Objective Correlative: The Soul of Eliot's Poetry 

"Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!"

The Symbolic versus the Literal 

"Desolate and empty the sea"

"Who is the third who walks always beside you?"

Objective Correlative: "Objects of Knowledge"

"The single Rose / Is now the Garden"

"We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars."

"And the fire and the rose are one." 

A set of objects etc., as Eliot enunciates, which shall be the formula for that particular emotion -- here the emotion of the absolute

Obviously, when a poem is presented in such terms, it may mean different things to different readers. Eliot admits as much in a letter to Philip Mairet, 31 October, 1956; the collection of Violet Welton. All the same, he felt that it was still necessary to assert its (the poem's) 'absolute' meaning. (Peter Ackroyd, p. 271) The overall context of Eliot's poetry, interspersed with hints in a poem of an absolutist view of things, I guess, sufficiently goads the reader to view the poems in that light. 

In sum, the term 'objective correlative' has a specific value for Eliot's poetry. And even though it might seem that the term did not take off, it is a legacy that endured after Eliot as a viable mode of poetic expression. 


From: Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>;
To: <[log in to unmask]>;
Subject: Re: Objective Correlative in Eliot's Poetry (was Re: OT - Chapel Perilous)
Sent: Sun, May 6, 2012 3:50:07 AM

"That corpse you planted last year in your garden,  
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?  
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?  
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,  
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!"


Dig a little deeper, reader.


From: Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>;
To: <[log in to unmask]>;
Subject: Re: Objective Correlative in Eliot's Poetry (was Re: OT - Chapel Perilous)
Sent: Sat, May 5, 2012 9:57:56 PM

I like that, esp since orangutans don't have the means of making vocal sounds.
----- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask]">Chokh Raj
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2012 6:33 AM
Subject: Re: Objective Correlative in Eliot's Poetry (was Re: OT - Chapel Perilous)

the correlative of a correlative -- a gesticulating orangutan 

"Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own." 

"Not the cicada  
 And dry grass singing  
 But sound of water over a rock  
 Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees  
 Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop"


From: Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Thursday, May 3, 2012 8:56 PM
Subject: Re: Objective Correlative in Eliot's Poetry (was Re: OT - Chapel Perilous)

Curious how o.c. had more of a life as something to be analysed, then as a device for analysis. It was a concept
that never quite took off, but something like the elephant coming in for a landing at Frankfurt airport, sort of flapped
its ears very brashly in the wind and somewhat bounced along upon its grceful impact (if you've seen that commercial).
The gracefully bouncing elephant is my objective correlative for the objective correlative.
Nez perse?
----- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask]">Ken Armstrong
Sent: Thursday, May 03, 2012 6:57 AM
Subject: Re: Objective Correlative in Eliot's Poetry (was Re: OT - Chapel Perilous)


Now that you mention it, I do vaguely recollect an attempted felony upbraiding by one of the usual suspects, which I generally try to ignore (avoiding my civic duty, I guess). I posed the question here (perhaps too briefly from my ipod) because I assu
med you had a specific purpose/meaning in mind for making the assertion and because I don't think I had thought of or heard of an everyday use of "objective correlative" outside of its connection with TSE.

For Eliot I think it was something highly specific and informed by his philosophic studies, particularly of F. H. Bradley. When Peter said we are maybe creeping toward the objective correlative, beastly-Yeats-like, I guess, I assumed he meant in Eliot's use of the term. With no upbraiding intended, I don't see what it gains us to use it as a synonym for symbol or metaphor, which already signify much more than their literal meaning.

Apart from that, occasionally here some one or other offers that 'objective correlative' is a useless term, which I think is perfectly true if it is conceived in a useless way. However, I think it had a legitimate life and utility and a depth of meaning for Eliot when he brought it forth and that it can still be employed fruitfully by anyone wanting to understand the problems that Eliot was trying to understand, whether with Hamlet or in poetry generally. Eliot's late remarks on feeling in the Concord address that Rickard posted a few days ago are perhaps a continuing indicator of the primacy of feeling in his view of poetry.

Ken A

On 5/2/2012 6:56 PM, Chokh Raj wrote:

To me Eliot's poetry is replete with 'objective correlatives', i.e. with concrete images that signify much more than their literal meaning, to convey certain deep and abstract ideas/emotions, more or less a synonym for symbols/metaphors. Here are a few instances from the 'Love Song':

a patient etherized upon a table; / The yellow fog / the butt-ends of my days and ways/ a pair of ragged claws / the mermaids / the chambers of the sea / sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown 

My problem arose when, at this list, I was stopped in my tracks, reprimanded for an indiscriminate use of 'objective correlative' for Eliot's images, reminding me what exactly Eliot meant by it:

"the only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked." 

I brought up this topic for discussion because I believe that Eliot's notion of 'objective correlative' is much more comprehensive and all-inclusive, that it does not preclude the common usage that we associate with an 'objective correlative'. 

I presume that Eliot's aforementioned enunciation was made specifically in the context of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'.