development of the imagery. This is seen in the use of all types of imagery in the play.

Order and Disorder:-

      All the images proceed from representing slight disturbance initially through a gradually heightening sense of chaotic disorder, to the end, in which order is established. The Chorus is unwilling to relinquish the "order" of their mundane existence, but they have to learn that these have to be disturbed in the interest of establishing a greater "spiritual order" in a state that is a "spiritual wasteland". Man is a combination of the animal and the angel, i.e., sense and intellect. Maintenance of order requires that man should subordinate the sensual to the spiritual. Order is disturbed when a man succumbs to the sensual and the animal, at the expense of the spiritual. In becoming bestial man has come down from his position as a link between the animal and the angelic and hence there is the resultant disorder in the natural world. And martyrdom reaffirms order, reproducing, as it does, the pattern of the atonement. The order is threatened by the agents of martyrdom, who in this case are the Knights.

Animal Imagery:-

      The animal imagery is very clearly a part of this order-disorder pattern. Firstly, it is used to characterize the agents of disorder, Knights. They compare themselves to beasts as they ridicule Thomas: "Come down Daniel to the Lion's Den". They are called "men who would damn themselves to beasts" by one of the Priests. The last choric passage of Part I associates beasts Lord of Hell - Puss-purr of leopard, footfall of padding bear." By inference, the Knights are also Lords of Hell-personifications of Evil The zoological imagery also serves to associate the passive chorus with unredeemed, elemental nature. They feel themselves involved in this bestial degradation:

"What is woven in councils of princes

Is woven also in our veins, our brains

Is woven like a pattern of living worms,

In the guts of the women of Canterbury."

      They share the disorder brought by Evil in their "consent" to martyrdom. They are:

"United to the spiritual flesh of nature,

Mastered by the animal powers of spirit,

Dominated by the Lust of self-demolition,

By the final uttermost death of spirit,

By the final ecstasy of waste and shame."

      As Louis Martz says, Eliot here presents a vision of a universe without order. The order of time is disrupted. The merry fluting of a summer afternoon is heard at night. Bats with scaly wings are seen at noon. Death exists even in the most delicate and beautiful flowers:

"I have seen

Trunk and horn, tusk and hoof, in odd places"

      There seems no meaning or sense in nature any longer. There is a complete chaos and everything is topsy-turvy and the women of Canterbury see themselves as part of this disorder and are caught in the

"Rings of light coiling downwards, descending

To the horror of the ape."

      As Thomas is killed, the Chorus feels at first that the blood of Thomas is defiling the land, beasts and themselves. "They see it as symptomatic of their guilt, linking them to the murderers:

"We are soiled by a filth that we

cannot clean, united to supernatural vermin"

      But in reality, the martyrdom is the source of spiritual renewal and there is a corresponding reassertion of order in Nature and the proper relation of man to the animal creation, for Thomas had "fought the beast/And..Conquered". Every being in Nature has returned to its proper place and there is harmony once again, There is a "pattern" established and the affirmation of God's glory by all things created.


      In the last choric, verse, the various images in the play (the wasteland, the seasons, beasts and birds, the everyday tasks, the blood of redemption) are gathered together and resolved in a significant pattern. They all fit together in the scheme of God's providence. By the blood of redemption, fertility is restored to the Wasteland so that the rhythm of the seasons can remain undisturbed, the natural order preserved, men can perform their seasonal tasks and give articulate praise not just for themselves, but for the beasts as well, and all creatures are secured in their ordained palaces, fulfilling their role in the eternal design". (D.E. Jones)


      Eliot said that what was special about poetic drama was the existence of an under pattern, "a sort of doubleness in action". It has different levels of meaning, depending on different planes of awareness the intellectual, the sensual etc. These demands of poetic drama have been fulfilled by Eliot through phrase, imagery and rhythm. His imagery enhances the richness and texture of his verse. Only poetry can express the intensity of emotional excitement and Eliot's does. He does so in dramatic verse which he developed from contemporary idiom. "It remains to agree with what Sean Lucy said about the verse: the language is the verse, which is the action which is the theme, which is the atmosphere, which is the meaning". It is the power of the dramatic verse imageries that gives the play its unique quality of unity and intensity.

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