Analysis of T. S. Eliot's East Coker
The early poetry of T. S. Eliot, poems such as "The Wasteland" or "The Love Song
of J. Alfred Prufrock", is filled his despair of the human condition. Man is a
weak soul, easily tempted and filled with lusts, who has no hope of redemption.
These views of man did not change when Eliot converted to Catholicism. Eliot
still maintained man's desperate plight, but supplemented that belief with the
notion that man has some hope through the work of Christ. This expanded view
first appeared with the publication of "Burnt Norton" in 1935. From this poem,
Eliot built a delicately intricate set of Christian devotional poems, Four
The second of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, "East Coker", is the poet's
reflection on the English village in which his ancestor Sir Thomas Elyot wrote
The Governour, and from which Andrew Elyot embarked for the New World (Blamires
41). Eliot understood poetry to be a series of images, phrases, and feelings
deposited into the consciousness of the poet and then fused together to form
something new (Eliot 55). Often, this collection is unified by a device that has
little to do with the actual emotions that are the subject of the poem. In "East
Coker," the village in Somersetshire is only a departure point for two
discussions. The primary issue is the determinism that governs man's activities
and ultimately makes a failure of all his pursuits. The second issue is like the
first: that the poet's words fail in their attempts to elucidate the problem of
determinism. Eliot prefaces Four Quartets with the words of Heraclitus: "The way
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relevant experience for twentieth-century man, all seem abundantly clear in his
poems. What was the "private insight" of the poet that remains ineffable?
Blamires, Harry. Word Unheard: A Guide through Eliot's Four Quartets. London:
Meuthen & Co. Ltd., 1969.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. "Tradition and the Individual Talent," from The Sacred
Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. London: Meuthen & Co. Ltd., 1920.
The Four Quartets. London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1943.
Gardner, Helen. The Composition of Four Quartets. London: Faber and Faber, 1978.
Murray, Paul. T. S. Eliot and Mysticism: The Secret History of the Four
Quartets. London: Macmillan, 1991.
Reibetanz, Julia Maniates. A Reading of Eliot's Four Quartets. Ann Arbor: UMI
Research Press, 1970.