Shunichi Murata
T. S. Eliot's idea of solipsism can be found throughout his works, though
he is hostile to this idea which is brought forth as a natural result of
subjective idealism.!
Indeed, he does not give a flat refusal to this
[WJe cannot discard [solipsism] without recogmzmg that it rests
upon a truth.
"[T] hough my experience is not the whole world, yet
that world appears in my experience, and, so far as it exists there, it
is my state of mind .... And so, in the end, to know the Universe, we
must fall back upon our personal experience and sensation".2
This idea of Eliot is reflected in his Note on the 411th line of T he Waste
Land,3 which is quoted from F. H. Bradley:
1 "Subjective idealism rests upon the assumption that perception of objects involves
an object in the mind (an idea); in other words, it implies that the object of perception
is part of the mind. At the same time, the object of perception must necessarily be
something different from the mind which perceives the object. Perception of an object
involves a relation between the mind and the object perceived; at the same time the
object perceived is regarded as something in the mind-that is, as something which is
part of the mind." The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Macmillan. 1972), p.296. Cf.
Mowbray Allan, T. S. Eliot's Impersonal Theory of Poetry (Lewisburg: Bucknell
University Press, 1974), pp.27-32.
2 T. S. Eliot, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley
(London: Faber & Faber, 1964), p.141-2.
Cited hereafter as Knowledge and Ex-
I have heard the key
Tum in the door once and tum once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at night fall.
in The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot (London: Faber & Faber, 1969),
p.74. Cited hereafter as Poems and Plays.
My external sensations are not less private to my self than are my
thought or my feelings.
In either case my experience falls within my
own circle, a circle closed on the outside; and, with all its elements
alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it .... In
brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the world
for each is peculiar and private to that sou1.l
The above idea, that is, that" my experience falls within my own circle,
a circle closed on the outside," is clearly solipsistic.
In fact, according to
Bradley, solipsism is defined as follows:
I cannot transcend experience, and experience must be my experience.
From this it follows that nothing beyond my self exists; for
what is experience is its states. 2
But, Eliot is no more a solipsist than F. H. Bradley in the final analysis.
Even though he said that" [mJy mind .... is a point of view from
which I cannot possibly escape,"3 there are traces in his works that
show that he struggled to break out of the world of solipsism after his
conversion to Anglicanism.
And so I think the change in his attitude
towards solipsism can be traced in his works as a result of the process of
his conversion.
In this paper, I will discuss the background of Eliot's
conflicting attitudes towards solipsism, from his philosophical and religious
points of view, quoting his poetry, plays, criticism and other sources.
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality (Oxford, 1966), p.306.
Ibid., p.218.
Knowledge and Experience, p.145.
At the outset, I will consider the solipsistic aspects of Eliot's poetry
and plays, from the position taken by J. Hillis Miller who says that
"(e) verything is already subjective for Eliot, and the mind can never bump
into anything other than itself, anything stubbornly recalcitrant to its devouring power to assimilate everything." 1
G. Williamson says that" you" in the first line, "you and I," of " The
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is "the amorous self, the sex instinct,"
and that "(i] t is to this buried self that Prufrock addresses himself and
excuses himself."2 From this point of view, this poem consists of a monologue by Prufrock in his" closed circle."
In other words, Prufrock hesi-
tates to go straight to a definite decision in his confined world.
This in-
decision is reflected in the following statements:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.3
J. Hillis Miller briefly summarizes Prufrock's world as follows:
Prufrock's vision is incommunicable, and whatever he says to the
lady will be answered by, "That is not what I meant at all. / That
is not it, at all."
The lady is also imprisoned in her own sphere, and
the two spheres can never, like soap bubbles, become one.
Each is
J. Hillis Miller, Poets of Reality (New York: Atheneum, 1974), pp.159--60.
George Williamson, A Reader's Guide to T. S. Eliot (LOndon: Thames and
Hudoson, 1955), p.66.
8 Poems and Plays, p.14.
impenetrable to the other .... One of the puzzles of the poem is the
question as to whether Prufrock ever leaves his room.
It appears that
he does not, so infirm is his will, so ready" for a hundred indecisions,
/ And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a
toast and tea." .... Prufrock would be unable to go anywhere, however
hard he tried.!
Although I cannot readily agree with Miller's assertion that "[e]verything
is already subjective for Eliot," his interpretation of "The Love Song of
]. Alfred Prufrock" seems to be correct from the solipsistic point of view.
From this point of view, the image of the sea in this poem would be interpreted as the world of individual human isolation, though this image
is generally a symbol of life in Eliot's poetry such as "Dans Le Restaurant," The Waste Land and "Dry Salvages" in Four Quartets.
I should heve been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. 2
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown. 3
Paradoxically speaking, the above word, "we" as well as Prufrock can live
only in "a circle closed on the outside" which is symbolized here as "the
chambers of the sea." In other words, not only Prufrock but also" we"
will die, breaking out of "the chambers of the sea."
