Harvard University

The influences of Indian Philosophy on T.S.Eliot


              Influence of Indian Philosophy on T. S. Eliot.

           Thomas Sterns Eliot (1888-1965) was born in U.S.A.He was an American by birth, but an Englishman by adoption. He became a naturalized British Subject in 1927.Thus he had the best of the American Blood and British Intellect. He married  Vivienne High Wood in 1915 who died in 1947. On the 1st January, 1957, he married Valerie Fletcher, his secretary and enjoyed what may be called ‘real pleasures of conjugal life’. He studied at Harvard and oxford. His subject was Philosophy. He completed his Doctoral Theses in Philosophy while in Oxford but had never withdrawn his Degree from the Harvard University. His reluctance to Institutional Honour is very clearly revealed in his satiric reaction on receiving the letter of intimation of being selected for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948. He replied to the Chairman of The Nobel Committee stating that the intimation of being selected for the Nobel Prize was to him, just like reading the letter of his own Funeral ceremony. He studied Linguistics and Humanities, German, French and English Literature as well as Comparative Literature. He was, however, awarded ‘British Order of Merit’, the highest literary honour in 1948. He regarded himself to be “a Classicist in literature, Royalist in Politics and Anglo-Catholic in religion. He started writing poetry at the request of Ezra Pound, his friend and the famous Imagist. His first employment was as an assistant editor of the renowned Weekly ‘The Egoist’. He became the Editor of ‘The Criterion’ for a couple of years. He was also the Director of ‘Faber and Faber’, the esteemed Publishing Concern for a long period. His literary career may be divided into five periods: a. from 1905 to 1909 (Student Poet) b. From 1909 to 1917 (Urban Poet) c. From1917 to 1925 (Pessimistic, Gloomy but highly intellectual poet) d. From 1925 to 1935 (Religious and Christian poet) e. From 1935 to 1943(Religious but devoid of Christian ideals. Humanist). His first published work was a collection of poems titled ‘Prufrock and other Observations’ in 1917. In 1920, came the second volume titled ‘Poems 1920′. In 1922, he published his masterpiece ‘The Waste land’ In 1925, came ‘The Hollow man’ In 1927, he composed a religious poem’ The Journey of the Magi’ co-memorating his religious conversion. In 1930, he published his ‘Ariel poems and Ash Wednesday’ in 1935, came his verse drama, ‘The Murder in the Cathedral’. In 1939, came his next play ‘The Family Reunion’. In 1940, he published his ‘Four Quarters’. So far as his Prose works are concerned— in 1933, appeared his ‘The use of poetry and the use of criticism”. In 1939, came his ‘The idea of a Christian Society’. In 1948, came his ‘towards a definition of culture ‘In 1949, he published ‘The cocktail party’. In 1953, came his ‘The Confidential clerk’ and In 1958, he wrote ‘The Elder Statesman’. Besides these monumental works, he had thousands of poems and literary as well as critical essays in different journals and magazines. We notice the following main influences in him–1. Family life 2. French Symbolists (Mallarme, La Forgue, Baudelaire, Corbeere etc.) 3. Imagists (T.E.Hulme, Ezra Pound etc.) 4. Dante 5. Oriental Philosophy (The Gaeta, the Upanishads, the Buddhist Philosophy) 6. John Donne and the Metaphysicals  7. Modern American life.

