Understanding TS Eliot Poems - History repeats

Mathew Teakle on 21 July, 2020

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in an age of uncertainty, anxiety and rapid change? Ever felt fearful and had a sustained existential bleakness about the future because of events that just don’t seem real? Oh, you live in 2020 don’t you? Well, that means you’re primed for understanding what TS Eliot was pondering a century ago. Eliot’s poems are about expressing emotions and thoughts that seemed no longer to have a clear ‘reference point’ in human history. So they weren’t ‘new’ emotions, they were just seated within a new social and cultural architecture. The Industrial Revolution, Great War, economic and social change — they’d all crashed into each other like a flock of sheep trying to make it through a narrow gate. (It was a mess, ‘sheep’ everywhere.) Eliot’s poems are sometimes hard to understand and hard to link our emotions and thoughts with.

But don’t give up and be aware that it’s possible Eliot wants your confusion to be part of the experience…

“The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not actual emotions at all.”

TS Eliot