This solipsistic world4
Poets of Reality, p. 139.
Poems and Plays p.15.
Ibid., p. 17.
If we insist upon interpreting" The Love Song of ]. Alfred Prufrock" from the
solipsistic point of view, we find in the poem the solipsistic element in a parody of Marvell's
can be found on closer investigation in Eliot's early poetry.!
But this world of "a circle closed on the outside" is, in his later
work, presented as fear of death:
When you're alone in the middle of the night and
you wake in sweat and a hell of a fright
you wait for a knock and the turning of a lock
for you know the hangman's waiting for you. 2
This faithfully reflects the solipsistic attitude in the passage from The
Waste Land, which I have mentioned: where he says" I have heard the
key / Turning in the door once."
And in his plays, this idea is later ex-
panded into a description of suffering or the inferno of life in our world:
The sudden solitude in a crowded desert
In a thick smoke, many creatures moving
Without direction, for no direction
Leads anywhere but round and round in that vapourWithout purpose, and without principle of conduct
In flickering intervals of light and darkness;
The partial anaesthesia of suffering without feeling
"To his Coy Mistress" :" To have Squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it
towards some overwhelming question." This parody is generally interpreted as imitating
the form and the expression of Marvell's grave or dignified style, but in view of
Prufrock's world it seems ridiculous. But from the solipsistic point of view, this
parody of Marvell seems to be used in order to bring the closed world of the 17th
century into our world of the 20th century, because the idea that a man can squeeze
the universe into a ball, or join himself with the universe is derived from stoicism
to which the "closed garden" in the 17th century is related. (ct. R. C. Wallerstein,
Seventeenth Century Poetic [Madison, 1950J, pp.269-75). In fact, Eliot says that
"[sJtoicism is the refuge for the individual in an indifferent or hostile world too big
for him." (" Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca," Selected Essays [London:
Faber & Faber, 1966J, p. 131)
1 J. Hillis Miller, Poets of Reality, pp. 138-140.
2 "Fragment of an Agon," Poems and Plays, pp.125-6.
The partial observation of one's own automatism!
This passage gives a complete description of the 20th century's inferno
which reminds us of the passages; "each man fixed his eyes before his
feet" in T he Waste Land ,2 or "In this last of meeting places / We grope
together / And avoid speech / Gathered on this beach of the tumid river"
The Hollow Men.3
The Cocktail Party;
The" solitude" which is seen here is also found
There was a door
And I could not open it.
I could not touch the handle.
Why could I -not walk out of my prison?
What is hell?
Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections.
There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to.
One is always alone. 4
What results from this solitude in our life is the loss of the will, disappearance of direction and automatism.
sory paralysis.
From this comes ,mental and sen-
This paralysis is illustrated by "a patient etherized upon
a table"s in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" or by Gerontion's confession: "I have lost my passion .... / I have lost my sight, smell, hearing,
taste and touch."6 In these works Eliot is trying to show us the mind of
characters who are caught up in a solipsistic attitude.
"The Family Reunion," Poems and Plays, p.294 .
Poems and Plays, p.62.
a Ibid., p. 85.
4 Ibid., p. 397.
5 Ibid., p.13.
6 Ibid., p. 38.
Men tighten the knot of confusion
Into perfect misunderstanding,
Reflecting a pocket-torch of observation
Upon other's opacityl
The above word, "opacity" is closely connected with Bradley's statement
which I have mentioned at the beginning of this paper: "every sphere
is opaque."
That is, every person remains in the opaque world into which
no one penetrates with whatever" pocket-torch of observation."
It is
true that Eliot is concerned, as Miller has shown, with this solipsistic
idea throughout.
But we can also see his trying to break out of this
world, which Miller overlooked:
You bring me news
Of a door that opens at the end of a corridor,
Sunlight and singing; when I had felt sure
That every corridor only led to another,
Or to a blank wall; that I kept moving
Only so as not to stay still.
Singing and light. 2
We must try to penetrate the other private worlds
Of make-believe and fear.3
For this reason I cannot entirely agree with Miller, even if his idea
is applicable to Eliot's poetry and plays.
If we want to examine Eliot's
conflicting attitudes towards solipsism, we must discuss his philosophy
which was influenced by F. H. Bradley.
"The Family Reunion," Poems and Plays, p.290.
Ibid., p.310.
Ibid., p. 327.
Bradley's "immediate experience" seems to hold the key to the solution of the question of solipsism.
"Immediate experience" is, to put it
briefly, "a positive non-relational non-objective whole of feeling,"! "which
contains more than the object and in the end contains all that we experience."2 In other words, " feeling is immediate experience without distinction
or relation in itself."3 Considering these things, Bradley's philosophy based
upon this "immediate experience" is apparently tinged with solipsism. I
think Miller would probably interpret Eliot's poetry from this point of view.
