Analysis Of T. S. Eliot's East Coker

2698 words - 11 pages

Analysis of T. S. Eliot's East Coker

 
     The early poetry of T. S. Eliot, poems such as "The Wasteland" or "The Love Song

of J. Alfred Prufrock", is filled his despair of the human condition. Man is a

weak soul, easily tempted and filled with lusts, who has no hope of redemption.

These views of man did not change when Eliot converted to Catholicism. Eliot

still maintained man's desperate plight, but supplemented that belief with the

notion that man has some hope through the work of Christ. This expanded view

first appeared with the publication of "Burnt Norton" in 1935. From this poem,

Eliot built a delicately intricate set of Christian devotional poems, Four

Quartets.

 

The second of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, "East Coker", is the poet's

reflection on the English village in which his ancestor Sir Thomas Elyot wrote

The Governour, and from which Andrew Elyot embarked for the New World (Blamires

41). Eliot understood poetry to be a series of images, phrases, and feelings

deposited into the consciousness of the poet and then fused together to form

something new (Eliot 55). Often, this collection is unified by a device that has

little to do with the actual emotions that are the subject of the poem. In "East

Coker," the village in Somersetshire is only a departure point for two

discussions. The primary issue is the determinism that governs man's activities

and ultimately makes a failure of all his pursuits. The second issue is like the

first: that the poet's words fail in their attempts to elucidate the problem of

determinism. Eliot prefaces Four Quartets with the words of Heraclitus: "The way

up and the way down are the same." This quote highlights Eliot's concern with

naturalistic determinism in that it reminds the poet that every construction is

followed by destruction, every creation is followed by demolition.

 

Eliot opens the first section of "East Coker" with the banner "In my beginning

is my end" (l.1). This line is a reversal of the motto of Mary Queen of Scots,

in my end is my beginning (Blamires 41). Here lies the foundation of Eliot's

notion of determinism. It suggests that a man's life and death has been

determined at the time of his birth. In the act of coming into the world he is

resigned merely to enact that which has already been planned for him. Eliot goes

on to describe the birth and death cycle of houses, both physical houses and

dynasties (Blamires 41). He reminds the reader that every home will eventually

be torn down and replaced, every ruling family will yield power to another. Once

a house falls its elements are recycled and recombine to form the next

generation.

 

Eliot then brings the reader into the physical realm, somewhere just outside of

East Coker. Again, the power of determinism is found in...

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