Eliot's poetry is so tonally detached from humanity that you can interpret him as either borderline apathetic, or transcendent of common understanding of mortality. The emotional ebbs and flows characteristic of poetry are nearly absent, as he conveys his message in an eery even-keel mood. Further, he's so detached from mortality that he doesn't really deal with the human aspect of death and loss, but delves into time and the ethereality of the past, present and future.
In the second stanza of Eliot's Burnt Norton:
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbor where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
So according to Eliot, you can only understand your reality in this exact moment. Time is thus a fiction and a moot point because the past is gone and the future is borne of this present. "To be conscious is not to be in time" means that time is simply a recording or projection of our moments, thus our moments are out of time. Time is nebulous.
So if time is nebulous, then what is life? Life is simply the existence of our present moments. Nothing romantic or metaphorical; simply beautiful or ugly moments. According to Orwell on page 427: "Mixed up with this is a rather gloomy musing upon the nature and purpose of life, with the rather indefinite conclusion I have mentioned above. Life has a 'meaning,' but it is not a meaning one feels inclined to grow lyrical about; there is faith, but not much hope, and certainly no enthusiasm...They [his poems, both early and later] were based on the dilemma of modern man, who despairs of life and does not want to be dead, and on top of this they expressed the horror of an over-civilised intellectual confronted with the ugliness and spiritual emptiness of the machine age." It sounds like he's a confused humanist; man determines himself, but man should be hated because his intellect--that which makes him man--produces technology which empties him. It sounds like he wants god to reprogram man to be better suited for interacting with reality.
Orwells says that Eliot's turn to the Church for inner solidarity showed up in his writing in that his "struggle with meanings" would have born more fruit if he hadn't turned to them, because the Church at base forces one to believe the incredible. He says that it clings to maxims that people practice, but deep down, don't really believe. Accepting the insipidness of our moments is easy and convenient when we assume that "earthly happiness is impossible." (431) Not that every poet has to be an atheist, but there are distinct entailments which show up in print when one buys into one or the other, and Orwell, whom I agree with, finds the non-secular approach limiting to artistry.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new Orwell 365 posts.