I'm not sure how to develop this, but I guess my core point is that the
poem's decorum would not have worked except in the total context created
by the War. I would say the same for "Tradition and the Individual
Talent" -- the really quite bizarre notion of the "existing order
[being] complete before the new work arrives" etc. makes sense only as a
desperate effort to create anew an order that has gone smash. And it is
that slightly loony notion of the new work giving a new ending to an
existing poem [order] that makes possible an opening line turning
Chaucer's sweet showers into the cruelest month. (I don't remember now
whether Canto I existed yet in its present form when Eliot et al. were
putting TWL together.) "Order out of chaos" is almost tautologicvally a
feature of every poem, but it was a theme that seems to have obsessed
many writers in the years after Sarajevo. "Old stone to new buildings,
old timbers to new fires . . ." Eliot's focus hasn't changed that much
twenty years later.
Christians clearly can't believe this, but to the non-Christian (the
atheist by birthright more than merit) it does seem that many Christians
in the 20th century grasp it as a tool to do other things, rather than
its being the place in which they find themselves and act from.
Christianity (and its myth of rebirth) holds Eliot's poems together as
fascism holds Pound's Cantos together. (Given the Christian
interpretation many give Eliot's early poems, it would seem that he
wrote Christian poems first, then became a Christian as an
The decorum of TWL depends on the Great War looming behind it.