The Poetry of T. S. Eliot

By D. E. S. Maxwell | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
The Turning World

WHAT must strike the reader most forcibly about Poems 1920 and The Waste Land is their insistence on the setting. Temporal human affairs are presented directly within this setting, while their spiritual significance is left implicit, in the imagery and in the allusions to past literature. These poems present Eliot's vision of 'the turning world', a symbol first used in 'Coriolan' II. The characteristics of mechanical civilisation and urban squalor provide the necessary starting point for Eliot's investigation of the distress peculiar to the modern soul. The poetry is never concerned solely with the presentation of a picture of 'the turning world': the spiritual undertones are always present. But what most distinguishes the early from the later poetry is that in the former the streets, the houses, the music, the routine affairs of the people overlay the spiritual considerations and are essential to their communication.

In the final section of The Waste Land can be seen the first divergence from direct insistence on the surroundings. The method is still allusive -- as it always is -- but it operates now away from the contemporary setting. Composed, as will be shown, in the figure of Coriolanus, the Fisher King, and the lost father, is the notion of a focus towards which the instability and flux of material affairs should converge. From such convergence they will be endowed with a meaning which they must lack if there is no stable centre. This concept is symbolised -- also in 'Coriolan' II --

-97-

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The Poetry of T. S. Eliot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Chapter One - The Critical Background 1
  • Chapter Two - The New Classicism 36
  • Chapter Three - Symbolism and the Unified Sensibility 48
  • Chapter Four - Poetry and Beliefs 80
  • Chapter Five - The Turning World 97
  • Chapter Six - The Humanist Criticism 118
  • Chapter Seven - Poésie Du Départ 136
  • Chapter Eight - The Still Point 156
  • Chapter Nine - Realism and Poetic Drama 181
  • Appendix 213
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 221
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