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On-line version ISSN 2304-8557
Print version ISSN 0023-270X

Koers (Online) vol.75 n.1 Pretoria  2010




A reading of T.S. Eliot's Ash-Wednesday



F. Sawyer

Department of Philosophy & Ethics, Reformed Theological Academy, Sárospatak 3950, HUNGARY. E-mail:



Full text available only in PDF format.



List of references

BENNETT, M. 2008. Beyond the veil: a woman named Truth and the truth of woman. Literature and theology: an international journal of religion, theory and culture, 22(3):313-323, Sept.         [ Links ]

BROWN, D. 2003. T.S. Eliot's Ash-Wednesday and Four quartets: poetic confession as psychotherapy. Literature and theology, 17(1):1-16, Mar.         [ Links ]

ELIOT, T.S. 1988. Notes towards the definition of culture. (In Kerode, F., ed. Selected prose of T.S. Eliot. Reprinted extract. New York: Harcourt Brace.         [ Links ])

GORDON, L. 1977. Eliot's early years. Oxford: Oxford University Press.         [ Links ]

GOUDZWAARD, B., VANDER VENNEN, M. & VAN HEEMST, D. 2007. Hope in troubled times: a new vision for confronting global crises. Grand Rapids: Baker.         [ Links ]

HERBERT, M. 1982. T.S. Eliot - selected poems. Essex: Longman York Press. (York notes.         [ Links ])

JUMP, J. 1974. Tennyson - In memoriam, Maud and other poems. London: Dent.         [ Links ]

KENNER, H. The invisible poet: T.S. Eliot. New York: Harcourt. Reprinted in Bloom, H. 1985. T.S. Eliot. New York: Chelsea House. (Modern Critical Views.         [ Links ])

KERMODE, F. 1975. Selected prose of T.S.Eliot. New York: Harcourt Brace.         [ Links ]

KWAN-TERRY, J. 1994. Ash-Wednesday: a poetry of verification. (In Moody, A.D., ed. The Cambridge companion to T.S. Eliot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.p. 132-141.         [ Links ])

MATTHIESSEN F.O. 1958. The achievement of T.S. Eliot: an essay on the nature of poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.         [ Links ]

RIDDERBOS, H. 1975. Paul: an outline of his theology Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.         [ Links ]

SCHNEIDER, E. 1975. T.S. Eliot - the pattern in the carpet. Berkeley: University of California Press.         [ Links ]

SENCOURT, R. 1971. T.S. Eliot: a memoir. New York: Delta.         [ Links ]

SPENDER, S. 1975. T.S. Eliot. New York: Viking Press.         [ Links ]

STONE DALE, A. 1988. T.S. Eliot - the philosopher poet. Wheaton: Shaw.         [ Links ]

TAYLOR, C. 2007. A secular age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.         [ Links ]

TILLICH, P. 1968. Systematic theology. Vol. 3, part 4. Digswell: Nisbet.         [ Links ]



1 This article appeared in Hungarian and English in Sárospataki Füzetek, 2:47-64, 65-82 2008.
2 Eliot often read and quoted from bishop Andrewes (1555-1626), frequently using some of his phrases and word-plays in his poems. For Eliot's thoughts about Andrewes and some quotations, cf. Kermode (1975).
3 For an essay on Eliot's conversion, cf. Lyndall Gordon (1977).
4 "Because I do not hope to turn again" is a quote from the Italian poet Guido Cavalcanti (1255-1300). The meaning and setting in Cavalcanti are different: "Because no hope is left me, Ballatetta / Of return to Tuscany" - but Eliot liked to use such references and give them another Umwelt. For basic notes on the poem, see Michael Herbert (1982).
5 In Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 he uses the word art rather than gift. Once again, Eliot takes a reference and uses it in his own way.
6 This is usually seen as a reference to Dante's Beatrice. Dante was a spiritual and literary master for Eliot. However, the reference to Dante has a personal setting for Eliot, namely the breaking up of his marriage because of Vivienne's psychological state of mind and her eventual consignment to an institution.
7 Another reference could be to Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) who made the famous statement that "all the troubles of man come from his not knowing how to sit still".
8 For a discussion on such Pauline categories of heart, soul, mind, spirit, body and flesh, cf. Herman Ridderbos (1975:114 ff.).
9 Another reference is to a juniper tree in the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales where a murdered child's bones under such a tree are miraculously restored to life.
10 There is a reference here again to Dante, which includes the "third stairs" and sensuality as a misleading force. Cf. Herbert (1982:44).
11 In this section of the poem there is a reference in Italian - sovegna vos - or, "be mindful", which comes from Dante's Purgatory 26:147. The contextual meaning is that we must be "mindful" of punishment for sinners.
12 Elizabeth Schneider (1975:121 ff.) explains this source as a poem by Conrad Aiken which Eliot echoes.
13 This is found in Augustine's account of his conversion in Confessions, book 8. Even the details are similar, for Augustine was struggling with the cares of the world, the desires of the flesh, and the text for his conversion was found when he read Paul's Letter to the Romans 13:13, 14. This talks about clothing ourselves with Christ as a new identity (and by Augustine's time could mean the new robe of baptism) and turning away from the desires of the flesh, listed by Paul as including drunkenness, lewdness, quarreling and jealousy.
14 Here we find word-plays also used by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes. Cf. Eliot's essay, Lancelot Andrewes (Eliot, 1988:185.)
15 The symbol of wings has many meanings for Eliot, for he knew about the medieval symbol of an eagle falling into the water and being renewed as relating to baptism. The eagle also appears in Dante, and Eliot refers in an essay to Homer and the other great pre-Christian poets as eagles that fly above the rest. In Christianity the basis is found in Psalm 103:5, and in Isaiah 40:31, "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles ..."
16 The hymn called Anima Christi, cf. Herbert, 1982:47.

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