Some factual problems with this view of Eliot on war: he tried to enlist in
WWI twice and was disqualified due to tachycardia and an old hernia (see
Gordon, for example); he was an air raid warden in WWII, and the "familiar
compound ghost" section of "Little Gidding" is specifically about the blitz
and his work watching on housetops.
Moreover, I have to disagree with the reading of the Lil section: it matters
very much that he has just been demobbed. The crass narrator, says
"poor Albert/ He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time. . . ."
I assume if we take any other of Eliot's words as chosen and for a reason,
we need to at least consider that the war is mentioned for some reason or
at least it was important at some level to him. Moreover, the lilacs in the
opening section of TWL have been associated with Eliot's image of
Verdenal bearing "a branch of lilac," and Verdenal died in the war. The
opening scenes are in Germany. I'm not saying this all means a lot, but
Eliot was clearly very aware of the war, and he was not an "objector" but a
rejected enlistee and later a firewatcher. If there is any textual evidence
that he was glad to be rejected, I am interested in knowing of it.
Date sent: Wed, 9 Jan 2002 13:00:59 -0700
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From: "Richard Seddon" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Bad manners
I would like to know more of your dissertation. How far along are you. I
notice a non US email address. Will your dissertation be in English?
I am glad that you pointed to "Mauberley". I think section IV and section
V of part 1 of "Mauberley" one of the very best war poems.
TSE's attitude towards enlisting strikes me as one of : "There, I tried
it. God I'm glad they didn't want me". Hemingway managed to overcome his
aversions and serve peacefully and pacifically as an ambulance driver.
TSE had two wars in which he could have served. During WW I, at a very
late date, he specified that he would serve 1) as an Officer 2) in
intelligence 3) as an interpreter 4) in England. His conditions resulted
in lengthy negotiations that eventually ended in his honorable
non-service. Rupert Brooke and Owen didn't seek negotiation. During WW
II he did serve but not on active war service and only under his own
TSE and Ezra Pound both make interesting studies in war aversion and
avoidance. Pound hated war, saw it as a result of bad economics and tried
actively to produce the changes in society and economics that he thought
would avoid war. TSE just seemed to avoid it.
I don't think TSE necessarily was a pacifist. There were to many ways for
a pacifist to serve. I don't think he was a moral objector necessarily.
There were to many ways for an objector to serve. I think it disgusted
him down deep where his soul was. Disgusted him like looking at what the
cat just left in the middle of the floor. It appalled him. Any
association would have been much to abusive. I can understand this and
also appreciate his inability to explain it to all the hairy chest
thumpers running around.
War fighters are into breaking and destroying real things, people and
material things and generally making a mess. Tradition breaking, when one
can claim to be creating new tradition in the process, doesn't count.
Nancy pointed to the "Lil and Al" scene in TWL as possibly war poetry. I
would respectfully disagree. Al's pending demobilization is merely a fact
in the history of these people. It is a reason for his absence and loss
of supervision over the money he mailed Lil. Al could as easily have been
serving hard time in the Lockup or been a merchant sailor in peaceful
I think it hard to look at TWL as War Poetry because I find no direct
statement about war but yet I hear war in TWL as one of the consequences
of a wasted society. With Pound as an editor perhaps this is only
McIntosh, NM, USA