T. S. Eliot

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Which books influenced T. S. Eliot?

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Two books that influenced T. S. Eliot were The Symbolist Movement in Literature by Arthur Symons and The Golden Bough by James Frazer. The first book showed Eliot a way to pursue abstract and evocative imagery in his poetry, while the second became an important source for images of death and rebirth in The Wasteland.

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T. S. Eliot read widely, but two books that had a profound influence on him were The Symbolist Movement in Literature by Arthur Symons and The Golden Bough by James Frazer.

Eliot discovered The Symbolist Movement during his undergraduate years and through it was exposed to a type of French poetry that moved away from realistic and concrete imagery. The symbolists embraced images that were abstract and meant to evoke inner emotions rather than simply describe the outer shell of the world. This had a strong and freeing impact on Eliot's poetic voice. It can be seen in his Four Quartets, such as in "Burnt Norton," in abstract lines such as the following:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future

and in images of what has not happened:

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

These lines are symbolic rather than concretely descriptive. The image of the rose garden, for example, evokes opportunities missed more than any real garden.

In The Golden Bough, Frazer attempted to apply science to the study of comparative religions, finding, for example, a common theme of fertility and rebirth across the religious spectrum. Eliot incorporated these ideas into The Wasteland, such as by referring to the vegetation ceremonies that Frazer describes. Eliot also alludes to the natural cycles of death and rebirth that Frazer recounts. For instance, in the opening lines of The Wasteland, Eliot refers to the month of April as "breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land."

Eliot, as the influence of these books shows, was very much influenced by current trends in intellectual thought in his period.

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