A linguistic analysis of certain poems by T.S. Eliot
Pretorius, Wilhelmina Georgina Johanna
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From recent studies in the field of linguistic stylistics, the linguistic analysis of poetry emerges as a feasible undertaking. The purpose of linguistic criticism is to reveal the relevance of the relation between linguistic structure and poetic meaningfulness. In the first chapter, the linguistic analysis of poetry is shown as providing a basis for critical statements, and a means of preventing impressionist criticism by aiming at justifiable critical statements. The various levels of linguistic structure are shown as interacting, in terms of functional concord and discord. The linguistic analysis of poetry mainly involves the contextual level of analysis in terms of relevant extra-textual information and relevant patterns of grammatic and phonological structure. The relevance of the linguistic analysis of poetry is supported by the criticism of T.S. Eliot, who attaches primary importance to the principle of musical composition in poetry, which not only includes the rhythmic-melodic aspect of poetry, but also the principle of repetitive variation on all levels of poetic structure. In Eliot's poetry particularly, the linguistic analysis of poetry emerges as relevant and feasible, since he himself considers the integration of diverse elements of organization of poetic language essential to achieve poetic meaningfulness by providing a counterpart for the diverse elements of actual emotive experience. In the second chapter the concept of the linguistic analysis of poetry is applied to The Waste Land, which is the culminating point in Eliot's early poetry. The adverse criticism of the poem as disorganized and chaotic is refuted by the investigation of its linguistic structure. On the level of contextual analysis the allusiveness of the poem is shown to have aesthetic purpose. The lexical analysis reveals foregrounded lexical patterns expressing negation and the paradoxical concept of man's simultaneous temporal existence and his immortality. The syntactic analysis concerns three devices: deviation, ambiguity and repetition, which achieve poetic significance in The Waste Land, enacting the vicious circle of spiritual sterility which is a dominant and essential feature in the poem. The phonological analysis comprises a consideration of sound imagery in the poem, pointing to the significance of spiritual aridity and the paradoxical purpose of the sound of water, which implies both a means of destruction and of regeneration. The patterns of sound in the fourth section of the poem are investigated in detail and shown to be poetically meaningful. Chapter 3 is a linguistic analysis of Four Quartets, which is generally considered to be Eliot's last great poem. Its diffuse style is shown in contrast to the conciseness of The Waste Land, but it is pointed out that both kinds of style are aesthetically purposeful. A survey of the criticism of Four Quartets reveals a controversy around the concept of poetic unity in this poem which is concluded in favour of the poem as an integrated whole. This is taken as the point of departure for the analysis of the contextual level. The analogy between a musical quartet and Four Quartets is shown as a productive analogy on condition that the poem retains its status as literature. The literary situation of the poem is essential for the appreciation of the symbolic meaning of certain linguistic elements. The philosophical and religious situation of the text is particularly important for the appreciation of the significance of philosophical and Christian concepts which have been integrated into the poem. The lexical analysis of the poem comprises the foregrounding of the concept of time, indicating the human d i lemma of temporal enchainment and the paradox of redemption in time. The lexical pattern around the concept of deception is significant to symbolize the human situation in terms of the imaginary literary world, in which the truth of the real world of actual experience can be shown more clearly, although, ironically, it is an unreal and deceptive world. The syntactic analysis concerns the significance of the concept of movement in the poem, which depends upon the symbolic meaning of ascent and descent and the movement in an unredeemed, vicious circle. The phonological analysis of Four Quartets concerns the use of rhyme, and a detailed analysis of section four of Burn t Norton, which reveals Eliot's craftsmanship in the phonological structure of the poem, comprising devices of repetition and inversion, and the purposeful concord and discord with other levels of linguistic structure. It may be concluded that the linguistic analysis of Eliot's poetry adequately reveals the wealth of meaning in his poetry.
- Humanities