Argument and Parody in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets Essay

Argument and Parody in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets Essay

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The Seduction of Argument and the Danger of Parody in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets

Though its more lyrical passages present detailed and evocative imagery, substantial portions of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets afford no such easy approach. Since the initial appearance of "Burnt Norton" it has been a critical commonplace to regard these portions of the text as at once its most conceptually profound and its most formally prosaic. Of course, the Quartets offer enough cues toward this critical attitude that it may fairly be said to reside within the poem at least as much as it is imposed from without. As the text of the poem itself apparently gives license to the view that its "poetry does not matter," the preponderance of critical attention to the Quartets' non-lyrical passages has been devoted to philosophical and theological paraphrase of its argument, to explicating the system of belief or thought behind the words. Meanwhile, relatively little attention has been paid to the working of the poetry itself, to the construction of the presumed meaning, in these "discursive" or "conceptual" passages. Seduced by the desire for a systematic argument, criticism has overestimated these passages' straightforwardness and largely neglected their ambiguity and indeterminacy. The seductive voice of argument – which is already a voice within the poem – invites conceptual scrutiny but repels formal analysis; it displaces the concerns of "poetry" in order to work its poetry undetected. I will be reading critically several critical discussions, but always in the belief that the criticism's concerns are not projected onto the poem from without, but express the critical voices within the poem.

The seduction of reading the Four Quartets as a systema...

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...loise Knapp. T.S. Eliot's Negative Way. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.

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Orwell, George. "T.S. Eliot." In T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets: A Casebook. Ed. Bernard Bergonzi. London: Macmillan, 1969.

Reed, Henry. "Chard Whitlow." In Collected Poems, p. 15. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Shapiro, Karl. "Poetic Bankruptcy." In T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets: A Casebook. Ed. Bernard Bergonzi. London: Macmillan, 1969.

Thompson, Eric. T.S. Eliot: The Metaphysical Perspective. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963.

Times Literary Supplement. "Mr T.S. Eliot's Confession." In T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets: A Casebook. Ed. Bernard Bergonzi. London: Macmillan, 1969.

Traversi, Derek. T.S. Eliot: The Longer Poems. London: The Bodley Head, 1976.

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