Literary influence on T. S. Eliot's poetry.

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       Apart from parental influences, which were both religious and literary, Eliot had the good fortune of learning at the hands of great teachers like Irving Babbitt and George Santayana. They created in him a taste for comparative literature. He was also interested in Indian literature and philosophy. Therefore, he studied at Harvard University. The influence of Indian scriptures can be found in The Waste Land and Four Quartets. Babbitt taught him the need of order and discipline and this was partly responsible for his joining the Roman Catholic Church. Eliot valued this conversion to Orthodox Christianity because it gave him centre of gravity and peace. The following are the chief influences on his poetry.


Eliot regarded Dante as the universal poet
T. S. Eliot


      Influence of Ezra Pound : When Eliot went to England, soon after the out-break of First World War, he met Ezra Pound. This brought him into contact with literary circles of London. From Pound, he adopted the use of concrete images for recording fleeting emotional experiences and use of colloquial languages. The other images provided him with a ruthless picture of city life.


      Influence of the Metaphysical poets : Eliot was greatly influenced by the technique of Donne. For Eliot, his techniques had energy, variety and wit. From him Eliot adopted the conversational tone, a colloquial vocabulary, ironical conceits, surprising images, rapid connection of ideas and irregular verse, brilliant wit and shocking juxtapositions. Eliot's description of 'evening as a patient etherized upon the table' and 'the fog creeping like a cat' remind one instantly of Donne. His pithiness, his condensation, his omissions, connectives and links are due to the influence of the metaphysical poets and the Jacobean poets.


      Influence of Dante : Eliot regarded Dante as the universal poet. He was greatly influenced by Divine comedy. He liked the poet's language and his spiritual outlook. He even streamlined some parts of Dante's poem. Eliot's poems contain, not only references to Dante's character but also include some lines of Dante. He also used diction and technique on the lines of the Italian poets. What appealed to Eliot in Dante, was the essential human value and his compassion for the tortured soul of humanity. From Dante, he also learnt how to polish his words and to bring it in line with the best in European poetry.


      Influence of the French Symbolists : Arthur Simon's book entitled Symbolists Movement in Literature left a deep impression on literature. He read the words of Verlaine and Rambud, Jean Laforgue and Mellarme. He learnt how to use images and symbols, so as to convey the personal 'fleeting sensations and feeling'. Eliot makes extensive use of symbols like 'desert', 'rocks', 'rain', 'drought', 'flood', etc. The important thing that he learnt from the French Symbolists was their compactness and condensation of forms. From Laforgue he borrowed largely the technique of sudden transition, unusual contrast, mock-heroic element, sentimental and serious notes. Sudden contrasts appealed to the readers. As for example, "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock).


      Charles Baudelaire's poetry influenced the spirit of Eliot. Baudelaire wrote particularly of the ugly aspects of the rural life, pointing out the routine and horror of everyday incidents. Likewise, Eliot asserted his age and was its mouth-piece. In The Waste Land and The Hollow Men, Eliot has highlighted the corruption and decay of modern civilization. It may be noted that in spite of the so-called progress of the age in the form of scientific achievements, humanitarian projects and welfare works, there is a keen realisation of the sickness and agony of the human heart. The daily routine of modern life, its lack of devotion and goal, its laws of moral values, indicate the collapse of material civilizations.


      Conclusion : In spite of these influences, Eliot is original in thought and matter. He has fused what he borrowed from others and turned it into rich and strange. His originality is beyond question. It should not be considered that he was a mere imitator. He is more mature than Laforgue. His workmanship is greater than that of the French symbolists. His originality is par-excellent which lies in his phrasing. In this respect, the influences on him and his originality have made the English language rich and incomparable.

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