What themes are T.S Eliot trying to convey with his poem "Landscape?"

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In T.S. Eliot's "Landscape" are the many images of nature, especially birds. There are about seventeen kinds of birds here. There is also the images are of children playing, a deer hunt, and ancient battles. Eliot's style is choppy. Perhaps Eliot is mimicking how quickly time passes, giving the poem a sense of urgency.

The very end of the poem suggests: "The palaver is finished." A palaver is a "discussion," so reading the poem a second time, we may see that Eliot is having a one-sided discussion—in verse.

The first paragraph, entitled New Hampshire, speaks of children.  The images include:

  • "Children's voices in the orchard / Between the blossom- and the fruit-time..."
  • "Cling, swing / Spring, sing / Swing up to the apple-tree."

With the idea of children, symbolically he may be referring to the fleeting passage of youth: "Twenty years and the spring is over" might refer to the time when a man puts youth aside, but then he speaks of mourning, perhaps for the loss of childhood:

Today grieves and to-morrow grieves...

"Golden head" would seem to refer to a child, but "black wing" may refer to a dark bird, referring to old age and—death?

The second segment is called Virginia.

Here are more images of nature. The "red river" moves slowly in the heat. Eliot personifies it with "No will is still as a river still." He personifies the hills: "Still hills / Wait." The prevalent image is "waiting," a sense we did not have in the first section. Is this representative of the early years of adulthood, where things seem to move so slowly, and one is always waiting for something to happen? Even nature waits, but there is also an images of darkness here.

Eliot speaks of the passage of time, which ultimately leads to death with: "Purple trees, / White trees, wait, wait, / Delay, decay." The "iron thoughts" that come may refer to the speakers' thoughts which cannot be changed; still there is the ever-present river.

In Usk, Eliot warns us not to look for "old enchantments," perhaps the visions of youth. As he encourages us to follow the road, perhaps this denotes looking to the future, careful not to miss "The Hermit's chapel, the pilgrim's prayer." This may reflect his own religious conversion.

Rannoh, near Glenckow speaks of dark images as well: the crow starves and the stag (deer) waits for the rifle. There is not room to "leap" or "soar." "Substance crumbles:" and then Eliot refers to ancient wars, "broken steel," and "Clamour of confused wrong," a foolish class of humans in a meaningless war. This must refer to:

...an infamous massacre took place in Glen Coe, in the Highlands of Scotland [in 1692].

The memory does not lose sight of these events, lasting long after bones are gone; the pride also lives on with the memories.

Cape Ann is an energetic ("quick quick, quick...") passage through a long list of birds. Follow the flight of the birds, but remember who truly owns the land: the tough seagull. This may symbolize who survives best in life: those who are strong and tough.

Professor W.J. Bate said of the poem:

["Landscapes" makes us] conscious of the tragic past: ...in [the] traditional sense of the inevitable, remorseless working out of events...the modern sense of the irrevocability of past time, and the hope that some rescue of it may be possible...[in the] present, which is always fading with the past, and to the future, which is otherwise doomed to the same pattern.

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