Also, I do not think anyone has ever suggested that Eliot was not from a religious family or did not know the Bible. That is a given for the discussion. But I can assure you that long afterwards Midwestern Americans went to churches and learned the Bible. I even learned to sing all the names of the books so I would not forget. Knowing that as a text assumed in your culture does not mean belief or any particular belief or any assumption that about what Eliot would later mean by using then-widely-known images from the Bible in poems.

>>> DIana Manister 03/07/10 8:12 AM >>>
Peter, I for one am neither In academia or anti-Christian. I am anti-sanctimonius. Hosannas accompanied by harp music seem obsene after WWI and the Holocaust. Adorno wrote that poetry was inadequate to that, and I'm saying religion is too.

Sent from my iPod

On Mar 7, 2010, at 7:23 AM, Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Thank you for this excellent summary. It pretty much fits what I have read or
learned from various sources. Personally I would say he was exploring religious possibilities, rather than struggling with them although Ger. TWL and the Hollow Men 
would all suggest that he was struggling with the character and depth of WWI,
which was possibly involved with his religious explorations, or even motivating them.

My point is simply that through his upbringing Eliot would have already
had a pretty thorough knowledge of Christianity, and that he is using that
knowledge as a source in Gerontion. That means, like it or not, talking
about religious points. There is a temporal spectrum in the poem which
pretty much follows Judeo-Christian history, with a thick dose of the
renaissance thrown in between the crucifixion (the meal) and the
resurrection (the tiger). So far as I know, no one is making the argument that Eliot
was working from a pro-Christian pov in the way he wrote the poem. At least I am
not. The irreverence in the poem would certainly not support such a position.
If Gerontion is looking back on his life as intertwined with Judeo-Christian
culture, then indeed he is stuck in his own consciousness with no way
of taking in anything new, or of expressing himself. He does know at the start
of the poem that he is being read to by a child, so he can't be totally deprived
of hearing at that point. That would suggest a kind of progression, unless of
course the child is just an illusion. If he is talking to someone then that
person is in his consciousness somehow, which is a bit of a conundrum.

It is inevitable that anti-Christian stereotypes interfere with such a discussion.
It is just the nature of the beast. It pervades our culture, esp. in academia,
as surely as anti-semetism pervaded Eliot's time.

I think it is too bad, that after expressions of dislike of CR's postings without comment,
that when he tried to actually engage the list in discussion, he was met with
the mess he received.

It would be interesting to know what the Unitarians of Eliot's time did about baptism.
It is one of the areas on which most denominations, not just the main line ones
do agree. Even if the Unitarians thought of the Son and the Holy Spirit as being on a lesser order than the Father they still might have practiced baptism as specified in the gospel. If so, when ELiot became an Anglican, he would not have been rebaptised.
He would have been considered a Christian from the time of his original baptism. But that's just a technical detail for information.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Nancy Gish 
To: [log in to unmask] 
Sent: Saturday, March 06, 2010 8:50 PM
Subject: Re: 'Gerontion'

There are now many sources of Eliot's biography and changing positions--Gordon, Ackroyd, Bush, Miller, Schuchard, and many, many books that trace his views. Until the late 70s, there was almost nothing except what was learned through his own statements and refusal of any biographical writing, and Gordon's first book is very much transformed in its 3rd version combined with the second. So much was written before any of it was accessible by anyone. The point is that he always did have religious and specifically Christian images--but also images and themes from Buddhism and from many philosophical sources. At Harvard, for example, he attended Buddhist meetings. (As I noted, this is the period of "Prufrock.") His longing for some "absolute" was not always defined in specifically Christian sources. I do not understand why one would speculate on his views without looking at these materials now that they are available. And they do not come to the same conclusions; they provide information and diverse views.

I have not found the statement about his interest in Buddhism specifically at the time of TWL, but it is not a faulty memory: he also added that he came to feel that for someone in the West, Christianity was more the way he felt worked. I recall it very specifically and have read it several times, but right now do not know where. So it depends on what you mean by struggle. In 1919, I do not see it as a major theme in his work or letters, but that does not mean he did not think of it. But his misery with Viv and the War and his work on War reparations are constant topics, and his life seems frantic, driven, and filled with constant anxiety as well as immense responsibility for War work at the bank. The line about not thinking religion the most important thing, in 1917, follows two years of marriage and War. If anyone has textual evidence of a focus on struggling as a Christian in those years, I would be interested. Clearly that would have been one option for finding some "absolute," but his use of Eastern religion is as prominent in TWL as his interest in Christianity. Hence the "collocation" of Buddha and Augustine at the end of "The Fire Sermon" and the voice of the Thunder at the end. It is not displaced by Christian language, and obviously Eastern religion has the last words: Shantih, shantih, shantih.

Clearly, some religious visions assume the necessity of doubt also. And he had such periods. There have always been major scholars and readers who see doubt and despair as the central theme of TWL--with much textual support. His faith and orthodoxy came late.

And though the images in "Gerontion" are not such a mix, they have been read as mocking and subverted. Christ the tiger, for example, cannot avoid evoking Blake, for whom the traditional image of the lamb is innocent but the tyger is an example of power and cruelty. Gerontion is blind, deaf, dumb, and without taste or touch; he has no access to whoever is his interlocutor, whether Christ or not. No one is denying that the images are there; the discussion is about how one can read them. Spender's point about the violence of Elizabethan drama seems to me more helpful than a general Christian story. The epigraph, for example, evokes the horror of Measure for Measure, where any sexuality is to be a capital crime--a tragi-comedy with profound darkness, and the scene given is part of that. Claudio is told to be absolute for death because there is nothing in life to make it worthwhile.

>>> Peter Montgomery 03/06/10 10:17 PM >>>
Could the lack of religious reference in such letters suggest that there
was no religious struggle going on in Eliot's life? I only ask because
Carrol said there was a denial of such a strugle by someone,
he didn't say whom. Perhaps there are grounds for such a denial.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Nancy Gish 
To: [log in to unmask] 
Sent: Saturday, March 06, 2010 3:54 PM
Subject: Re: 'Gerontion'

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 believers. 
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 be 
>>> dealt 
>>> with. 
>>> Are we to pretend they aren't there? 
> So does Lightr in August. So the question is, first of all, from what 
> perspective are we to approach the explanation of these items. In both 
> cases we have knowledge that it is simply childish to ignore: Neither 
> 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 begin 
> 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. You 
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 all 
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 fit 
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 reading 
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 been 
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, Diana), 
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.