           Eliot’s main achievement as a critic and thinker lays in his (a) ‘Theory of Objective Co-relative’, (b) ‘Idea of Dissociation of Sensibility’ and(c) ‘Idea of the Unification of Sensibility’. The theory of Objective Correlative states that a great work of art is nothing but a set of conceptual symbols or correlatives which endeavour to express the emotions of the poet, and these symbols constitute the total vision of the creative artist. ‘What the author has to say’ is objectified and the critic’s job is to examine that shape and character of this object. The two phrases ‘Dissociation of sensibility’ and ‘Unification of Sensibility’ occur in the essay ‘The Metaphysical Poetry’. Let us see how he tried to reinterpret the poetry of the 17th century Metaphysical poets. He holds Sensibility, an amalgamation of thought, intellect, emotion, sensitiveness and intelligence. But it is not just only any one of this .It is a totality. It works upon emotion, upon sensation, upon thought and upon feeling. Sensibility means a synthetic faculty that can be fused together desperate and contradictory thought and feeling. ‘Unification of sensibility’ according to Eliot, ‘enables the poet to response to the heterogeneous experience in a unified way.’ It can assimilate desperate materials and transmute it in to an ordered new ‘Whole’ .It helps the poet confront the world of thought, feeling, idea and emotion as immediately as the fragrance of a Rose. And this Unification of heterogeneous ideas is the basis of Good poetry because poetry is essentially an organic whole. Unification of sensibility states a direct sensuous apprehension of thought or a recreation of thought into feeling. Here thought is transformed into feeling to steal its way into the reader’s heart. It results Good poetry. ‘Dissociation of Sensibility’, on the other hand implies a split between thought and feeling. Here the poet is unable to feel his thoughts and as such writes Bad poetry. Themes in Eliot’s Poetry:-Eliot’s poetry revolves round two main themes–(a) The Theme of Redemption and possibility of Spiritual Rebirth and (b) His notion on Time. Eliot believed “Nothing material is subject to utter destruction. Everything undergoes a transformation under the influence of Time’. So, in Ash Wednesday, he wrote–“Redeem the Time, Redeem The unread vision in the higher dream”. In ‘Elder Statesman’, he wrote— “It is worthwhile dying, to find out what life is”. In ‘Brunt Norton’, he echoed Patanjali and wrote–“Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future? And time future contained in time past If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. In ‘East Cooker’, he wrote ‘The only wisdom we can hope to acquire Is the wisdom of humility, humility is endless. This may be called an echo of the Bhakti Philosophy in the Sam Veda— “O Learned persons, worship God with humble homage, strengthen Him internally with contemplation and concentration (Devi Chanting). ‘And what you do not know is the only thing you know And what you own is what you do not own And where you are is where you are not. ‘This is the humility of knowledgelessness and extreme self sacrifice which lead us to mix with the Almighty’ said J.J.Synee. Yassyamatam tashya matam, matam yassya na Veda sw Abidyatam bijanatam bigyat mabijanatam.(Kenoponisada: part 2, sloka no.3)

 “To whomsoever it is not known, to him it is known: to whomsoever it is known, he does not know. It is not understood by those who understand it: it is understood by those who do not understand it”.

