Thomas Stearns Eliot had such a vast influence
on literature that it cannot be accurately measured, though it is certainly enormous.
It is fairly likely that almost every free-verse poet that succeeded him has drawn, directly or indirectly, from his
expansive body of precedents. Perhaps Margaret Atwood drew her strange combination
of simplistic sentence structure and elevated vocabulary (as seen here in “Death of a Young Son by Drowning”)
from Eliot, for example: “His feet slid on the bank, / the currents took him; / he swirled with ice and trees in the
swollen water / and plunged into distant regions, / his head a bathysphere…”
Her coherent sentences may well be a postmodernist reaction to Eliot’s stranger modernist ones.
Perhaps the most concrete example of Eliot’s
cosmopolitan influence is in the literature of writers such as Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite, who live in the Caribbean
but claim to be modernists (Pollard). Charles W. Pollard holds them as examples
of non-Western modernists influenced by the fragmented nature of Eliot’s work (Pollard).
He suggests that most of the differences are due to how these two writers incorporate elements of their own cultures,
as well as modernist principles about the role of poetry in society and its relationship to normal speech, to form their own
styles and traditions, while remaining within the post-Eliot modernist fold (Pollard).
It is almost impossible to overstate Eliot's
influence or his importance to poetry in the twentieth century (Biography). Through his essays and especially through
his own poetry, he played a major role in establishing the modernist conception of poetry: learned, culturally allusive, ironic,
impersonal in manner (but often imbued with powerful hidden emotion), organized by associative rather than logical connections,
and difficult at times to the point of incomprehensibility (Biography). But, despite the merit and penetration of his
finest and most famous essays, Eliot could not have accomplished the modernist revolution by precept alone (Biography).
He succeeded only through the example of his own superb poetry, and that poetry will survive undiminished as his critical
influence waxes and wanes, and as the details of his career recede into literary history (Biography).
Biography: T. S. Eliot.
2001. Pearson Education. 3 Mar. 2005 <http://occawlonline.pearsoned.com/bookbind/pubbooks/kennedy2_awl/chapter9/objectives/deluxe-content.html>.
Pollard, Charles W. New World Modernisms. 4 June 2004. University of
Virginia Press. 2 Mar. 2005 <http://www.upress.virginia.edu/books/pollard.html>.