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Alexander Gonzalez on T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot's Influence on World Literature
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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).

 

Works Cited

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>.


This web site is a project for Coral Gables Senior High School's International Baccalaureate Programme.  (C) Alexander Gonzalez and Gables IB.