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UBC Theses and Dissertations

T.S. Eliot's use of the philosophy of time in his poetry d'Easum, Lille


T. S. Eliot's concern with the philosophy of time is evidenced from his earliest poetry. It is part of the development of his whole philosophy of life: his engagement with reality, his concept of consciousness, the function of history and myth in his life, and his concept of "something beyond", a harmony for which he is striving. Although Eliot was a serious student of philosophy, his poetry is not philosophical in the sense that he is recording already formulated ideas. The poetry, is itself part of the process, the working out and realization of his philosophy. Eliot's concept of time includes two streams which exist simultaneously, and which intersect at significant moments. These are time temporal, in which man must live his life in the changing phenomenal world, and the Timeless, noumenal world which he encounters in these significant moments. He may live in phenomenal time in either of two ways, without hope or purpose, so that he is "time-ridden", or he can live in time teleologically, striving for the understanding of the design into which he must fit in order to achieve the harmony of the still point at the intersection of time and the Timeless. The harmony toward which he is striving in his dialectic struggle in time is complete wholeness of personality and spiritual transcendence. Eliot's philosophy of time and consciousness develops in three stages. In The Waste Land period, in which man is time-ridden and unconscious, he is unable to confront time and create his own being by reconciling his present with his past or "other". In Ash Wednesday he sees his other for the first time through the Lady, the "anima" or primordial image of his own unconscious. She brings him hope and energy, and plunges him into the dialectic struggle in teleological time. Marina and the childhood memories of his "Landscape" poems give more "hints and guesses" and images for moments of "partial ecstasy". In Four Quartets he reconciles all the oppositions in his life and poetry to achieve the harmony of the transcendent still point. Eliot's medium for the progress through time and the development of consciousness is a series of protagonists through which the poet casts off masks of the self, surrendering himself as he is at the moment to something more valuable. Parallel to the poet's struggle in time to achieve the spiritual harmony of the Absolute, is his struggle in poetry to get the better of words. The conflict with words, his "raid on the inarticulate", is his struggle in time to find new ways to express changing concepts and, ultimately to present in poetry those "frontiers of consciousness beyond which words fail though meanings exist". The techniques which he uses to achieve these aims are the continuity and growing significance of his images, his symbolism and his "mythical method", the contrasting of the sterility of contemporary life with the living myth of earlier times. Finally, I believe that Eliot's achievement in Four Quartets is not necessarily the expression of Christian dogma, but that his striving in time for the harmony of the Absolute of the Timeless, and its realization in poetry, is an artistic creation which is his own private myth.

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