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Eliot seminar paper proposal

Wm. Anthony Connolly

American 20th Century Poetry – The Art of Collaboration

Dr. Francis Dickey

The Divine Music in Four Quartets:

T.S. Eliot and Negative Theology

T.S. Eliot has long been regarded as a daring poet whose verse changed
American’s imaginative and poetic landscape. His poetry from the turn of the
century until the decade of his death in 1965 went through a dramatic arc
from the existential angst of a war-torn world to full-throated belief as
modernity wrestled with issues of faith. Eliot’s conversion found expression
predictably in his verse. While never wanting to be known as a “religious
poet,” his work nevertheless mirrored his own faith journey. No historical or
biographical attempt to investigate and explicate that conversion will be
broached here, save only as faith is expressed in the poet’s exemplary Four
Quartets. Instead, faith will be examined solely as it applies to the rhetoric of
Eliot’s composition of Four Quartets. In fact, Eliot’s Four Quartets is best
understood as a form of negative theology, composed by what might be
identified as a “divine poetics.” The guiding idea in this exegesis of Four
Quartets is that Eliot’s exploration of negation in poetic language enabled
him to discover and express what are, in effect, negative theological forms of
belief. Borrowing from a fifth century tradition of apophaticism, Eliot uses the
divine poetics – a rhetorical tool of affirmation, negation and negating the
negation – to speak and provide expression of the ineffable. “Apophasis,”
here will refer to the Greek word for negation, to designate the sort of
negation of language that characterizes this outlook, or rather receptivity,
which suspects and subverts all its own verbal expression, its own creaturely
affection and intellect en route to a union with God.
Works Cited (anticipated)

Carlson, Thomas A. “Apophatic Analogy: On the Language of Mystical

Unknowing and

Being-Toward-Death,” Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry. Ed.


Jost and Wendy Olmstead. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Dionysius. “Mystical Theology,” Esoterica, 18 November 2008.


Eliot, TS. Four Quartets. Faber & Faber: London, 1970.

Gardner, Helen. The Composition of Four Quartets. Oxford University Press:

New York, 1978.

A good grounding in the composition of the four poems is an important

element in advancing any argument as to its possible intentions; Gardener is
considered seminal. The volume will provide me with invaluable background
to the verse and a solid foundation from which to posit my argument. It
breaks down each of the four parts, provides historical background and
textual notes, provenance and growth of the poems and its sources is also
explicated. Appendices shows an excerpt of the poem in the revision

Lobb, Edward. Words In Time: New Essays on Eliot’s Four Quartets. The
University of Michigan Press:

Ann Arbor, 1994.

This is a collection of relatively recent scholarship on Eliot’s Four Quartets
outlining and arguing for new directions in critical thought. The editor posits
that Eliot scholarship has undergone three major shifts from an initial
evaluative exegesis to examination of Eliot within Modernism and finally to a
present stage of investigation of Eliot’s philosophical writings. Three essays
in this collection by Denis Donoghue, Donald Childs and Cleo McNelly Kearns
explore Eliot’s apophatic poetics.

McGinn, Bernard. “Love, Knowledge, and Mystical Union in Western

Christianity: Twelfth

to Sixteenth Centuries” Church History Vol. 56, No 1 (Mar., 1987), 7-24.

---, ed. The Classics of Western Spirituality: Meister Eckhart: Teacher and
Preacher. Mahwah: Paulist

Press, 1986.

---, ed. The Classics of Western Spirituality: Meister Eckhart: The Essential
Sermons, Commentaries,

Treatises, and Defense. Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1986.

---, ed. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: The Modern
Library, 2006.

No examination of mysticism can go without the doyen of Western Christian

esotericism Bernard McGinn. My scholarship will include McGinn’s
understanding of apophatic rhetoric, its historical origins and its exemplars
anthologized in volumes edited by McGinn. This source will principally
provide the theological/rhetorical underpinnings to my argument.

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of The Holy. London: Oxford University Press, 1958
Peers, Edgar Allison. Behind That Wall. New York: Books for the Libraries
Press, 1948. 81-


Perl, Jeffrey M. “T.S. Eliot’s Small Boat of Thought.” Common Knowledge, Vol.
13, No. 2-3, 2007, pp.


Sexton, James P. “Four Quartets and the Christian Calendar” American

Literature, Vol. 43, No. 2

May 1971, pp. 279-281.

Turner, Denys. The Darkness of God. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

1995. 168-256.

Underhill, Evelyn, ed. Element Classics of World Spirituality: The Cloud of

Unknowing. Rockport:

Element, 1997. 1-197.