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T.S. ELIOT Essay, Research Paper

Throughout Thomas Stearns Eliot’s poems run Christian

themes and values that evoke a critical view of society.

Though he published relatively little compared to other

poets of his caliber, he has been recognized as both a poet

and a critic. He himself has been criticized for "unnecessary

obscurity" and for "authorian severity" (Bradley, 1163).

Throughout his poems and other works, he professes a

distinct critique upon society due mainly because of his

belief that Christianity should play a major role in life. In his

poems, Christian beliefs remain in a reoccurring aspect that

reflect his social criticism and his own Christian convictions.

As Eliot began to become financially stable and secure, he

began to look for spiritual outlets to arrive at. This outlet

was that of England’s Established Church. Eliot began

keeping a Christian ethical outlook of life. Irving Babbit, a

Harvard professor, also attracted Eliot to the study of

philosophy. Eliot was baptized under the church of England

at the age of thirty-nine and began his literary crusade to

promote Christianity. In 1922, one of Eliot’s major works

of modern literature was published. "The Wasteland", full of

images of despair and death is clearly an expression of

Eliot’s religious beliefs. At this time during the 1920’s, "the

Wasteland" appealed to young intellectual minds because

of the tone it symbolized. It was the post-war period and

Eliot’s main focus in "The Wasteland" was the failure of the

Western civilization which World War II seemed to

demonstrate. Gertrude Stein called this period the "lost

generation". Ever since "The Wasteland" portrayed the

feelings of despair of the lost generation, Eliot has been

critical of Western civilization. In 1939, he was quoted as

saying, "And it does not require a Christian attitude to

perceive that the modern system of society has a great that

in it is that inherently bad" (Criterion, 115). The things that

were "inherently bad", Eliot suggested to remove and

replace it with Christian values. In " The Wasteland", he

arrives with his criticism in an appropriate emphasis on

sensitivity and imagery that provokes the reader to feel a

deeper emotion and even a religious reaction. Eliot defends

this method of delivering his poetry by saying: Such

selection of sequence of images and ideas has nothing

chaotic about it. There is a logic of the imagination as well

as a logic of concepts. People who do not appreciate

poetry always find it difficult to distinguish between order

and chaos in the arrangement of images; and even those

who are capable of appreciating poetry cannot depend

upon first impressions. (Criterion, 235) In "The

Wasteland," there is an immediately noticeable reversed

attitude about life and death that evokes a spiritual sense.

Eliot makes death a consequence instead of a test of faith.

Also, in most works of literature, the cycle of spring to

spring which includes the time of Easter, a religious

celebration of great importance to Christians, is rejoiced

and embraced. In "The Wasteland" it is the reverse. "The

people of ?The Wasteland’ are not made happy by the

return of spring, the fruitfulness to the soil; they prefer the

barrenness of winter or the dead season" (Williamson,

125). Basically, life becomes a preparation for death.

Everything that happens in the world is not of reality

because it holds no value. The cause of this is Adam’s

burden that was placed upon man. Eliot has been quoted

as saying, "I do not mean that our times are particulary

corrupt: all times are corrupt" ("The Social Function of

Poetry", 453). Eliot "ignores the positive human aspects of

Christianity" (Robbins, 24) and rigidly rejoices death. It

seems that Eliot escapes from reality seen in "The

Wasteland" and into a realm of religion and "over all Eliot’s

writings hovers his contempt for human beings— because

as we know them, they are part of the physical world"

(Kojecky, 12). This use of reverse attitude allows Eliot to

vividly express the theme of religious frustration. In the

"Burial of the Dead", the first part to "The Wasteland" it

states "memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring

rain" (Eliot, 29). But what are these dull roots? The son of

man is throughly confused because all he knows is the

Waste Land and he cannot relate. Eliot suggests here death

imagery which can be compatible with Christ’s death for

the forgiveness of mankind. Eliot blends images from Isaiah

32 and Luke 23: the "dead tree" and "red rock" (Eliot, 30)

which are descriptive colors used in third part of "The

Wasteland" called "The Fire Sermon". This symbolizes the

burial of Christ. Also the speaker in "The Wasteland" who

often becomes the prophet during the course of the poem,

shows man "fear in a handful of dust you will become. This

is greatly associated with biblical references. In part IV of

the "The Wasteland", "Death by Water" the agony and

despair of "The Burial of the Dead" merge into the trials of

the Hanged God. The trials are symbolic of Jesus on stand

under Pontius Pilate. Eliot concludes by saying that He

(Jesus) is dead and the people are deteriorating. In Part V

"What the Thunder said," a journey is necessary to the

scared river for its water and wisdom. In Part I there was

an emphasis on the need for water. "After observing, ?here

is no water, the spirit is tortured by the desire of water and

no rock or rock and also water or merely the sound of

water, even the illusion of its sound; ?but there is no water’ "

