Date of Award

Summer 1993

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Only a month ago when listening to a broadcast on public radio advertising Charleston, S.C. 's famous annual cultural extravaganza, "Spoleto, " T.S. Eliot was cited as one who revered what he considered that partnership between tradition and mystery which makes up a true classic . "Tradition , " the speaker said, was important to Eliot because it provided an unspoken standard for what is really art. "Mystery," on the other hand, or the unexpected and novel, is necessary so that tradition does not become an idol. Mystery provides tradition with humility. A "classic," the speaker continued, is the perfect combination of mystery and tradition. Then, paraphrasing Eliot (although he does not cite the exact reference ), he added, a classic is "that which does not yield up its secrets too easily." In other words, a classic contains layers and layers of meaning, perhaps as mysterious to the author as to the reader. I was fascinated that in 1993 Eliot was called upon to give his blessing upon an arts festival whose reputation is that it provides the best of traditional as well as contemporary art. This surprising reference to Eliot reminded me why I have seemed drawn to Eliot's poetry as far back as the eighth grade when our English class chanted along with our teacher , "We are the hollow men , we are the stuffed men/ Leaning together/ Headpiece filled with straw, Alas!" Eliot's poetry does not give up its secrets very easily. So much of his poetry is in this sense "classic." There are times when a phrase comes back to haunt you, opens up new insight , supplies just the right description for something. For example, I am probably not the only one who, after yet another mindless committee meeting, has not thought of the classic Eliot line "we had the experience but missed the meaning." Or, in this last week of the floods of the summer of '93, the terrifying pictures of the flooding of the Mississippi have evoked yet another line from Four Quartets ("The Dry Salvages"): " ... I think that the river / Is a strong brown god -- sullen, untamed and intractable. " Eliot has written classics. You know it in those moments when a phrase that meant something very different to Eliot suddenly pops into your head illuminating and enhancing your own experience...



Restricted Access Item

Having trouble?