Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 6 June 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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The Twice-Born Soul: The Study of the Self
Some Impact of Indian Thought on T. S. Eliot

Poornavalli Mathiaparanam, M.A., M.Phil.

Lifetime of T. S. Eliot and India

The lifetime of T. S. Eliot, 1888-1960, is a crucial period in the history of India. India as a modern nation started evolving itself in so many directions, among them the spread and interpretation of Indian (Hindu) spiritualism to western nations and closer contact with non-Hindu religions, especially with Christianity, are important aspects.

This contact has also resulted in the emergence of certain offshoots, similar in approach to Vedic monism, such as Unitarianism. Vivekananda's spirited address to the Parliament of Religions in 1893, arrival of Gandhi from South Africa as an apostle of non-violence, growing knowledge of English and Christian ethics, struggle for independence from foreign yoke, emergence of India as a single modern political unit, the sufferings brought upon it by the Partition, and conscious adoption of policies of equality and equanimity to all religious groups within India and socio-economic movements of various groups, and so on characterize the emergence and growth of India in this period.

Spiritual Interests

Although preoccupied with socio-economic issues, Indians were seeking their spiritual roots through various movements during the lifetime of Eliot. Reading the poetry and plays of T.S. Eliot became an important part of Indian curriculum. Because of its simplicity and lucidity of style and also because of Eliot's background as a philosopher interested in Asian traditions and philosophy, Eliot's poems and plays continue to be attractive to students of literature in India.

Eliot's Declaration of Influence of Indian Thought

Eliot himself wrote in his masterful essay on Christianity and Culture that his own "poetry shows the influence of Indian thought and sensibility" (Eliot 1949:190-191, Christianity and Culture). Eliot spent some good time learning Sanskrit and Pali and Indian philosophies, both Hindu and Buddhist. Eliot wrote, "… I came to the conclusion--seeing also that the 'influence' of Brahmin and Buddhist thought upon Europe, as in Schopenhauer, Hartmann, and Deussen, had largely been through romantic misunderstanding- that my only hope of really penetrating to the heart of that mystery would lie in forgetting how to think and feel as an American or a European: which, for practical as well as sentimental reasons, I did not wish to do"(T.S. Eliot 1934: 40-41, After Strange Gods).

While it is difficult to judge whether Eliot really began to think like an Indian did, his writings revealed some interest in and understanding of Indian thought. Sprinkling of some Sanskrit here and there added to the impression of his interest in and devotion to Hindu and Buddhist thought. And yet Eliot remained largely a western person showing great interest in eastern thought while retaining his or her strong moorings in western philosophy and Christian ethics. His poems and plays, discussed in this paper, clearly show that Eliot was primarily looking at this world through his Christian glasses.

The Quest of Our Souls

Eliot's poems and plays focus on the quest of our souls for an identity with our Creator, almost in the fashion of Gautama Buddha or Maha Vira, but the paths the souls take in their quest are quite different. Yet, the similarities in the processes are quite striking even though the intended result may be at variance.

Self-searching Characters

It is interesting to trace a pattern in the moods of T. S. Eliot as a writer from his works. Eliot came to write drama at a later stage, but in his verse there always was found dramatic potentialities. He is seen always as "a self-examining poet" (Howarth 1965:333). In his poems as well as plays there are characters who are sincerely self-searching characters. In the earlier works this search or Quest leads the characters to an experience of spiritual awakening sometimes not fully realized: but in the plays there is a marked spiritual achievement on the part of the characters, at least the protagonists.

Saintly Modes - Spiritual Struggles

As early as 1914/1915, there is an arresting personality, a would-be saint, called Narcissus, found in the manuscript, whom Eliot named after a second century Bishop of Jerusalem. Eliot's The Death of Narcissus reflects the ongoing spiritual struggles and journeys. Eliot concentrates on the inner life of this peculiar character who feels most intensely alive when God's arrows pierce and mar his flesh. He wishes to be a dancer to God, he deliberately isolates himself, finds no divine light and his own flaws became magnified in his eyes "his self-enthrallment his indifference to others, his masochistic delight in the burning arrows" (Gordon 1977:91).

Gautama Buddha's early effort at disciplining his physical body to attain nirvana and the Jaina tradition of fasting penances somewhat resemble the effort of Narcissus within the western tradition. This Narcissus' figure became the shadowy personality in The Wasteland - the prophet, the lonely pilgrim who shuns civilization and its history in search of a new life.

People from India with Hindu, Jaina and Buddhist backgrounds can easily relate to the saintly spiritual struggles. Buddha's pursuit of nirvana included a number of steps and processes that aimed at subordinating flesh for the sake of liberation. Traditional asceticism of Indian seekers of spirituality is well known and greatly admired. What is significant here is that individual may take pleasure in their physical suffering, as symbolic of their getting closer to the Supreme Being, or attaining Supreme Experience.

What Eliot appears to recommend is not total nirvana or total extinction, but a focus on sin and its redemption. At the end of the poem there is no self-enhancement, only self-loss. Narcissus had a genuine religious impulse, but was too ignorant of the ways of 'Sin and Redemption.' This theme of the Saint and the analyzing of the 'self' had been continually running through the poems of Eliot.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Crosstalk and Communication Breakdown in Professional Interactions in English | Phonological, Grammatical and Lexical Interference in Adult Multilingual Speakers | Politeness Strategies in Yemeni Arabic Requests | Unravelling Urdu Idioms | The Roots of Linguistic Reorganization of Indian States - The Experience of Orissa as a Linguistic Province in the British Raj | Characteristic Indian Attitudes in Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry | Teaching Language through Literary Texts in the ESL Classroom | The Semantics of Haroti Postpositional-Interrogating Simple Sentences | The Politics of Survival in the Novels of Margaret Atwood - A Doctoral Dissertation | Teaching Technical Jargon through Word Formation to the Students of Engineering and Technology | Indian Spirituality and Twice-Born Nature - A Study of Eliot's Approach to World | Discourse Choices in Pluralistic Nations - A Review of Maya Khemlani David-edited Language Choices and Discourse of Malaysian Families | Exploring the Effectiveness of World Wide Web
to Improve the Communication Skills of Management Students - A Pilot Study

Poornavalli Mathiaparanam, M.A., M.Phil.
PG Department of English
PSGR Krishnammal College for Women
Coimbatore 641004
Tamilnadu, India

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