I t is true, from the intrinsic qualities of " experience," that" my experience
falls .... strictly within the limits of my finite centre"4 which is "not directly pervious to one another."5 But Bradley denies this idea, saying that
"[tJ his my world, of feeling and felt in one, is not to be called' subjective,'
nor is it to be identified with my self," which" would be a mistake at
once fundamental and disastrous."6 For him," [fJ inite experience never,
in any of its forms, is shut in by a wall.
It has in itself, and as an in-
separable aspect of its own nature, the all-penetrating Reality."7 Here,
his attitude toward the "finite centre" seems to be on the horns of a
dilemma: "[hJow I am to transcend my finite centre and to climb the
F. H. Bradley, Essays onJTruth and Reality (Oxford, 1968), p.189.
Ibid., p.188.
a Ibid., p.194.
4 Ibid., p.189.
5 Appearance and Reality, p.464.
6 Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 189.
Cf. Anne C. Bolgan says" Miller has made
some grossly misleading statements such as the following: "Everything is already
subjective for Eliot, .... " in What the Thunder Really Said (Montreal and London,
Queen's University Press, 1973), p.138.
7 Appearance and Reality, p.464.
walls of my pit, is, [my critics] urge, inconceivable."l
But Bradley is in
the final analysis positive in denying that" the felt reality is shut up and
confined within my feeling." 2
In a word, "experience is the same as
reality."3 He says: "[i]n short I cannot suppose that those critics who
charge me with Solipsism can have much of an idea as to the position
in which I stand."4
Eliot shows some share of these ideas of Bradley in his dissertation.
Bradley's" finite centre" is, from another point of view, "the window of
a moment" through which "[t]he one Reality is what comes directly to
my feeling."5 But Eliot seems to interpret by mistake this" finite centre"
as "the point of view,"6 from which one cannot possibly escape.
And he
demands "a presentation and discrimination of two points of view"7 in
order that the external world through a point of view becomes true and
That is, Eliot tries to show that" the external world is a construc-
tion by the selection and combination of various presentations to various
viewpoints."8 He explains this situation as follows;
If we are hit on the head with the same club, the club is only
"the same" because it has appeared in two different contexts.
are two different experiences, and the sameness is quite ideal.
We do,
of course, partially put ourselves at the point of view of the man who
hit us, and partially at each other's points of view; and it is the inter1
Essays on Truth and Reality, p.413.
Appearance and Reality, p.224.
Ibid., p.128.
Essays on Truth and Reality, p.420.
Appearance and Reality, p.224.
Knowledge and Experience, p. 147.
Ibid., p. 142.
Ibid., p.142.
weaving of these viewpoints which gives us the objective club.
is no one club, one world, without a diversity of points of view for it
to be one to)
For Eliot, the truth of the external world is confirmed by "the interweaving" of various points of view, not by a point of view. 2 On the other.
hand, he says that "[fJ inite centre, so far as I can pretend to understand
it, is immediate experience"3 which is not to be considered" the point of
At this point, Eliot's attitude toward "finite centre" seems to run
in contradiction as well as Bradley's
But he is positive when he says
that "[tJo say that I can know only my own states, .... is in no wise the
foundation of solipsism, unless it were possible that I should know my
states as my states, and as nothing else, which would be a palpable contradiction."4
Therefore, He does not take the subjective position that
Miller maintains.
In fact, Eliot is, as Bradley says, trying to "climb the
walls" of his pit:
[BJeyond the objective worlds of a number of finite centres, each
having its own objects, there is no objective world.
Thus we confront
the question: how do we yoke our divers worlds to draw together?
How can we issue from the circle described about each point of view?
Ibid., p. 144.
This idea is reflected upon his literary criticism: "No poet, no artist of any art,
has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation
of his relation to the dead poet and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must
set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead" in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Selected Essays, p. 15.
3 Knowledge and Experience, p.205.
4 Ibid., p.147.
Cf." The sea-anemone which accepts or rejects a proffered morsel
is there by relating an idea to the sea-anemone's world.
The fixity is simply this
reference to a definite place in the world-a world which is built up from the subject's point of view. This, for the subject, is the only world, but it is not a solipsistic
world, for it is not contrasted with any other possible world." Ibid., p.44.
and since I can know no point of view but my own, how can I know
that the~e are other points of view, or admitting their existence, how
can I take any account of them? 1
Thus, we can see Eliot trying to break out of the solipsistic world.
Considering thus, we cannot interpret his poetry only from Miller's point
of view.
This idea of breaking through to "a door that opens at the end of a
corridor, / Sunlight and singing"2 is metaphorically expressed by "the
little door" in The Family Reunion as follows:
I only looked through the little door
When the sun shining on the rose-garden:
And heard in the distance tiny voices
And then a black raven flew over.
And then I was only my own feet walking
Away, down a concrete corridor
In a dead air.
Only feet walking
And sharp heel scraping.
