T. S. Eliot 's "Whispers of Immortality" is a poem of eight quatrains, divided into two parts of fours quatrains each. The rhyme scheme is ABCB, with some use of slant rhyme. The meter is generally iambic tetrameter, with a little variation. The title of Eliot's poem refers satirically to...
T. S. Eliot's "Whispers of Immortality" is a poem of eight quatrains, divided into two parts of fours quatrains each. The rhyme scheme is ABCB, with some use of slant rhyme. The meter is generally iambic tetrameter, with a little variation. The title of Eliot's poem refers satirically to Wordsworth's Ode "Intimations of Immortality," and the whole poem is highly referential and satirical, with macabre language emphasizing the shocking images. The first part of the poem concentrates on death, the second on sex; although the two are mingled, particularly at the end of each part.
The poem begins with John Webster, the Jacobean playwright who was "much possessed by death." Webster's plays certainly include a great deal of death, as well as much else of the darker side of life: madness, sadism, corruption and terror. In Eliot's account, Webster is so obsessive about death that he sees it everywhere, so that any human face becomes a skull and every body a skeleton. John Donne, the poet and clergyman who was Webster's contemporary, has a similar viewpoint, though in his case, it seems to be the product of "experience" and learning. Donne wrote both religious poetry and love poetry, and Eliot suggests here that both types of poem were about unsatisfied and unsatisfiable longing:
No contact possible to flesh
Allayed the fever of the bone.
In the second half of the poem, the young, sensual Grishkin provides a contrast to the two dead poets. Grishkin's attitude to life seems less complex and more positive than that of the poets, though Eliot now seems to align himself with them by remarking with opprobrium upon her rank "feline smell," which is clearly a manifestation of her sexuality. Eliot's attitude to Grishkin and the jaguar to which he compares her is ambivalent, both sneering and envious. While he sees the deficiencies in Webster and Donne's approaches to mortality and immortality, he also understands that his own attitude to both death and sex is very similar:
But our lot crawls between dry ribs
To keep our metaphysics warm.
Eliot's obsessions and experience are shown in the last quatrain to be very close to those of his seventeenth-century influences.