Ken, I don't recall applying the word "disgusting" to Gerontion. If
you can cite it, I'll stand corrected.
I said Eliot's depiction of the Jew was "sordid" which was obviously
his intent, since he could have portrayed him as a respectable figure
had he chosen to.
Eliot said he seriously considered becoming a Buddhist but had certain
reservations. I don't think he spelled them out but he did indicate
that the cultural difference was too great for him to adjust to. TWL
shows that he was enamored of Buddhism at that time (as Nancy noted,
after Gerontion was written.)
"Reading back" Eliot's later conversion into Gerontion is contradicted
He was a great admirer of many Christian writers as we know, and
sometimes adopted the cadences of the King James bible in his poems.
Even an atheist can recognize great writing styles; Eliot's admiration
is no confirmation of belief. His conversion occurred later. It would
be odd, wouldn't it, if he were a believer even from the Gerontion
period but got so little hope from his faith that he would go on to
write so devastated a poem as The Wasteland?
Sent from my iPod
On Mar 6, 2010, at 6:54 PM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> There are many ways to be serious; they do not require
> Christianity. And those poems are, in my view also, serious. I do
> not see the connection.
> I have just been rereading a mass of the letters from 1919. One
> very interesting characteristic is the total absence of any comment
> on religion of any kind: it is all about writing or societal gossip
> or Vivienne, or his work at the bank.
> I am at a loss to see what you mean by the evidence you claim unless
> you mean the very odd note that "Bleistein's way" means Eliot's is
> Christian instead. I have no idea how to comment on that, as it
> means nothing. It could well have been that his way was Buddhist or
> that he simply objected to Bleistein.
> Interestingly, Eliot told Lytton Strachey on 1 June 1919, "You are
> very - ingenuous - if you can conceive me conversing with rural
> deans in the cathedral close. I do not go to cathedral towns but to
> centres of industry. My thoughts are absorbed in questions more
> important than ever enter the heads of deans - as why it is cheaper
> to buy steel bars from America than from Middlesborough, and the
> probable effect - the exchange dificulties with Poland - and the
> appreciation of the rupee. My evenings in Bridge. . . . I feel
> sufficiently specialised, at present, to inspect or hear any ideas
> with impunity." He mentions Sundays a lot--as days when he can or
> does travel.
> Hard to imagine those remarks about the heads of deans in cathedral
> towns by the late 20s. As for his statement about his own
> inclination to Buddhism (at the time of TWL, later than
> "Gerontion"), I'll have to find it. But he had, earlier, attended
> meetings of a Buddhist society and had studied Eastern thought
> intensively at Harvard.
> If you want to read a Christian vision into anything he said, you
> are quite free to do so; it is not, however, a "truth" or a
> generally assumed view, and you give no basis in any of his own
> statements or his life.
> But Diana never has said he was "merely disgusting," and there is no
> reason to be nasty.
> As for the complicated development of Eliot's ideas (as opposed to a
> simple constant of Christian vision) I would suggest reading Ron
> Schuchard's Eliot's Dark Angel.
> >>> Ken Armstrong 03/06/10 6:06 PM >>>
> Incredibly, you have ignored the very evidence I said you would, in
> the very post to which ostensibly you are responding. Let me know
> where, then, TSE claimed he was not a Christian when he wrote
> Gerontion. Let's suppose it exists (I simply don't recall). I would
> still point to exacly these poems and say they present a Christian
> vision, for the reasons noted previously.
> For George if he has not found the quote, in a letter covering many
> topics, TSE wrote to his brother regarding the group of poems being
> published called Ara Vos Prec and Poems 1920: "Some of the new
> poems, the Sweeney ones, especially "Among the Nightingales" and
> "Burbank" are intensely serious, and I think these two are among the
> best I have ever done. But even here I am considered by the ordinary
> Newspaper critic as a Wit or satirist, and in America I suppose I
> shall be thought merely disgusting."
> Is it fair to say he saw Diana coming?
> On Mar 6, 2010, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> As I said in an earlier message, I have written on the significance
> of the epigraph--in the paper in Florence. And I noted that it had
> to do with the notion of being in "an after dinner sleep." But it
> is also said to one who expects death on the orders of a hypocrite.
> It is connected with other images, but that is a long topic. But it
> is not the case that no one has taken it up.
