Seminars: Monday to Friday, 1:00-2:30; students choose one seminar for the week. Most of the prose readings assigned will be freely available to students for the month of July in The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, online on Project Muse, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press.

2019 Seminar Descriptions

Early Poems and Criticism, Jayme Stayer, S. J., Associate Professor of English, Loyola University Chicago

In this seminar, we will start with a few poems of Eliot’s juvenilia and his notebook (published as Inventions of the March Hare), just to see how quickly he develops as an artist, finding his voice and audience. The centerpiece of the course will be Prufrock and Other Observations, especially “Prufrock,” “Portrait of a Lady,” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.” We will see how this successful manner first triumphs, then runs out of steam, fizzling out in the Boston satires (“Aunt Helen,” “Cousin Nancy,” etc.). Finally, we’ll explore how Eliot changes course with the French poems (“Dans le restaurant,” “Le Directeur”). Though the course is primarily focused on his poetic development, we’ll look at some early essays written concurrently, such as “Reflections on vers libre,” “The Borderline of Prose,” “In Memory of Henry James,” and his course syllabi from 1917.


Middle Poems and Criticism: From The Waste Land to Ash-Wednesday, David E. Chinitz, Professor of English and Department Chair, Loyola University Chicago 

We will focus on Eliot’s creative output from 1922 to 1930, beginning with the poem Eliot himself saw as the culmination of all his work up to that point: The Waste Land. From there we’ll turn to the work that Eliot hoped would take his career in another direction—his “jazz play,” Sweeney Agonistes—and to the poem that he wrote when that experiment failed: The Hollow Men. We’ll finish up with Eliot’s first post-conversion poems, Ash-Wednesday and the “Ariel poems,” which express a hard-won and doubt-beset faith. Alongside Eliot’s verse, we’ll read several of the concurrent essays that shed light on the ideas and principles underlying the poetry, including “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” “Marie Lloyd,” “Baudelaire,” and “Dante.”


Later Poems and Criticism, Robert Von Hallberg, Helen A. Regenstein Professor of English Language and Literature, Germanic Studies, Claremont McKenna College

Eliot’s most famous poem was published in 1922, and his most influential literary criticism appeared in The Sacred Wood (1920).  Some critics think, as I do, that his greatest poetic achievement came later in his long career.  We will focus our attention on the Four Quartets [1936-1943] and on a selection of his many essays in literary and social criticism published from 1932 to 1965.  It is clear that the later poems display a style accurately characterized as discursive and even prosaic.  How did the great modernist poet arrive at a form of address so remote from the collagist technology of the Waste Land?  What did he then wish for his art and for the literary culture of Europe?  These are the general questions we’ll address, but we will proceed from close analysis of lines of Four Quartets. 


Eliot's Ecologies: The Waste Land and Four Quartets, Julia Daniel, Assistant Professor of English, Baylor University 

In this seminar, we will investigate the ecological worlds of The Waste Land and Four Quartets. We will take the term "ecology" broadly in order to explore how Eliot crafts relationships among the organic and the mechanic, the bodily and the environmental, the seasonal and the synthetic, the human and the more-than-human in his verse. Across the span of these two long poems, how does Eliot move from eviscerate to significant soil and why? How does the poetry figure the body's or a community's relationship to environment and what forces disrupt that connection? What are the differing kinds of waste in these pieces and how do they prevent or promote flourishing? To answer these questions, we will also consider his poetry in the context of his involvement with early environmental groups, such as the British Soil Association and the National Trust, as well as his engagement with city planning, garden aesthetics, and modern funerary practices, to name but a few provocative points of Eliot's modernist nature-culture contact.


Eliot’s French intertexts, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania

No knowledge of French is necessary for this seminar.

This seminar will aim at exploring Eliot’s immersion in French poetry not just as a way of catching up with the “modernity” of his times when America was lagging behind, but as creating a poetic subjectivity (which is more than a sensibility). Why was the discovery of Arthur Symons’ The Symbolist Movement in Literature such a shock for Eliot? How could this sketchy survey produce “a wholly new feeling” in him, and then lead to a “revelation”? Why did the young Eliot feel the need to write like Laforgue or Corbière in order to find his own voice? And why, once he saw the limitations of those models, did he persist in investigating the best French poets, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Valéry, and Saint John Perse? Eliot’s evolution could thus be compared with that of Samuel Beckett: both moved away from poetry to the stage, both were Anglophone writers turning to French in order to write differently. This will lead to parallel readings of Eliot’s plays along those of Beckett.


Logic, Longing, and the Religious Imagination Eliot’s Poetry and Prose, Jewel Spears Brooker, Professor Emerita of Literature, Eckerd College 

The hallmark of Eliot’s early poems is the dramatization of painful disjunctions between body and soul, logic and longing, refinement and desire. In this seminar, we will read works that document the formative nature of this conflict and the relation of his attempt to deal with it to his evolving religious imagination. The emphasis will be on the psychological and social disjunctions of 1910-14 and the watershed spiritual crisis of 1925-1927, culminating in conversion. We will look at early poems and an early essay on the religious imagination, “The Interpretation of Primitive Ritual.” From the 1920s, we will read prose that shows a re-formulation of the conflict in religious terms as Eliot moved from the despair of The Hollow Men to the pain of “Journey of the Magi” to the joy of “Marina” to the incarnational moments of Burnt Norton. Along the way, we will look at Eliot’s appreciation of Dante, Lancelot Andrewes, and Pascal as thinkers who exemplify a dialectic between intelligence and feeling that is sensitive to whispers of transcendence.