Mary Ann GILLIES (Simon Fraser University), East Meets West in the Poetry of T. S. Eliot, English/30 pages, April 2002.


Critics have long acknowledged T.S. Eliot's interest in Eastern thought. Many scholars have noted Eliot's frequent allusions to Indian texts such as the Upanishads and the Baghivad Gita. The critical consensus has been that Eliot's interest in the past was, in fact, limited to a lifelong fascination with Indian literature and philosophy. However, this paper sets out an alternative reading of Eliot's Eastern influences. It suggests that because critics have paid little attention to possible Chinese influences in Eliot's work, they have missed an important source of Eastern thought. The paper argues that Eliot's interest in Chinese culture and thought was evident in his years at Harvard, and that it was strengthened during his years in Paris and London in the early 1910s. It asserts that evidence of his continuing engagement with Chinese culture may be found in his mature master work Four Quartets. To support this argument, the paper demonstrates that Eliot read Confucius, was familiar with Chinese painting and ceramics, and, likely read the Chinese poetry that his friend and early mentor Ezra Pound translated and published. It suggests that this grounding in Chinese culture provided a strong, though overlooked, influence in Eliot's poetry. A close reading of various passages from Four Quartets illustrates the degree to which Chinese culture permeates Eliot's poetry. The conclusion one draws from this study is that critics need to revise the commonly accepted views about Eliot Eastern thought to include Chinese alongside Indian influences.