Published on March 21st, 2012 | by Thompson0
Eliot’s Preachy Poetry Urges Christianity
While reading T.S. Eliot’s East Coker, the first thing that was apparent was a lack of form – until Part IV, of course, where Eliot uses a distinct ababb rhyme, which is not apparent in the rest of East Coker, or the rest of Eliot I might presume. I haven’t read a ton of Eliot, but I don’t remember him using a formal structure in much of his other poetry, so why now? Well, structure and form are important to Eliot, and to the Christian faith.
I couldn’t help but feel that T.S. Eliot was doing his best to make me a Christian while reading East Coker, especially during Part IV, but it’s not preachy poetry. Eliot’s tone is one of a grandfather droppin’ wisdom, not a preacher spittin’ dogma, though the spit is inevitable.
The dripping blood our only drink, The bloody flesh our only food: In spite of which we like to think That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood— Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
It’s interesting that Eliot would speak of Eliot’s reference to Christ’s crucifixion and the Last Supper is a message that all good things are realized through suffering, and it’s true. Blacks suffered through slavery, then Jim Crow laws, then racist cops before they could piss and shit where white men do. The same could be said for women and Jews, but I think Eliot may even be urging compliance here, and not too surprisingly given Eliot’s belief in a higher power. If “the only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility,” I feel Eliot believes it can only be realized through Christ. Eliot also places some blame on humanity for the death of Christ, and I think Eliot is pessimistic that humanity will ever learn from mistakes made in the past and thinks we will forever be stuck in an endless cycle of ignorance.
Part IV of East Coker is also the most reminiscent of the war. If the whole earth being a hospital full of corpses and wounded surgeons isn’t reminiscent of war I don’t know what is. Eliot knows there’s a difficult road ahead, but there is some hope in this preachy, pessimistic poem.
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years— Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
I know it doesn’t sound like there’s much hope there, but Part V begins with a reference to the first line of Dante’s Inferno, “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray,” and thought Eliot has wasted the years between WWI and WWII, it can always be turned around. We can overcome our descent into darkness and persevere into the light. I don’t know how much we should read into this, but I think Eliot would say that a post-war world would have to eventually re-accept a lost Germany with open arms. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of Christianity, after all.
Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter.
Time is a big issue for Eliot, and I think he would say if we could all just overlook the limited time we have on this earth, we’d all be better people. A promise of eternal life would certainly put your mind at ease and make your life on earth rather inconsequential. Though time is limited, I think Eliot would have us all consider the insignificance of our lives.
Eliot is pretty hard on himself throughout East Coker, criticizing his abilities as a poet and man, but he looks at old age as an opportunity, not a gloomy end.
Old men ought to be explorers Here and there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion Through the dark cold and empty desolation, The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
Eternal life is awaiting you if you accept Christ. Surprisingly, a quote from Ghostbusters II comes to mind. “Death is but a door. Time is but a window. I’ll be back.”