Over and under
Echo and noise of feet.
I was only the feet, and the eye
Seeing the feet: the unwinking eye
Fixing the movement.
Over and under.3
This world of "the rose garden" seen here through" the little door," or,
to use Bradley's words, "the window of a moment," is not the confined
Ibid., p. 141.
"The Family Reunion," Poems and Plays, p. 310
Ibid., pp.334-5.
world of solipsism, but Reality.
But the" black raven"l bars the speaker's
access to "the rose garden" and she is once more in the solipsistic world,
symbolized here by "a concrete corridor / In a dead air."
And so, the
person who is seeing her feet in the above passage is one of those men
whose eyes are "fixed" "before his feet"
The Waste Land. Thus,
the world of "the rose garden" is momentary:
It was only a moment, it was only one moment
That I stood in sunlight, and thought I might stay there. 2
This image of "the rose garden" has already been seen not only in
Ash-Wednesday, where the rose has an explicitly religious significance,
but also in "Burnt Norton" in Four Quartets:
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden.
My words echo
Thus, in your mind.3
Eliot once revealed to Louis L. Martz that this image of " the rose garden"
1 A raven symbolizes "death, corruption, destruction: general, e. g.
a. it not only
bodes death, but also brings contagion." Ad de Vries, Dictionary of Symbols and
Imagery (North-Holland Publishing Company, 1974), p.382. Therefore, Harry'S response that immediately follows the above passage is described as a sterile and barren
place in the solipsistic world:
In and out, in an endless drift
Of shrieking forms in a circular desert
Weaving with contagion of putrescent embraces
On dissolving bone. In and out, the movement
Until the chain broke, and I was left
Under the single eye above the desert.
2 Poems and Plays, p.311.
3 Ibid., p. 171.
is derived from Alice in Wonderland.!
And this image represents, ac-
cording to Martz, the "still point" in the life of the individual:
This still point of peace is variously symbolized throughout Eliot's
poetry, and the variety of the symbols had led readers to miss the
connection between Eliot's image of the" rose-garden" and Becket
.... The "rose-garden," .... represents in Eliot a moment of contact
with reality, a moment of rare consciousness and "sudden illumination,"
which flashes across the drab flux of ordinary life as the only meaningful moment (or moments) of that life-an experience which the
individual may try constantly and unsuccessfully to recapture. It is, in
short, the "still point" in the life of the individua1. 2
I agree with Martz on this interpretation, but, considering Eliot's dissertation, which he does not seem to have read at that time, this image of
"the rose-garden" seems to be closely connected to Bradley's philosophy.
In the passage from Four Quartets immediately preceding the one
quoted above, Eliot says:
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.3
"What might have been" is, according to Eliot, "the experience of a
1 Louis L. Martz, "The Wheel and the Point: Aspects of Imagery and Theme in
Eliot's Later Poetry," The Sewanee Review, Winter, 1947, from T. S. Eliot: A Selected Critique (New York: Russell & Russell, 1966) edited by Leonard Unger, p.448.
2 Ibid., p. 447.
3 Poems and plays, p.171.
child of ten, a small boy peering through sea-water in a rockpool, and
finding a sea-anemone for the first time: the simple experience (not so
simple, for an exceptional child, as it looks) might lie dormant in his mind
for twenty years, and re-appear transformed in some verse-context charged
with great imaginative pressure."!
In other words, this is "a particular
kind of experience: that is, of something which had actual experience ...
and intellectual and imaginative experience ... as its materials; and which
became a third kind."2 Eliot sees this experience in the orchard in "New
the garden of separation
"La Figlia Che Piange,"
"Hyacinth garden" in T he Waste Land and so on.
These experiences
of the "rose garden" are experienced only through "the window of a
moment," which is "The point of intersection of the timeless / With time."3
This" experience" contains the mystical elements, which have been
studied by many critics.
But, from the philosophical point of view, mys-
tical elements of Eliot's poetry seem to be influenced by Bradley's philosophy.
That is to say, Bradley says that" the intellect is very far from
being satisfied by a scientific explanation"4 and that" thought would be
presented as a higher intuition."5
This idea seems to be reflected in a
series of discussions between Eliot and
1. M. Murry which appeared in The
Criterion from 1926 to 1927, where Eliot says that" intuition must have its
place in a world of discourse" and that it "must always be tested, and
capable of test, in a whole of experience in which intellect plays a large
l T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London: Faber & Faber,
1968), pp.78--9.
2 "Dante," Selected Essays, p.273.
3 "The Dry Salvages," Poems and Plays, pp.189-190.
4 Appearance and Reality, p.553.
5 Ibid., p. 152.
part." 1
This attitude toward "intelligence" and "intuition" is clearly
based upon Bradley's idea of "higher intuition," "immediate experience,"
" Reality" and "Absolute."