(Williamson, 148). This torment develops the "red rock"

from Part III. There is a physical and spiritual torment

present in Part IV and Part V. in Part V, there is a "gliding

wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded" (Eliot, 43) present which

represents Christ yet again. In Part I the people prepare for

the "journey to Emmaus" which confirms the identity of the

Hanged God as Jesus Christ. This journey is symbolic of

the Bible’s journey to Emmaus when after Jesus’

resurrection, two of Jesus’ followers from Emmaus which is

close to Jerusalem unknowingly brought Jesus to abide the

night with them. During supper with them Jesus blessed

bread and gave it thanks and then suddenly his spirit

disappeared. The journey in "The Wasteland" is also a

journey created by the "slow of the heart to believe all that

the prophets have spoken" (Luke, 24). "The Wasteland"

shows the decline of religious feeling in man of modern

times. Generally "The Wasteland" is critiqued as being a

poem of despair and loss of hope. But Cleanth Brooks

interprets it differently. He proposes that "The Wasteland"

is not a poem of despair of the lost generation but a poem

of affirmation in the Christian religion. In response Eliot has

said. "When I wrote a poem called ?The Wasteland’ some

of the approving critics said that I expressed the

"disillusionment of the generation’, which is nonsense. I may

have expressed them for their own illusion of being

disillusioned but that we did not form part of my intention"

("Thoughts After Lambeth, 52) . Compared to "The

Wasteland", Eliot’s later poetry took a positive turn toward

faith in life in 1930. "Ash Wednesday", "a poem of mystical

conflict between faith and doubt" (Bradley, 1165) was

published. The title itself stirs up a religious element of

humility and respect throughout the poem there are of the

Mass at many points. For the ritual for "Ash Wednesday,"

the priest dips his thumb in ashes and makes the sign of the

cross on the forehead while reciting the words "Remember,

man, that thou art dust and unto dust though shall return,".

This reminds us of Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden

(Genesis, 3). This theme of returning to God has also been

seen in "The Wasteland." In the beginning of the poem, it is

clearly seen that there is a loss of hope to turn again to the

world. There is a loss of ambition. This derives from Isaiah

40:31, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their

strength; they shall mount up with wings as angels." But

why is there a loss of this hope? The voice of this poem

says that he will never see the "positive hour" (Eliot, 57).

The reasons for the lack of hope is because things are listed

to a time and a place and they have both passed for him.

He renounces religion and "the blessed face" (Eliot, 57).

But then he simultaneously prays to God for mercy and for

forgiveness of his previous contemplations. In Part I, mainly

due to doubt, the speaker can turn neither to the world nor

to God because of having renounced the world and

salvation. In Part V, Eliot makes distinct referrals to the

source of most of his inspirations: The Bible. Part V deals

with the revelation of the Word of to the present day

world. "If the lost word is lost …" (Eliot, 63) He

characterizes that with the decline of religion and faith in the

present day world. Part V deals with the anguish the

speaker faces with the loss of hope. Also in Part V, there is

"veiled sister" (Eliot, 64) who prays for those "who will not

go away and cannot pray" (Eliot, 64). The veiled sister is

symbolic of the Blessed Virgin Mary who prays for those in

Purgatory. Also, the silent sister is in Part IV who "signed

but spoke no words" (Eliot, 60) is remembered. "Although

God’s word is heard on various occasions, the silence of

the agents of the divine love in ?Ash Wednesday’ is

marked" (Williamson, 181). The final exclamation of the

Word is a sharp reminder of spiritually and affirmed

disposition towards man. Thus everyone and everything

revolves around the Word. But faith is needed to be

realized in order to achieve salvation in a righteous way

with God. In Part VI the theme of the lack of hope is

retrieved again but there is an altered relation. "The lack of

hope passed from a casual relation to will to a concessive

relation to will" (Williamson, 182). Compared to Part I the

development of grace is change. In the last part of "Ash

Wednesday," though the speaker dreads turning to the

world, the world begins to appeal to him more now. This is

that period of time between death to the world and

everlasting life with God. This is when the speakers faith in

God is restored. The final phase of the reversal is now

completed. At the beginning of the poem the speaker could

neither go to God nor to the world mainly due to doubt but

a metamorphosis of the speakers outlook had occurred.

His will in God has been fully restored and he does not

want to be separated from God. The return of will for the

speaker will allow him to strengthen the will of others. The

sharp contrast of Part I and Part VI allow the development

of the significant change that occurred to the speaker. "Ash

Wednesday" is not a poem of denial in Christianity but a

poem that "describes stages of despair, self- abnegation,

moral recovery, resurgent faith, need of grace and renewal

toward both world and God" (Williamson, 184). "Ash

Wednesday" marks the developments of the speakers

emotional relations to God and to the world. It is a

meditated reflection that shows the progress of a Christian

mystic. "Eliot was always a religious poet" (Ranson. 133)

who tried to provoke religious aspects into his readers.

Eliot’s criticism of the fall of Western Civilization due mainly

because of World War II, was filled with the remarks that

Christianity should play a vital role in life. He believed that

the church should dominate the entire life of an entire

society. To this he says: The church is not merely for the

elect- in other words, those whose temperament brings

them to that belief and behavior. Nor does it allow us to be

Christian in some social relations and non-Christian in

others. It wants everybody, and it wants each individual as

a whole. It therefore must struggle for a condition of society

which will give the maximum of opportunity for us to lead

wholly Christian lives and the maximum of opportunity for

others to become Christian. (Criterion, 246)

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