In ‘Little Giddings’, he wrote— “What we call the beginning is often the end, And to make an end, it is to make a beginning The end is where we start from.” Similarly, in ‘East Cooker’ he wrote–“For us there is only the trying The rest is not our business”. “Yatassya hi Dhrubo Mritue Dhruva Janma mritashya cha.” 2/29 Sree Gita. In ‘East Cooker’ he wrote again— “In my end is my beginning”. And in “The Dry Salvages’, he continued— ‘You shall not think ‘the past is finished’ or ‘the future is before us:’ And do not think of the fruit of action Fare forward. The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre To be redeemed from fire to fire. (Direct influence of Patanjali is revealed here).Prof. J. J. Sweenly says that these unified sensibility of thought and feelings are directly associated with The Geeta and ISHA Upanishad. Again, in The Cocktail Party, we notice the echo of Patanjali in the following lines: ‘I see that my life was determined long ago; And that the struggle to escape from it Is only make-believe, a pretence That what is, is not, or could be changed.’ But ‘The Waste Land’ is a criticism of life from the Christian, Hindu and Buddhist point of view’ says F.L. Mayo.In Buddhist Philosophy,we are told three stages to achieve: NIRVANA-ATTACHMENT–DETACHMENT—-INDIFFERENCE.  And these are told in the lines— “In my beginning is my end”. In Gevontion, he wrote—-‘I have lost my passion, why should I need to keep it. Since what is kept must be adulterated I have lost my sight, smile, hearing, taste and touch: How should I use them for your closer contact? In Hollow man—‘This is the dead land This is Cactus land Here the stone images Are raised, here they receive The supplication of a dead man’s head Under the twinkle of a fading star’. And in ‘A song for Simons’—I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me, I am dying in my own death and the death of those after me Let the servant depart Having seen thy salvation. The lines are direct echo of BRIHADARANYAKA UPANISADA—where we find the Sloka: DATTA, DAYADHVAM, DAMYATA SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI.  Devaguru Prajapati invited God, Man and Demon using the word DA three times. The First DA(Dayamata) meaning ‘Steady’, the second DA(DATTYA) meaning giver) and third DA(Dayadhayam) meaning kind) in his HOME JAGYA and then uttered the term SHANTI for three times to pacify them at the completion of the JAGYA. These SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI are the ending words of all the UPANISADAs. The very term is rooted in the Vedas and it is the summary of all the UPANISADAs. Though Elizabeth Brue holds that these (SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI) are just formal ending words having no sense of peace, Swami Dayananda in the SHANTI PRAKARAN part of his famous book SANSKAR BIDHI expresses the opposite view. According to him the uttering of this word (SHANTI) three times after any work gives a peaceful calmness to our mind. It pacifies all sorts of anguish, anxiety, hesitation, doubt of our mind and makes us calm and quiet.” Calm of mind, all passions spent”. The correct utterances of these terms gives calmness of mind filled with enormous strength. And this calmness mixed with strength gives a serene pleasure. SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI  From one’s own Mystical (Divine) Supernatural In ward self (Spiritual) In 1921, Ezra pound wrote to Eliot, “One test is whether anything would be lacking if the last three words are omitted—–“. “I don’t think it would”. In reply Eliot wrote in January, 1922, “Criticism accepted, so far as understood, with thanks.” The term is misinterpreted by most of the European critics because of their lack of knowledge of the UPANISHADS. The term SHANTI is the European equivalent of the word AMEN In European concept TIME is Linear and as such it has a beginning and an end. So TIME is not infinite. (N.B This is the reason why the European thinkers are speculating 21st December 2012 to be the last day of this world). But in Indian concept TIME is Circular or Cyclical. It is contemplated as temporary Time (Symbol of Death and Decay) and Eternal Time (MAHAKAAL) symbol of Salvation of the Soul. Burnt Norton, East Cooker, Dry Salvage and Little Giddings—-in all these poems we find a relation between Temporary TIME with that of Eternal TIME. Following Indian Concept Eliot mentioned ‘The Still Point’ in Brunt Norton which is nothing but the PARAM BRAHMA in the UPANISHADs. In Veda this still point is termed as STAMBHA or the COSMIC PILLER. In Atharva Veda, The PURAN, and in the MAHABHARATA, it is called FIXED POINT (DHRUVA) or PARAM BRAHMA. ‘Time is no healer: the patient is no longer here’ or ‘The time of death is everywhere’. —By sentences like these Eliot meant the eternal march of Time and soul’s creation or death at every moment. Buddhist philosophy, too, does not admit any eternal soul. There is some resemblances between Greek Philosopher HERACLETUS’ and the Buddhist Monk’s sayings to this context: “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other and yet other waters are ever flowing on’, and “That which we regard as our own age is something which is constantly being formed a new in the succession of events which constitute our existence. So far as the concept of TIME is concerned, it can be said unhesitatingly that Eliot was influenced by Patanjali. Eliot believed that Time is ever flowing. It can not be divided. It has no parts. Our life flows through the continual march of time. Like Patanjali, Eliot also believed that the only way to free oneself from the clutches of Time i, e to attain Salvation, one should take recourse in meditation, penance and Yoga.

                                                               ********   Indranil Sarkar

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