Biographical Poetry posted January 28, 2024

This work has reached the exceptional level

T.S. Eliot

by Debbie D'Arcy

This poorly child, so young and frail, escaped in worlds that thrilled
for reading books in solitude anaesthetised his pain.
Adventure themes and Sawyer's tales impassioned him and filled
his days of inactivity whilst muse enjoyed free rein.
His kinship home, St. Louis, charmed and also fuelled his dreams,
A setting that surpassed all else, its river stirred his soul.
And, hence, his destiny was set from early days, it seems -
a life that would embrace the arts, advance his cherished goal.
But, though good fortune shone on him with learning never spared,
'twould take another spark of fate to fan his glowing flame.
In London, poet, Ezra Pound, compellingly declared
that Eliot, a man to watch, would soar to lofty fame.
And, first, this gifted man would prove a poet of his day
with Prufrock's tortured, stilted cry of crisis: "Do I dare?"
For in this skit of modern man, a psyche gone astray,
the artist, in life's coffee spoons,* revealed his deep despair.
For these were bleak, unsettled times, the world had suffered war*;
his marriage too was failing fast and mentally unsound.
In chilling tone, The Waste Land would reflect the death he saw
of culture and the spiritual, prevailing all around.
This work was hailed a tour de force,* reflecting modern age,
eschewing imagistic art,* it painted life more dark.
Yet, in that post-war stage, a time, to turn a brand-new page
and resurrect, in social terms, from landscape bare and stark.
Dispirited by man's decline, he sought a different road,
a system that would fortify and give him strength again -
reacting to those Hollow Men, he found the strictest code
of faith in Christianity, conviction born from pain.
And this inspired, in World War Two, his last great masterpiece -
The Four Quartets, this song of time, aspiring to give hope
that future fears, uncertainty (mid bombing raids) would cease
while steadfast trust in foregone age wrought faith to help folk cope.
This modernist philosopher who strove to find man's role,
who penned with wisdom stunning work with impact that would last;
through wartime waste and social change, his creed inspired the goal
that balance only feeds our soul through rituals of the past.



Visual: courtesy of Google free pics. Information sources: Wikipedia and other biographies and essays.
There is inevitably a great deal to record here. I have, therefore, focused on his conversion from a man in despair with himself and the changing world around him to greater understanding and reconciliation (through faith) of the past with the present. Thank you for your understanding.

Thomas Stearns Eliot 1888 - 1965
Stanza 1: Born in Boston, Missouri to a prominent elite family, he suffered as a child with a congenital double inguinal hernia and was unable to participate in many physical activities, leaving him isolated from his peers. He became obsessed with books, favouring tales of savage life, the Wild West and Tom Sawyer. He wrote later that he would often curl up with a large book "setting the drug of dreams against the pain of living."

Stanza 2: He credited his hometown with fueling his literary vision and extolled the privilege of growing up beside a big river.

Stanza 3: Extensive learning, particularly in the field of philosophy, was encouraged by his affluent parents. He subsequently traveled to Paris, fascinated by the French Symbolists, and then to England in 1914 where he went on to settle, work and marry, becoming a British subject in 1927. His most important and life-altering connection was with critic and artist, Ezra Pound whom he met in London, a city that also had a monumental influence on his life.

Stanza 4: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1915. His first professionally published poem (his day job was, essentially, in teaching, editing, publishing and reviewing). Though at the time considered outlandish, it is now seen to mark a shift from 19th century Romanticism and Georgian Lyrics to Modernism. His character is an over-educated, Hamlet-style figure, stricken with isolation and an incapacity for decisive actions, representing frustration and impotence in the modern individual.
*Do I dare disturb the universe? (Inevitably a dig at himself).
*I've measured out my life in coffee spoons - metaphorical expression of someone who is afraid of adventure, excitement, danger and risk (once again, a reference to himself).

Stanza 5 - 6: *tour de force - exceptional achievement; *imagistic - relating to a 20th century movement in poetry that uses clear, precise images to express ideas and emotions.
The Waste Land 1922 This is widely regarded as one of the most important English language poems of the 20th century. Published in the aftermath of the *Great War, it is a highly complex, prophetic and allusive work, primarily focusing on death, decay and desert images, a reflection of a post-war reality of emptiness, disillusionment and despair. And yet a spur to rebuild a waste land of culture and purpose. The immensely dark content of this work is influenced, in part, by his own personal issues: a marriage (to Vivienne Haigh-Wood) that was in tatters as a result of her mental and physical ill health (including an addiction to the pain relief of ether and opium) and his increasingly problematic alcohol issues. They later formally separated and she lived out her days in a mental hospital. Eliot married a second time in 1957.

Stanza 7: The Hollow Men 1925 Anglo Catholicism was then in its heyday and prided itself on its contrast with more easy-going, mainstream Anglicanism. His new embracing of the stricter form represented everything his poetic friends were against in their fight against Victorianism and conventionality of belief and behaviour in all its forms. Eliot was turning his back on his earlier more radical convictions because he realised that something was needed to fill the void and 'hollowness' he saw in himself and those around him. He understood that, if poetry could come from suffering, then so, too, could faith.

Stanza 8: The Four Quartets, his last major poetic work, 1943. His subsequent works, including plays, assumed a more reconciliatory, less conflicted tone. In particular, in The Four Quartets, there is a conviction that, in order to thrive, man cannot afford to reject traditions and beliefs of the past. These have to be blended with ideals and changes in the present if society is to advance to any kind of harmonious whole.

Stanza 9: A man of huge intellect who lived through two World Wars and was deeply concerned with social and cultural upheaval and change, Eliot recognised through his religious conversion that man doesn't stand in isolation to all that has gone before. His deep roots in his homeland and childhood dreams had given him a foundation of belief that could then, strengthened by his strict religious observance, steer his path through the remainder of his life.

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