> Moreover, the first person--to my knowledge--who claimed he was not
> a Christian when he wrote TWL (which was composed after "Gerontion")
> was Eliot himself. I am not sure where, but I have read it more
> than once. Growing up in a Christian culture is simply true for most
> Americans until recently, and as someone pointed out, it was also,
> in Eliot's case, Unitarianism, which he rejected. That religious
> concerns are present from his earliest work is clear, but what he
> believed, and when, is not, nor does a specific belief shape the
> meanings of the poems until, perhaps to some extent, his later
> overtly religious ones.
> For example, "In July 1917 he acknowledged that life was poor
> without religon, but as yet he was unconvinced it was the greatest
> of all satisfactions and so worth the effort" (Gordon). "Gerontion"
> was composed in February 1919; the definite conversion we know of
> was in 1926. According to Peter Ackroyd, "In 1919 he discussed the
> sermons of John donne and Lancelot Andrewes--'a writer of genius',
> he called the latter--but at this stage he was objective about the
> claims of Christianity itself and compared the work of these two
> eminent divines with Buddha's Fire Sermon' " (Ackroyd). [Notably,
> this is long past the 1910-1911 composition date of "Prufrock.") To
> read concepts in a poem back into the writer's life is a kind of
> false use of biography in reverse. All the vehement objections to
> using known facts about his life, and his own words, that have come
> up on this list are rather odd in the face of this use of poems to
> assume biography.
> So to start from an assumption of "Christian commitment" at the time
> of composition--unless you have evidence not known to Gordon or
> Ackroyd or Eliot himself--is clearly the kind of problem Carrol
> defines. It is an imposition based on the presence of some words in
> the poems, words one can find in masses of literature not written by
> So do you have such evidence? I would really be interested to read
> any statements of Eliot's or people who knew him well that he had
> embraced Christianity as a belief by 1919.
> >>> Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]> 03/06/10 3:42 PM >>>
> Carrol Cox wrote:
> >> On Mar 5, 2010, at 6:37 AM, Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>
> >> wrote:
> >>> The poem contains A LOT of Chritian elements and so they need to
> >>> dealt
> >>> with.
> >>> Are we to pretend they aren't there?
> > So does Lightr in August. So the question is, first of all, from
> > perspective are we to approach the explanation of these items. In
> > cases we have knowledge that it is simply childish to ignore:
> > Faulkner when he wrote Light in Aughuse nor Eliot when he wrote
> > Gerontion was Christian. So the interpretive 'problem' involves
> > expalinng the existence of Christian imagery or references in a
> > non-Christian poem written within a given cultural context.
> > I don't care to waste time or energy responding to arguments which
> > with a clear error and by rigojrous logic end up in bedlam. The idea
> > that Gerontion was a Christian poem is the kind of error that makes
> > further discussion pointless.
> Carrol und Alles,
> Why is it pointless to discuss? The error seems to me to be yours (&
> others'), and an error, to be accurate, of the most simplistic kind.
> assume you know the constitution of Eliot's inner life prior to 1927,
> but logic (bad logic is one of my pet peeves, too, and Lord knows
> there's plenty to be peevish about on this list) doesn't dictate at
> that to be committed to a Christian vision he had to be publicly
> baptized in a particular Christian communion. Then, where there IS
> evidence of said Christian commitment, you (the general "you" of this
> class of Eliot readers, not to say of this sect of co-conspirators
> [.........that last is a joke.....]) simply deny it or gloss over it:
> "But this or such was Bleistein's way" could not have been a louder
> announcement of Eliot's particular poetic way (as he conceived of it),
> the way of the crucified Christ. Now, my definition of "pointless" is
> not admitting this into the discussion, and with self-righteous
> expressions of fatigue at having to entertain scenarios which do not
> your world view. If you "don't care to waste time or energy responding
> to arguments which begin with a clear error," how is that I keep
> exactly, by your professed lights, those posts from you? Seems a tad
> Missed or not, I'm sorry to be little present to the Gerontion
> threads. I've been rereading Guy Brown's appreciation of the poem, ten
> years old now, and laboring under a heavy work schedule. There have
> a few good calls for substantiation of certain claims or to take into
> account the syntax of the poem and Guy's reading supplies those
> interstices of thought and word in great detail, line by line,
> stanza by
> stanza, source by source (you're right about Dream of Gerontius,
> word by word, and epigraph. I'm surprised here that no one has really
> taken up the significance of the epigraph.
> I looked up the letter in which TSE predicts how his Poems 1920 would
> be taken and will post it later if no one else does.