The Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature
Edited by: Rebecca Lemon, Emma Mason, Jonathan Roberts and Christopher Rowland 
eISBN: 9781405131605
Print publication date: 2009

CHAPTER 48. T. S. Eliot
David Fuller


The chief use of the “meaning” of a poem, in the ordinary sense, may be … to satisfy one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while the poem does its work upon him: much as the imaginary burglar is always provided with a bit of nice meat for the house-dog. ( Eliot, 1933 , p. 151) I gave the references [to Dante] in my notes [to The Waste Land ], in order to make the reader who recognised the allusion know that I meant him to recognise it, and know that he would have missed the point if he did not recognise it. ( Eliot, 1965 , p. 128) Perhaps there is no conflict between these statements, but they at least represent Eliot permissive – poetry as verbal music or imagistic free play addressed to the unconscious – and Eliot prescriptive – poetry addressed to a reader whose ability to respond fully draws on traditions of knowledge, especially the literature of Greece, Rome, and Israel, on which (as Eliot put it) Western civilization depends. Polemical about the importance of educated elites as Eliot could be, he also expressed a desire for an audience that (like Shakespeare's) “could neither read nor write” ( Eliot, 1933 , p. 152) – though of course Shakespeare's audience knew the literature of Israel – the Bible – from hearing it read aloud in church. Recognizing allusion provides information about a poem, not knowledge of it as a poem – though it can all too ...


'Not an after-dinner relaxation': Gladstone on translating Dante 

Mark Davie, Exeter University
Journal of European Studies , Volume 24 (4): 385
SAGE - Jan 1, 1994


The opening pages of T.S. Eliot's essay on Dante, first published in 1929, have pointed the way for much of the twentieth-century appreciation of the poet. 'I do not counsel anyone to postpone the study of Italian grammar until he has read Dante', Eliot wrote, 'but certainly there is an immense amount of knowledge which, until one has read some of his poetry with intense pleasure -- that is, with as keen pleasure as one is capable of getting from any poetry -- is positively undesirable'. Dante's meaning, he continued, 'is often expressed with such a force of compression that the elucidation of three lines needs a paragraph, and their allusions a page of commentary'. 'The style of Dante has a peculiar lucidity -- a poetic as distinguished from an intellectual lucidity. The thought may be obscure, but the word is lucid, or rather translucent' (italics original). 'Compression', 'lucidity', and hence 'intense pleasure'...

'a poetic as distinguished from an intellectual lucidity' (TS Eliot)


Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote Saturday, November 17, 2012 10:50 PM: 

la sua voluntate è nostra pace.

-- Canto III, Paradiso


<[log in to unmask]> wrote Saturday, November 17, 2012 3:30 PM: 

Excellent, CR. Barry Super makes a lot out of these continental factors in discussing the development of Eliot's Christian sensibilities and his concern for the direction of the Church in Europe as a whole.

It would seem you are becoming our guide to Eliot's language usage since none of the so-called authorities among us is interested. Perhaps they realise that it inevitably leads to a discussion of his religion and that has frightened them off.
P. M.

Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

not directly related to the subject at hand, though 

Dante as Guide to Eliot’s Competing Traditions
By Dr. Randy Malamud

Several years ago I published an essay called ‘Shakespeare/Dante and Water/Music in The Waste Land’; in Florence I want to extend the consideration begun in that earlier discussion. My intent was (and remains) to show how Eliot’s poetry invites a reader-response approach: s/he who most clearly sees and hears Dante amid the poem’s cacophony of voices and songs, and who chooses Dante as the guide through this terrain, will be the better reader; other allusions and myths are, in large part, red herrings – wrong choices. I believe that what I posited about The Waste Land holds true across Eliot’s poetic oeuvre. I will apply Eliot’s extensive (and, we all know, strongly self-reflexive) commentary on Dante to illustrate how he wants us to hear, and use, and respond to Dante’s resonance throughout his own poetry.

What precisely is ‘Eliot’s European tradition’ that this symposium proposes to explore, and how does it involve Dante? How does his European sensibility relate to (and diverge from) his English sensibility? His American sensibility? His Eastern sensibility? His Christian sensibility?

I am especially interested in the extent to which Eliot’s European tradition resists, even excludes, an English tradition. The tension of Dante vs. Shakespeare as described in my previous essay, indeed, more generally plays out as Europe vs. England. I will explore how and why the poet who worked so devoutly to transform himself from an American into an Englishman in the 1910s and 1920s worked, seemingly paradoxically, to venerate a European tradition in his poetry in a way that, frequently, pointedly excluded England.

Throughout his career (even years before he arrived in London) Eliot was writing ‘English’ poetry, ensconced in the voice, the temperament, the topoi and topography, the aesthetic and history of his adopted country; so whence this Anglophobia? Eliot fled England when the Margate airs proved unable to cure his emotional ailments, finding refuge and healing in continental Europe. So, too, his poetry, both before and after The Waste Land, enacts a recurrent dismissal of Englishness in favor of Europe. Perhaps, given that Eliot’s poetic is one of alienation, it makes sense that it is chary of the English tradition at the same time that it is so firmly planted in England, and so it strains for a foundation elsewhere – in the textuality of Europe, and Dante. 

On to Eliot's famous essay on Dante!