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Toward the still point : T. S. Eliot's Four quartets and Thoreau's Walden



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This thesis explores ways in which T. S. Eliot, when he wrote his most autobiographical poetic work Four Quartets, might have been influenced by Thoreau’s famously autobiographical prose work Walden, written nearly a century earlier. Much evidence suggests that Eliot knew of the earlier writer and his work. Not only did Eliot assign Walden as suggested reading in a course he taught, but as time went on Eliot also admitted that he was influenced by the New England literary tradition. Reading Four Quartets in light of Walden and its context not only helps a reader understand the connections between the two works, it also gives a reader a better understanding of Four Quartets' fundamental meanings. Although Eliot in Four Quartets adds another layer of his spiritual goals beyond those expressed in Walden, he expresses his religio-philosophical quest for Incarnational "still point[s] of the turning world" (Burnt Norton 62) using autobiographical aspects and poetic tropes that are in many ways strikingly similar to the expressions also present in Walden. The chapters of this thesis unfold these concepts. My Introduction highlights some of the key connections. Chapter One sets the stage for the discussion of the Incarnation by explaining how Four Quartets' spiritual round-trip journey from England to America is grounded in real world places and experiences. This chapter also explains how this guardedly autobiographical re-collection of an almost-real journey includes a response to Eliot’s personal history and to his literary ancestors, including Thoreau. In Chapter Two, I unpack the similarities and differences between many of the religio-philosophical questions asked in the two works, focusing in on Eliot’s and Thoreau's complex handlings of such themes as simplicity versus complexity, Incarnation, stillness versus activity, and the difficulty of achieving spiritual goals. Finally, these religio-philosophical questions are incarnated in very similar poetic devices and tropes within both works; in Chapter Three, I describe the most important of these. The "still point of the turning world" (Eliot, Burnt Norton 62) and the "mathematical point" (Thoreau, Walden 1.100) are rich metaphors that form the heart of this chapter.



views of simplicity, spiritual autobiography, incarnation in literature, eliot and anglican conversion, spiritual quest in literature, tropes in four quartets, tropes in walden, comparative literary studies, influence on T. S. Eliot, allusions in four quartets



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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