The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats

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Poet dallied with 'the other side', writes Michelle McDonagh

The financial nightmare had begun to fade in when he launched The Criterion.

T. S. Eliot

When Eliot announced on the eve of World War II that he was bringing The Criterion to a close, he was able to look back with considerable pride on the quality and range of his accomplishments. At Faber and Faber, Eliot found a congenial and enduring group of associates, and through the publishing house, he was able to be a mentor and friend to younger writers.

The community of intellectuals and artists of which Eliot became a part assuaged somewhat the sense of fragmentation that had always haunted him. The sexual and the religious aspects of his isolation, however, proved resistant to improvement. He and Vivienne Eliot were unable to forge any sort of unity, and as their relationship and her health continued to worsen, he suffered in ways that surfaced in his poetry.

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Inseparable from his realization that human love, and in particular, sexual love, had failed was his turn toward God and the church. The horror! And they describe what Conrad probably and Eliot certainly saw beneath the surface of modern idealism.

SparkNotes: Yeats’s Poetry: Themes, Motifs and Symbols

Those who cannot die cannot really live. The most striking of these death-in-life figures is the Sibyl of Cumae who presides over The Waste Land. His idealism, like that of Brutus, Fawkes, and Kurtz, has led him to the cactus land. The way out of the cactus land led Eliot to his baptism on June 29, into the Anglican Communion. In November, in what seemed to him part of the same ritual, he was naturalized as a British citizen. He had considered Buddhism and tried schemes from philosophy and anthropology, and he concluded that these options failed to account for the world as he saw it and were an inadequate basis for order in life and in art.

In a striking revision of his early aesthetic of impersonality, Eliot used his own spiritual struggle as material in his next major poem, Ash-Wednesday. Ash-Wednesday is composed of six lyrics, three of which had been published separately before the publication of all six under one tide. The tide refers to the first day of Lent, a day of repentance and fasting in which Christians acknowledge their mortality and begin the day period of self-examination leading to the new life promised by Easter.

In place of the monomyth as a reference point, Eliot now uses the Incarnation of Christ-not only in Ash-Wednesday but also in Four Quartets and the plays. The Incarnation represents an intersection of the human and the divine, of time and the timeless, of movement and stillness. The integration of life and art can be seen in the fact that Ash-Wednesday is at once more personal, confessional even, and at the same time more formal and stylized than the earlier work. The decade inaugurated with Ash-Wednesday was an eventful one for Eliot.

In he published Selected Essays , a collection of his literary criticism through the s. The same year, in September, he returned to America to deliver the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard. Vivienne Eliot remained in England. In this critical moment, Eliot decided that they could no longer live together. Her health declined even more, and in she was institutionalized by her brother Maurice.

In December he traveled to California, ostensibly to give a lecture at Scripps College, but actually to spend time with Hale, who was a professor there. Except for the distress caused by the situation with his wife, Eliot enjoyed his homecoming. His Harvard lectures, a survey of high points in English criticism from the Renaissance to the s, were published in as The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism.

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Also in the s, Eliot realized his longstanding ambition of becoming a dramatist, finishing both Murder in the Cathedral and The Family Reunion. He himself thought Four Quartets his greatest achievement and Little Gidding his best poem. Whereas his early poems had been centered on the isolated individual, Four Quartets is centered on the isolated moment, the fragment of time that takes its meaning from and gives its meaning to a pattern, a pattern at once in time, continuously changing until the supreme moment of death completes it, and also out of time.

Since the individual lives and exists only in fragments, he can never quite know the whole pattern; but in certain moments, he can experience the pattern in miniature.

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  8. This moment of sudden illumination, in and out of time, Eliot associates with the Word-made-flesh, the Incarnation; and also with the word-made-art, poetry. The fact that Four Quartets is a meditation on time and a celebration of pattern points to a secondary principle of form, albeit the one usually mentioned first by critics. From the collective title and from a lecture called The Music of Poetry , delivered early in the year he finished Little Gidding, it is clear that Eliot was working with a musical analogy throughout Four Quartets, especially in regard to structure.

    The most conspicuous analogies to music include statement and counterstatement, theme and variation, tempo variation, and mood variation.

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    By using the musical analogy, Eliot was able to avoid monotony, the plague of long and complex philosophical poems. The analogy with music is useful in clarifying the non-discursive nature of Four Quartets, but as Eliot warns in The Music of Poetry and in essays on the French symbolists, it should not be pushed too far.

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    The title of each meditation refers to a specific place important to the poet. Burnt Norton is the name of a country house in Gloucestershire that Eliot visited in the summer of in the company of Hale. The third of the Four Quartets takes its title from a small but enormously treacherous group of rocks, the Dry Salvages, located off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where Eliot had passed his childhood summers.

    These rocks, the cold and seemingly limitless ocean in which they are anchored, and the great Mississippi River of his childhood are the major symbols in this meditation. The last of the Four Quartets takes its title from a tiny village in Huntingdonshire, Little Gidding, which in the 17th century had been a community of dedicated Christians under the leadership of Nicholas Ferrar.

    The Four Quartets all have the same general form. The second consists of a highly structured poetical passage followed by a relatively prosaic passage, both on the general subject of being trapped in time. The third explores implications of the first two in terms of a journey metaphor, some concept of the movement of the self in and out of time. The fourth is a brief lyric treating of death and rebirth. The fifth begins with a colloquial passage and then ends with a lyric that secures closure by returning to the beginning and collecting major images.

    The fifth section in each work incorporates a meditation on the problem of the artist who must still move in stillness, keep time in time both continuously move in step, and continuously be still. This period was marked by the loss of friends, including Yeats in and Joyce and Woolf in In January , the most painful chapter in his personal history came to an end when, after years of illness, Vivienne Eliot died of a heart attack. Pound was by this time confined in a mental hospital, St.

    With other concerned friends, Eliot did what he could to improve the situation of his old benefactor. Against these lengthening shadows, Eliot must have experienced some pleasure in his growing reputation as one of the greatest living poets and distinguished men of letters.


    The first was a popular success, winning international prizes and, when it opened on Broadway, attracting an audience that included Ethel Barrymore and the duke and duchess of Windsor. In the late s and s Eliot returned to America for several appearances at universities, including Princeton, the University of Chicago, and Washington University. He continued with his work at Faber and Faber during the s, and he accepted invitations to lecture in South Africa, Edinburgh, and other places.

    Beginning in the late s, Eliot received almost every accolade the West had to offer a poet.

    Several universities, including his alma mater, bestowed honorary doctorates. He responded to the Nobel with a mixture of gratitude and humor. Knowing his best work was in the past, he feared that the prize would create expectations he could no longer satisfy. In the decade that followed, nevertheless, he continued to receive international awards. The status of this most private and difficult poet is indicated by his coverage in popular magazines in March he appeared on the cover of Time and by the size of his audiences he attracted a crowd of nearly 15, for a lecture in Minneapolis.

    Eliot accepted all of this attention with characteristic grace and good humor.

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    7. At age 68, he married Esme Valerie Fletcher, his devoted secretary at Faber and Faber since , and almost 40 years his junior. By all accounts, this happy marriage rejuvenated the poet. His obvious contentment may seem to contradict most of his earlier references to sexual love, but in fact his belated marital bliss reveals with special clarity a larger pattern in his life and art. That pattern involves a continuous quest for wholeness. His early obsession with brokenness and isolation can easily be seen in retrospect as the negative expression of a quest for wholeness and communion.

      The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats
      The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats
      The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats
      The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats
      The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern into Poetry in the Work of W.B. Yeats

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