In short, Bradley says that. fragments, contra-
dictions and opposites are considered to consist only in our thought, but,
in a whole which is beyond thought or in immediate experience these are
I t is for this reason that Eliot is led to Indian philosophy
and the intellectual mystics in the Middle Ages, such as Dionysius the
Areopagite whose theology has, according to C. E. Rolt, much affinity with
Bradley,3 or St. John of the Cross, or the anonymous writer of The Cloud
of Unknowing, whose influences can often be seen in Ash-Wednesday, or
Four Quartets. 4
From this point of view, striving to reach the" still point"
rose garden" is striving towards God.5 Eliot says as follows:
I turn the key, and walk through the gate,
And there I am .... alone, in my 'garden.'
Alone, that's the thing
That's why it's not real.
If I were religious, God would walk in my garden
And that would make the world outside it real
The Criterion, Vol. No.4 (October, 1972), pp.341-2.
Appearance and Reality, p. 507.
3 C. E. Rolt, Dionysius The Areopagite The Divine Names and The Mystical
Theology, translations of Christian literature, series I. Greek Text (New Yort, 1957),
p.7. p.114. p.192.
• Shunichi Murata, "Mystical Elements in T. S. Eliot-from the viewpoint of" intuition" and "intelligence," Shiron No. 15 (Department of English, Tohoku University,
1975), pp.54-70.
S Ethel F. Cornwell, The" Still Point" (Rutgers University Press, 1962), pp.1763. Cf. The rose garden with its mystical element in Eliot's poetry reminds us of
"the enclosed garden·" of the metaphysical poets especially,Andrew Marvell's "Appleton
House" XIII, XLI or "The Mower against Gardens," but, with Eliot, it is not enclosed.
And acceptable, I think.!
Hereupon, his solipsistic world is, for the first time, considered in relation
to God:
There are moments, perhaps not known to everyone, when a man
may be nearly crushed by the terrible awareness of his isolation from
every other human being; and I pity him if he finds himself only
alone with himself and his meanness and futility, alone without God. 2
I will, next, discuss Eliot's solipsism, from his religious point of view,
laying stress on the problem of "words" in Ash-Wednesday and Four
In Eliot's thoughts on poetic creativity, "feeling" is .equated with
Bradley's "immediate experience."3
poet's creativity.
This" feeling" is the source of a
It is an "unknown dark psychic material," an "inert
embryo," a "creative germ"4 or an "inexhaustible and terrible nebula of
emotion,"5 which may be taken as "a sort of confusion, and as a nebula
which would grow distinct on closer scrutiny."6
These things are "so
personal and private that it becomes almost impersonal, the private incommunicable experience of all men."7 For Eliot, it is a poet's job to make
"The Confidential Clerk," Poems and Plays, pp.473-4.
T. S. Eliot, "Literature and the Modern World," American Prefaces (Iowa City,
Iowa, 1. 2., Nov., 1935), p.20.
8 Cf. Knowledge and Experience, pp.15-6.
4 T. S. Eliot, "The Three Voices of Poetry," On Poetry and Poets (New York:
The Noonday, 1968), p.110.
5 "Andrew Marvell," Selected Essays, p.300.
6 Knowledge and Experience, p.19.
7 Helen Gardner, The Art of T. S. Eliot (London, The Cresset Press, 1961), p.58.
concrete these things which are something private and which cannot be
communicated to the outside, to establish them in place, time and circumstance, and in general, to make them part of the common experience
which persons can share to some extent with each other.!
After this consideration of the nature of the" immediate experience"
or "feeling,"
Eliot struggles along with the problem of "words."
explains this situation as follows:
(Poet] has something germinating in him for which he must find
word; but he cannot know what words he wants until he has found
the words; he cannot identify this embryo until it has been transformed into an arrangement of the right words in the right order.
When you have the words for it, the" thing" for which the words
had to be found had disappeared, replaced by a poem. 2
Thus, it is difficult for him to find "the right words
the right order."
To do this, Eliot must undergo an ordeal:
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty yearsTwenty years largely wasted, the years of ['entre deux guerresTrying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
1 "The only expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall
be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which
must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked."
"Hamlet," Selected Essays, p.145. Cf. J. Hills Miller, Poets of Reality pp.148-154.
We can also see this problem of communication in The Family Reunion:
"But how can I explain, how can I explain to you?
You will understand less after I have explained it.
All that I could hope to make you understand
Is only events:" Poems and Plays, p.293. See also Ibid., p.309.
2 "The Three '{o!ces of Poetry," On Poetry and Poets, p.106.
~· ' :I .·
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way
One is no longer disposed to say it.!
For him" the words" are hard to deal with:
Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place
Will not stay still. 2
The above word, "burden" refers to that "inert embryo or 'creative
For Eliot, it is necessary to get the precise words in order to
reveal this" burden" to the public, that is, to break out of the solipsism.3
Then, what he discovered is "the form, the pattern."
Words move, music moves
Only in time, but that which is only living
Can only die.
Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence.
