04 October, 2009

Elisabeth Däumer on T.S. Eliot

One of the articles I recently read for the 25-source annotated bibliography I'm writing for Junior Poet is “Charlotte Stearns Eliot and "Ash-Wednesday"'s Lady of Silences” by Elisabeth Däumer. It's not the best article on Eliot I've read thus far, being rather too focused on biographical detail and psychological speculation to be entirely convincing (reading too much biographical detail into an artist's work, especially one as consciously impersonal as Eliot always raises a red flag).

Basically Däumer aims to explain Eliot's depiction of women in “Ash Wednesday” as the poetic resolution of his highly ambiguous response to his mother's significant influence on the young Eliot's personal and artistic development. Compared to the semi-misogynistic portrayal of women in his earlier poetry, “Ash Wednesday”'s picture of the “Lady of Silences” and the “Holy Mother” is much more positive, describing womanhood in terms of the Beatrician/Marian ideal which directs the poet towards heaven. Yet he retains the ambiguity of his relationship with his at times overly influential mother by emphasizing that the women of “Ash Wednesday” are destructive forces as much as they are creative. They must reduce the speaker to a heap of dry bones before their reception of the Word can restore him to life.

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