The dialectical structure of Eliot's poetry



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The poetry of T. S. Eliot is remarkably consistent in its pattern of development. From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to the "Four Quartets," Eliot explores the tension between opposing images, symbols, and ideas. The primal dialectic is that of self and non-self, and the closely related pair of order and disorder. The dialectic is finally stabilized and fully developed in "Ash-Wednesday," which features the synthesis of the Word. "Ash-Wednesday" is the structural center of Eliot's poetry. The dialectical or dramatic form of Eliot's poetry is intimately connected with the personality of the poet. Eliot suffered from an emotional disorder which made it difficult for him to make decisions; his mode of thought reflects this acute sensitivity to opposing formulations. The whole of Eliot's poetry is concerned with the internal debate that precedes action; in a sense, Eliot creates his own moral universe, his own basis for action, within the poetry itself. Ultimately, Eliot's esthetic of objectivity expands to an effort to absorb personality into the infinite moment, into God. As long as the moment lasts, it is impossible to tell "the dancer from the dance."