Only by the forms, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness. 4
"East Coker" V. Poems and Plays, p.175.
"Burnt Norton" V. Ibid., p.175.
8 Eliot tried to find the" objective equivalent to his feeling." ("Hamlet," Selected
Essays, p. 145) or "the verbal equivalent for states of mind and feeling" (" The
Metaphysical Poets," Selected Essays, p.289).
"but it is unspeakable,
Untranslatable: I talk in general terms
Because the particular has no language. One thinks to escape
By violence, but one is still alone
In an overe-crowded desert, jostled by ghosts."
Poems and Plays, p.249.
• "Burnt Norton" V, Poems and Plays, p.175.
For Eliot, it is " [oJ nly by the form, the pattern" that" the words" reach
"the stillness."
That is to say, all that lives within time cannot help
If it were not for "the form, the pattern" such as poetry with
words or music in a quartet or other musical form, "the burden" within
a poet would not be communicable,! and "words" could not reach" the
Of course, the world of "the stillness" is the same as that of
"the still point" which is represented by the image of "the rose garden."
For this reason, "the stillness" which "the words" reach contains the
mystical elements as well as the experience of "the rose garden."
is why Eliot says about a prayer as follows:
And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. 2
For him" when religious feeling disappears, the words in which men
have struggled to express it become meaningless."3
He summarizes this
idea in the epigraph of Four Quartets as follows: "Although the Logos
is common the many live as though they had a private understanding."4
1 Cf. "[OJur Knowledge of other finite centres is only through physical appearance
within our world" (Knowledge and Experience, p.146. See also Bradley's Appearance and Reality, pp.306-7. This idea has, I think, a background of "a mechanism
of sensibility'" as well as an "objective correlative," in Eliot's asserting that "[iJt is
only in social behaviour, in the conflict and readjustment of finite centres, that feeling
and things are torn apart" (Knowledge and Experience, pp.24-5).
2 "Little Gidding" I, Poems and Plays, p.192.
Cf. Eliot says a poet must continually develop" his medium [wordJ for the moment when he really has something
to say": "he must be experimenting and trying his technique so that it will be ready,
like a well-oiled fire-engine, when the moment comes to strain it to its utmost" (Ezra
Pound Selected Poems, edited with an Introduction by T. S. Eliot [London: Faber &
Faber, 1967J, pp. 16-7.)
3 "The Social Function of Poetry," On Poetry and Poets, p.15.
• Translated By Kirk and Raven, The presocratic Philosophers, p.276.
"Logos" here is the capitalized" Word" which is traditionally attributed
to God.
On the other hand, "a private understanding" is the individual's
only way of dealing with the predicament.
From this point of view, G.
Smith's translation, based upon Bradley, is more understandable: "Although
there is but one Center, most men live in centers of their own,"! because,
hereupon, the" one Center" can be thought of as "a whole beyond thought
or immediate experience," and "centers of their own" is "a circle closed
on the outside."
Considering these things, the solipsism in this epigraph
is contrasted with" Word," and looked at from a religious viewpoint.
think Louis L. Martz explained this situation lucidly, though I do not know
whether he cared about the epigraph or not:
Meditative poems, being wrought out as part of a search for the
common basis of humanity, must have common speech as a basis; yet
being also part of a personal quest, the language must also express
that one, essential personality that is every man's unique possession.
Something of this, perhaps, is what Eliot suggests, when he says that
a poem by Hopkins" may sound pretty remote from the way in which
you and I express ourselves--or rather, from the way in which our
fathers and grandfathers expressed themselves: but Hopkins does give
the impression that his poetry has necessary fidelity to his way of
thinking and talking to himself."2
In fact, it may be gathered from what Eliot said in his essay "Lancelot
Andrewes " at the time of his conversion that he takes a growing interest
in the" Word," though the" Word" had already been seen in "In the
1 Grover Smith, Jr., T. S. Eliot's Poetry and Plays (Chicago and London: The
University of Chicago Press, 1965), p. 255.
2 Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971), p. 323.
beginning was the Word" of "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service," or
"The word within a word, unable to speak a word / Swaddled with darkness" of "Gerontion."
Andrewes is one of the most resorceful of authors
for seizing the attention and impressing the memory.
his devices
Phrases such
as .... " the word within a word, unable to speak a word," do not
desert us.!
Eliot explains the meaning of this" Word" as follows:
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken Word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.3
to say, the" Word" of God
the" one Center," and remains
"[a]t the still point of the turning world"4 like the eye of a typhoon.
Therefore, the" Word" is without a "word", that is, it is not limited by
being an expression made from an individual standpoint.
Individual ex-
pression by words must be made by individuals from "centers of their
own," or from within their private" circle closed on the outside."
by taking such a position that man is shut out from God.
"Lancelot Andrewes," Selected Essays, pp.349-50.
"Ash·Wednesday" V, Poems and Plays, p.96.
