T. S. Eliot's Mind and Art in English Literature

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      Introduction : The critics have found a lucid and logical development or evolution of T.S. Eliot's genius from the beginning to the last stage of his career. He was a dynamic personality who was changing constantly and harmoniously. Broadly speaking, his poetry may be divided into two phases. The first phase lasts upto 1925. It includes such poems as The Long Song of Prufrock, Gerontion, The Waste Land and The Hollow Men. The later phase contains poems like Ash Wednesday and The Four Quartets. The first phase leads to the second one, without any break or cleavage between the two. So, there is a natural and harmonious development of T.S. Eliot's poetry.

Eliot's themes are usually urban in the early phase of his poetry. The tone is satirical and ironical.
T. S. Eliot

      The themes of the early phase of Eliot's poetry : Eliot's themes are usually urban in the early phase of his poetry. The tone is satirical and ironical. He studies sophisticated city-people and their habits and manners. There is tremendous influence of Laforgue and the other French Symbolists on the early phase. He learnt from Baudlaire how a big city has a torturing impact on the soul on the individual. Eliot is par-excellent in depicting this impact on the soul of the individual. He showed the profound world panorama of futility and anarchy of the modern civilization in The Waste Land. He presented in complete nakedness the contemporary disease and decomposition, exhaustion and boredom, selfishness and dishonesty, discord and disharmony. As stated by Elizabeth Drew: "There is the impact on the senses of all the ugliness and squalor of the common urban scene; the sights of the broken blinds and chimney pots, of vacant lots with their grimy scarps of newspapers etc. Above all there are smells, of steak in passage ways, of stale beer, of cocktails and cigarettes, of dusty paper flowers, of females in shuttered rooms."

      The themes of the later phase : The poet adopted the Anglo-Catholic Church in 1927. After this date, his poetry reflected his religious bent of mind. This change is discernible in The Hollow Men. These hollowmen show spiritual emptiness and barrenness. He was striving to achieve spiritual re-birth. Hence, the poems of this period reflect Eliot's spiritual awareness. The Ash Wednesday is based upon the Christian theme which indicates the difficulty of achieving faith. The poet handled theological ideas in a compressed and allusive manner. The theme of Quartets is full of religious dogmas. It is highly philosophical poem. It depicts man's place in the scheme of things. It portrays man's salvation with the supernatural and the divine.

      The religious bias runs through all his poetry from the beginning to the end. It is the connecting link between the earlier and the later phase. In the early poetry, his approach is negative but in the later phase, it is positive. In the two early poems Hippopotamus and Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service he finds the degeneracy of the Christian faith and the furthermore he satirises it. In The Waste Land he depicts the spiritual sterility and decay of the contemporary Western civilization. As a remedy for all its ails, he upholds the message of Lord Buddha and the 'Upanishadas'. Gerontion reveals Western civilization's spiritual barrenness and its decay. Sweeney is a human beast who has no spiritual consciousness. Spiritual and moral values are constantly revealed by the poet but they remain in the background. In the later poems like the Four Quartets, there is more emphasis on the moral values. The urban atmosphere of squalor and sordidness is relegated into background. This poem reminds us about the London crowds of The Waste Land but basically the setting is a masterpiece of sublimity and poetic vision.

      Thus, The Waste Land is Eliot's Inferno, Ash Wednesday is Eliot's Purgatorio; Four Quartets is Eliot's Paradiso.

      Evolution in Eliot's poetic techniques : Firstly, we note a change in Eliot's style and diction. In the early phase of Eliot's poetry, he practised condensation and compression. Up to The Waste Land Eliot's poetry. is called poetic short-hand. The style is over-loaded with quotations-which are taken from the outstanding writers all over Europe. Thus a reader is unable to grasp the theme of obscurity caused by the allusions and references. The later poetry sheds off this type of technique and becomes transparent. The allusions and quotations are used sparingly. The poet realises that the aim of poetry is social. He remarks himself:

"The most useful poetry, socially, would be one which could cut across all the present stratification of public taste."

      In this phase, the difficulty emerges in grasping his themes due to religious and mystical bias. Secondly, T.S. Eliot shows remarkable evolution in his versification. In his earlier phase he uses the traditional iambic pentameter. The Waste Land indicates the culmination of Eliot's unparalleled skill in the handling of traditional metre. After this poem Eliot endeavours to express himself more and more in his own manner. He becomes a great innovator. He, as a metrist, is shaping a short line with four stresses and a strong medial pause. Thus, in some lines there are only two stresses. In other lines, there are as many as six stresses. This measure enabled him to give vent to his poetic vision properly. In Four Quartets he has achieved this measure with remarkable success.

      Thirdly, the early poetry is dramatic while the later one is predominantly lyrical. The characters like Prufrock, Gerontion and Tiresias of the early poetry are the pivot around whom everything moves; the poet reveals their sub-conscious mind which forms the nucleus of these poems. But in the later phase, the poet expresses his own feelings and sentiments.

"Thus, he is poignantly lyrical. For example, Four Quartets is a masterpiece of lyrical devotional poetry in English literature."

      Fourthly, in the early poems like The Waste Land, poet went to the past to find parallels for the present. This technique is called mythical. The early poems are replete with the pagan myths, and legends which are borrowed from Homer down to Eliot's own age. In the later poetry, his mythical techniques is based upon Christian mythology, as for example Ash Wednesday and Four Quartets are purely religious poems which reveal Eliot's profound knowledge of the Bible. The imagery is basically Christian and the vocabulary ceaselessly echoes the Bible. Finally, Eliot's themes remains constant; only his technique changes. In the last phase, the symbols (images) are highly poetic and sublime. They are often drawn from nature. They do not reveal urban squalor and dirt. On the other hand, we have 'the rose' 'the garden', 'the fountain' and 'the yew', which are invested with symbolic significance. The last phase reveals the fresh, inspiring and life-giving atmosphere of nature.

      Conclusion : T.S. Eliot's poetry appears to fall into two major movements or phases which almost (but not quite) coincide with his pre-Christian and Christian stages. Musically and rhythmically, the poems which make up Four Quartets are beautiful poems reminiscent of Mallarme, Baudelaire and Verlaine. The shock technique of The Waste Land has been abandoned and the poetry has reached serenity and majesty which bring T.S. Eliot's lyrical poetry to a fitting close. Four Quartets however, has a complexity and depth which are not found no readily in the earlier poems. Yet this great final fight of Eliot's lyric Muse sums up the experience of his whole career as a poet. The hesitant uneasy ritualistic loveliness of Ash Wednesday becomes the confident harmony of Four Quartets. Fiur Quartets aims at the impersonality of philosophical poetry.

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