Thomas Stearns Eliot
Life and works
Eliot was born in
5.2. Eliot's poetry
The themes of Eliot's works are:
modern man alienation from society;
contraposition between time and eternity;
the question of personal identity;
relationship past-present and the exaltation of the past (tradition);
the fear of living;
the spiritual dryness, sterility and emptiness of modern life;
the role of faith in the modern world.
Eliot was a poet who for his cosmopolitan culture drew inspiration from several sources and himself represented an outstanding model for other poets. His models were:
Ezra Pound and the Imagists (for the use of clear and precise images and an essential vocabulary);
John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets (for the use of wit, the striking association of images and the consequent difficult and sometimes obscure poetry);
Dante, who Eliot saw as the model of all poetic art;
Myth and ancient rituals (which he derived from his anthropological studies).
Eliot asserted that the poetry had to be used only as a mean to express people's feelings (not the poet's ones) and as a consequence he tried to achieve the complete objective impersonality. For this he avoided the use of first person singular and chose the dramatic monologues and dialogues conceived as dialogues between the two halves of the same self. The function of his poetry is to communicate something thought the musicality and rhythm even before the words and their meaning. The need to convey an emotion indirectly through something which aroused people's feelings led Eliot to create the theory of the "objective correlative", that is an external fact, a situation or an event which evoked an emotion.
The Waste Land is one of the central works in the modernist tradition and the one which most decidedly carries poetry into the 20th century, leaving late Victorian model behind. The poem is divided into five unequal sections (without realistic or logical continuity):
"The Burial of the Dead"
"A Game of Chess"
"The Fire Sermon"
"Death by Water"
"What the Thunder said"
The poem expresses the modern artist's disillusion with the modern world and, at the same time, the desperate need and search for a new tradition. It also represents the culmination of the first phase in Eliot's career, which may be called nihilistic. Another theme is the juxtaposition (relation) of past and present which is represented by the juxtaposition of the images which are not logically ordered. The fragmentation of the poem is a reflection of the fragmentation of contemporary culture. The central metaphor of the poem is the spiritual dryness and sterility of modern life (the death of western culture as a consequence of the lack of any belief, religious or other, which can give meaning to everyday existence). The only possible ordering factor in this chaotic and almost nightmarish representation of reality is the myth: Eliot brings together images of modern decadence with images and quotations from ancient myths and legends (in particular he evokes fertility myths, rites and rituals of the early Christianity and makes references to the medieval romances of the Holy Grail). The several references to sterility and fertility provide a framework for all the various fragments of the poem. Eliot uses a narrative sequence: stream-of-consciousness technique.
The Burial of the Dead" is the first section of the poem called "The Waste Land".
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Sosostris, famous clairvoyante
Aprile è il più crudele dei mesi, genera
Quali sono le radici che s'afferrano, quali i
rami che crescono da queste macerie di pietra? Figlio dell'uomo, tu non puoi
dire, né immaginare, perché conosci soltanto Un cumulo d'immagini infrante,
dove batte il sole, e l'albero morto non dà riparo, nessun conforto lo
stridere del grillo,
Madame Sosostris, chiaroveggente famosa,
The poem's closing lines are in Sanskrit and foretell that modern man, isolated among the ruins of his culture, threatened by enemies within and without, his myths broken and his emotional drained, may glimpse the possibility of Shantih (peace which passeth understanding) only through love and loss of selfhood.
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