"Coriolan," Ibid., p.128, "Burnt Norton" II, Ibid., p.173.
It is
Eliot managed to
remove the barrier between man and God.
That is why he embraced
the mystical elements in the" still point" of "the rose garden."
As stated above, Eliot was trying to overcome solipsism, removing the
barrier between man and God.
Therefore, the image of solipsism such
as "opacity," "a corridor" or" a circular desert
in The Family Reunion
In fact, in The
should be contrasted to the Christian public world.
Family Reunion he has Harry break out of his private world:
You bring me news
Of a door that opens at the end of a corridor,
Sunlight and singing; when I had felt sure
That every corridor only led to another,
Or to a blank wall; that I kept moving
Only so as not to stay still.
Singing and light.
The things I thought were real are shadows, and the real
Are what I thought were private shadows.
Of the insane mind!
0 that awful privacy
Now I can live in public. 3
The above world of "Sunlight and singing," or "Singing and light" is
the same world of" the rose garden."
In this way, the solipsism in Eliot's
early poetry becomes the point of departure for his religious meditation:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
"The Family Reunion" Poems and Plays, p. 335
Ibid., p.310
Ibid., p. 334
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.!
That is to say, the solipsistic world of his early poetry is "a necessary
prelude to, and element in, the joy of faith" as well as despair. 2
Robert Sencourt explains the background of Eliot's conversion as follows:
From Unitarianism he lapsed into agnosticism, and out of agnosticism found his way (after inclining towards Buddhism around 1922)
to the Catholic idea which he preferred in its Anglican form. He said
at another time that he was driven by seeing agnosticism pushed to
its limits by Bertrand Russell. 3
Eliot himself confesses as follows:
Towards any profound conviction one is borne gradually, perhaps
insensibly over a long period of
by what Newman called" powerful
and concurrent reason" .... At some moment or other, a kind of crystallisation occurs, in which appears an element of faith .... In my own
case, I believe that one of the reasons was that the Christian scheme
seemed to me the only one which would work .... That was simply
the removal of any reason for believing in anything else, the erasure
of a prejudice, the arrival at the scepticism which is the preface to
conversion. 4
"East Coker" III, Ibid., p.180.
"The' Pensees' of Pascal," Selected Essays, p.412.
Robert Sencourt, T. S. Eliot A Memoir (London, 1971), p.110.
T. S. Eliot, "Christianity and Communism, "The Listener (March 16, 1932). p.382.
Paradoxically speaking, as Eliot says in A Sermon, "[o)ne may become a
Christian partly by pursuing scepticism to tpe utmost limit."! Thus, his
conversion seems to result in part from" scepticism."
Eliot defines this
scepticism as "the habit of examining evidence and the capacity for delayed
decision,"2 which is related to the idea of via media or the middle way.
He is avoiding extremes in literary or social criticism, not embracing fully
either historical criticism or non-historical criticism,3 religion or humanism,4
thought or feeling,S monism or dualism6 in his essays.?
The similarity between a sceptical attitude and the idea of via media
as found in the spirit of Anglicanism seems to have derived from F. H.
He explains scepticism as follows:
By scepticism is not meant doubt about or disbelief in some tenet
or tenets.
I understand by it an attempt to become aware of and
to doubt all preconceptions.
Such scepticism is the result only of
Preached in Magdalene College Chapel, 7 March 1948, Cambridge, p. 5.
T. S. Eliot, Note towards the Definition of Culture (London: Faber & Faber,
1967), p.29.
3 "Dante," Selected Essays, pp. 237-8.
, "The Humanism of Irving Babbitt," Ibid., p.472.
5 "The Metaphysical Poets," Ibid., p. 287.
6 Eliot was not completely satisfied with Bradley's monism.
In brief, Eliot seemed
to be following the middle way and avoiding extremes even in his attitudes toward
monism and dualism: "what we do know is that we are able to pass one point of
view to another, that we are compelled to do so, and that the different aspects more
or less hang together" (T. S. Eliot, "Leibniz' Monads and Bradley's Finite Centres,"
Knowledge and Experience, p.207). Cf." The Absolute responds only to an imaginary demand of thought, and satisfies only an imaginary demand of feeling. Pretending to be something which finite centres cohere, it turns out to be merely the assertion that they do" (Ibid., p.202).
7 Shunichi Murata, "On T. S. Eliot's Via Media," Studies in English Literature
(The English Literary Society of Japan, 1980), pp.175-189. Cf. "At least, 'I aim at
Orthodoxy. For heresy, which consists in emphasizing one aspect of the mystery to the
exclusion of the other, is a natural tendency of the mind; a complete living orthodoxy
is .... almost impossible to the frail human being at every moment of his life; which
is one reason why the Church is necessary" (T. S. Eliot, " Christianity and Communism,"
The Listener [March 16, 1932J, p.382). See also "Dante" Selected Essays, p.270.
labour and education, but it is a training which cannot with impunity
be neglected.!
