T S Eliot | Little Gidding | An Analytical Study


T S Eliot | Little Gidding | An Analytical Study


T.S. Eliot's Poem 'Little Gidding'— An Analytical Study

T S Eliot | Little Gidding | An Analytical Study

T S Eliot | Little Gidding | An Analytical Study

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) is less popular but a great poet of the twentieth century. He took to poetry writing with a new idea and new theory. He revolutionized the doctrine of the twentieth century with a bold and perfect hand which gave rise to the modern complex poem. His poems are generally characterized by complexities—Complexity in philosophy, complexity in symbols, complexity in imagery and complexity in style and language. He, in the field of literature, was an eager classicist, modified traditionalist and revolutionized modernist. His poetry generally deals with human philosophy and the living intellect of his time. His Little Gidding is a typical Eliotsian piece of poetry belonging to the collection of poetry entitled ‘Four Quarters’ that came out in a book form in 1944. Like his other poems, this poem also dealt with the philosophical as well as the intellectual theme of ‘Time’. Little Gidding is the name of a place where there was a church well known to everybody till the Puritan fanatics broke it up at the beginning of the Civil War. Eliot probably made a pilgrimage to Little Gidding and was inspired to write this long poem. The poem is written in five sections the theme of which is the time that runs through death and life and lasts ever long.

Section- I of the poem ‘Little Gidding’ symbolically describes the death of four elements that constitute human life—these are the air, the earth, the water and the fire. The death of earth means the death of mirth, the death of water symbolizes the death of life and the fire symbolizes the decay of all things. In this section-I, the poet first gives a symbolic description of the location of the place, Little Gidding where once there was a famous church. The poet went there in the mid-winter season when there was cold but hot at midday. The poet says:

‘In the dark time of the year. 

Between meeting and freezing the soul’s sap quivers.

There is no earth smell or smell of living thing.’

In the second stanza of section-I, the poet says addressing to his readers that they may go there for religious purposes and while going there they would meet “Rough Road”, “Pigsty”, “Dull Facade” and “The Tomb Stone”. They would arrive at that place in any way if they wish to visit that place. The poet says:

‘Either you had no purpose 

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured 

And is altered in fulfilment.’

In the third stanza of the poem ‘Little Gidding’, the poet says that the place Little Gidding is a place of spiritual advancement. One should go there to pray to God only. The poet speaks philosophically and instructs his readers:

‘You are here to kneel 

where prayer has been valid. 

And prayer is more than an order of words, 

the conscious occupation of the praying mind.’

Section-II of the poem ‘Little Gidding’ deals with the dissolution of death and futility of a life of those who live a worldly life and in whose everyday work there is no spiritual purity. This section can be regarded as the logical beginning of the whole poem. The description of this section is symbolic. Human life is temporary, life is meaningless, and death is the only truth—is the philosophy of this section. And to clarify this idea the poet invokes an old man who as a man takes birth, lives to old age, and at last dies. This section deals with two contradictory ideas as—flood and drought, laughs without mirth. In the third stanza of section II, the poet introduces a stranger or ghost, who symbolizes death. After all the poet shows through this section that life is full of futility for irreligious persons or for those who don’t live a spiritual life.

Section III of the poem ‘Little Gidding’ also begins with contradictory ideas about life. The past and the present seem alike yet there is a difference between the two. From time to time the history of a race, nation or generation changes and there are two states of dignity. The poet says:

‘There are three conditions which often look alike

Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:

Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment

From self and from things and from persons 

and growing between them indifference.’

Again the poet says:

‘………… History may be servitude

History may be freedom.’

The poet puts an end to this section by saying that living men should be given more importance than the dead. Every dead man, for us, is a symbol of death that perfects in death. The poet is optimistic that if the motive of a person is well, everything shall be well. In the words of the poet:

‘And all shall be well and 

All manner of thing shall be well

By the purification of the motive.’

Section IV is comprised of only two short stanzas the first of which declares the redemption of man from sin and error through death. And the second stanza of this section says about love. Love is an inborn sense that human power cannot remove.

Section -V develops the idea of the preceding section III. The idea of this section is that every experience is integrated with all others. There is no difference between the end and the beginning. Where something ends another thing begins. In the words of the poet:

‘What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning

The end is where we start from.’

Saying so, the poet says about the significance of words, as:

‘Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning, 

Every poem an epitaph.’

So there is no difference between ‘birth’ and ‘death’. Someone dies and someone takes birth. So birth and death are the same things to nature. The poet says:

‘We die with the dying

See, they depart and we go with them.

We are born with the dead.’

At last, the poet says spiritually as well as intellectually that practice of religion or leading spiritual life means exploring the mystery of birth and death. If one can explore birth or death, one will arrive at the same conclusion that the idea of death and birth is the same as it was before being explored. But everything becomes good or well after only death. Symbolically the poet says:

‘All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded 

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.’

The poem ‘Little Gidding’ though deals with the philosophical matter, like birth and death, yet it is an intellectual poem based upon a deep appreciation of everyday experience. The poet becomes so much thoughtful and meditative that like a prophet, he surrenders to time and eternal God. The practice of religion is the practice to become eternal like God and for one who practices spiritualism birth and death is not matter to him.

The poem may also be interpreted in the light of the poet’s private life affairs. Before the beginning of his poetic career, he suffered from a mental dilemma, and this dilemma is exhibited in this poem.

The language of the poem is easy and simple written in unrhymed verse, but the use of symbols and contradictory ideas make the poem a typically difficult one. In this poem, earth, air, fire, water, rose tree, dove etc. stand as symbols of death and life. The poem is coloured by figures of words also. Such as alliteration and a felicitous use of words; for example—frost and fire, hearts heat, soul’s sap, rough road etc.

To conclude it is reasonable to say that this is a typical Eliotsian poem characterized by all the characteristics of twentieth-century English symbolic verse. 0 0 0

Read More: E De Sauza’s Poem ‘Marriages are Made’: An Analytical Study

N. B. This article entitled ‘T S Eliot | Little Gidding | An Analytical Study’ originally belongs to the book ‘World Poetry Criticism‘ by Menonim Menonimus. T S Eliot | Little Gidding | An Analytical Study

Books of Literary Criticism by M. Menonimus:

  1. World Short Story Criticism
  2. World Poetry Criticism
  3. World Drama Criticism
  4. World Novel Criticism
  5. World Essay Criticism
  6. Indian English Poetry Criticism
  7. Indian English Poets and Poetry Chief Features
  8. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  9. Walt Whitman’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  10. Critical Essays on English Poetry
  11. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: Return of the Spirit-An Analytical Study
  12. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: ‘Yawmiyyat Naib Fil Arayaf’-An Analytical Study
  13. Analytical Studies of Some Arabic Short Stories
  14. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Pre-Islamic Period


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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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