Mr. Eliot's Dreams

"Le reve est une seconde vie."

T.S. Eliot has become so thoroughly exalted, especially among conservative intellectuals, as the greatest poetic avatar of Western civilization in modern times (a role he must share, though, with Yeats and Pound) that it may shock many to notice the unmistakable oriental elements embedded in even his most overtly Christian works. It happens these same elements also inform his early and patently anti-Christian verse as well. Accordingly, I intend no slight to the great traditions of the Christian West (neither did Eliot) by trying, in brief compass, to give some indication of where and what those elements are.

First, there is probably no better way to go desperately astray in the study of Eliot's verse than to try to read his almost absurdly conventional body of criticism into it. Unfortunately, this is precisely what some, of this poet's admirers have done, producing an effect of dogmatic certitude almost entirely at odds with the extremely disturbing texture of Eliot's poetic. Eliot, perhaps even more than the overtly atheistic modernists, is a poet of inconceivable disruptions of traditional continuities, a quiet forewarner of understated Apocalypse, an affirmer of Christendom in the face of its obvious collapse from within. Yet in this faithless age, Eliot became a poet of faith. And exposure...

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