This is clearly the same as Eliot's definition of scepticism.
That is,
Bradley's philosophy requires avoiding extremes:
Now nothing is easier than for a one-sided reflection to rush in
with a cry for clearness and consistency, and to apply its favourite
"either---or." "If real how realize?
If realize, then nor reaL" We,
however, must not allow ourselves to give way to the desire for
drawing conclusions, but have to observe the facts. 2
But Bradley goes on to say that "the religious consciousness refuses the
It holds to both one and the other, and to one because of the
other; and pronounces such reflections irreligious."3 As this idea of Bradley
had a significant effect upon Eliot's attitude towards religion, Eliot had
to overcome "scepticism" which is a hinderance, but, at the same time
"useful equipment for religious understanding"4 in order to become' a
The above idea of Eliot's" scepticism" seems to be reflected in the
solipsism in question. For him solipsism or solitariness, as well as scepticism,
is absolutely essential to awakening and maintaining religious faith. In that
respect, Eliot's thinking seems to have something in common with that
of A. N. Whitehead 5 who once defined religion as "(w]hat the individual
Appearance and Reality, p. viii. See also Essays on Truth and Reality, p.199.
F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (Oxford, 1962), p.322.
3 Ethical Studies, p.322.
4 "Francis Herbert Bradley," Selected Essays, p.450.
S "[RJeturning to Harvard in the autumn of 1911, Eliot entered upon Indic studies
and pure philosophy. He was appointed an assistant in philosophy-his promise being
detected by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell more clearly than it had
been by Irving Babbitt" (Russell Kirk, Eliot and His Age [New York: Random
House, 1971J, p.34).
does with his own solitariness."1
As mentioned above, though Eliot was
critical of solipsism in his dissertation in 1916, it was clearly part of his
early poetry.
In fact, he seems to have had conflicting attitudes toward
solipsism at that time, which was reflected in Prufrock's indecision:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
This indecision of Prufrock is nothing but Eliot's via media or scepticism.
But, with his conversion in 1927 as a turning point, he seems to have
overcome solipsism as well as scepticism, though solipsism is often, as I
have shown, seen in contrast to the Christian public world portrayed in
his plays even after his conversion.
From this point of view, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that the
reason why Eliot is so concerned with a solipsistic or solitary world would
be that it is absolutely essential to awakening and maintaining religious
. faith and becomes the point of departure for his religious meditations.
1 A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making (The World Publishing Co., Miridian
Books, 1960), p. 6.
J. Hillis Miller who asserted that "(eJ verything is already subjective
for Eliot" in his Poets of Reality interpretes Eliot's poetry from the
solipsistic point of view.
It is true that the idea of solipsism, which is
a natural result of subjective idealism, can be found throughout Eliot's
poetry and plays.
In fact, Eliot does not flatly deny its validity in his
dissertation, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H.
In that respect, Miller's interpretation of Eliot's work is to be
correct from the solipsistic point of view.
But, we can also see Eliot trying to break out of this world in his later
For this reason I cannot entirely agree with Miller, even if his idea
is applicable to Eliot's early work.
If we want to examine Eliot's con-
flicting attitudes towards solipsism, we must discuss his philosophy which
is influenced by F. H. Bradley's "immediate experience."
In the final
analysis, closer investigation of his philosophy shows that Eliot is no more
a solipsist than F. H. Bradley.
And, the idea of Eliot's breaking out of
the solipsistic world is metaphorically expressed by "the rose garden,"
which is closely connected to the idea of "immediate experience," in his
Ash-Wednesday, "Burnt Norton" in Four Quartets or The Family Reunion. And the image of "the rose garden" represents, accoding to Louis
L. Marts, "a moment of contact with reality, a moment of rare consciousness and 'sudden illumination'."
The solipsism in Eliot's work must be
seen in the light of his religious thinking, and his ideas about the nature
of Reality and God.
Using A. N. Whitehead's definition of religion as "(wJhat the individual
does with his own solitariness" and the concept of the Logos or the "Word"
of God as used in the epigraph of Four Quartets when Eliot said "ALthough the Logos is common the many live as though they had a private
Eliot seems to have overcome solipsism, with his conver-
sion in 1927 as a turning point.
In other words, to understand his
conflicting attitudes towards solipsism, it is necessary to see how we contrast
the idea of the "Word" with" words" iIi general, and secondly to consider the relationship between solipsism and religion.
Eliot had to over-
come solipsism, as well as "scepticism" which is a hinderance, but, at the
same time" useful equipment for religious understanding," in order to become a Christian.
For him a solipsistic or solitary world is absolutely
essential to awakening and maintaining religious faith and becomes the
point of departure for his religious meditations.
In this paper, I intended to show the influence of solipsism on Eliot's
thinking and showed how it pushed him to Christianity by examining his
philosophical and religious statements in poetry, plays, criticism and other

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