The Poetry of T. S. Eliot

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

Chapter Eight
The Still Point

I. THEOLOGY AND THE FORMAL PATTERN

ELIOT'S attachment to the authority of literary tradition was not, as we have seen, a matter of easy and untroubled acceptance. Because he looked on tradition as the only trustworthy guide for artistic experiment, he sought assurance that it demanded change, and that it contained within itself the means of effecting change. It is the ordered flux of tradition that determines its stability, and a similar paradoxical relationship is at the core of Eliot's conception of spiritual authority. The still point evidently suggests the stillness of eternity, and contrasts with the fevered movement of the temporal. The radiance of the white light that is associated with the stillness opposes the spiritual darkness of the world. Yet in Burnt Norton III, light and darkness seem to be equated,1 contrasted

____________________
1
An interesting section, which recalls the distinction made in The Waste Land between the spiritually apathetic and those who worship

devils rather than nothing: crying for life beyond life, for ecstasy not of the flesh. ( Choruses from The Rock: Collected Poems, p. 172.)

The darkness in Burnt Norton III is a symbol of one way to spiritual rebirth -- the despair that may come from thought of 'the disorder, the futility, the meaninglessness, the mystery of life and suffering' ( Points of View, p. 115). Most men avoid thought of these things, and so are incapable 'of either much doubt or much faith' (ibid., p. 108). The kind of experience symbolised in this section of Burnt Norton is 'the analogue of the drought, the dark night, which is an essential stage in the progress of the Christian mystic' (ibid., p. 109).

-156-

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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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