Thomas Stearn Eliot
LifeThomas S. Elior was born in 1888 in Missouri (USA) into a family of English descent and he died in 1965 in London.
In 1927 he converted to Anglicanism and this event signed a change in his life, religious beliefs and literary production.
He was interested in the European culture, literature, specially classical ones. He influenced the present and the following poetic and literary production as a poet as well as a critic.
As a critic
He discovered and stressed the importance of the so-called “Metaphysical Poets” (for instance John Donne).
He considered Dante as a better poet than English ones.
His words about Dante: “He was the poet who best expressed a universal situation, he created clear visual images”.
As a poet
• The Waste Land (1922) --> before the conversion (Pessimism)
• Four Quartets (1943) --> after the conversion (Harmony)
The Waste LandIt is a long poem and is perhaps the central work in the modernist tradition. ‘The Waste Land’ is divided into five sections:
o The Burial of the Dead
o A Game of Chess
o The Fire Sermon
o Death by Water
o What the Thunder Said
The title itself alluded to the collapse and desolation of western world, but all is implicit. The differences between past and present time are stressed through images, symbols and quotations from other languages and cultures (in particular classical and medieval ones), which represent the fertility of the past (symbolized by a glorious and rich land) and the sterility of the present (symbolized by a desolated land). --> PESSIMISM
Epic Method (like Joyce)The mythical method is also used to try to give an order to the fragmentation of the modern world, to its lack of values and heroism: the myth is proposed as a structural element because to the fragmentation of the modern world corresponds the fragmentation of the poem. Eliot uses references to the Grail legend and the story of the Fisher King.
The vision of the time
Eliot sees time as a circle, in which events are repeated forever and past, present and future are united.
The past is a sort of reflection of the present with -of course- some differences, which can make people able to distinguish the one form the other.
ThemesNature mirrors what happens to human beings through the four element: air, fire, earth and water.
Death and infertility (represented by the rocks, which can’t house anything) are in contrast with the concept of rebirth (represented by the spring and the water).
Fifth part: What the Thunder SaidFinal part divided into two parts:
o The first one offers an apocalyptic description of desolation due to the lack of water. (References to the crucifixion of Christ and the journey to Emmaus)
o The second one describes the coming of the rain and a possible but not probable redemption. (References to the Hindu books of Upanishad where the Lord of the creation speaks through the thunder)
In ‘The Waste Land’ musicality is a fundamental formal element: alliteration, onomatopoeias, assonances. Another important element is represented by the objective correlative, which communicates a particular emotion to the reader. Through the objective correlative the writer can show events and not describe them: thanks to this method the impersonality of the writing (also present in Joyce) is guaranteed and the reader can be free to interpret the text because the emotion of the art is impersonal (concept very similar to the idea of the “art for art’s sake”.
Literary production after the conversion
Four QuartetsIn this second part of Eliot’s production the previous nihilism turn into a research of harmony, inspirited by his conversion.
In this collection of poem, music and poetry are very close: in fact, each poem is divided into five parts like a symphony.