"Not known, because not looked for": Eliot's debt to browning.
Yet Eliot is largely dismissive of his more immediate predecessors in English letters: the Victorian poets. In "The Metaphysical Poets," Eliot claims "Tennyson and Browning ate poets, and they think; but they do not feel their thought as immediately as the odour of a rose" (1932: 47). In the same essay, Eliot quotes Browning's "Bishop Blougram" to demonstrate that a "dissociation of sensibility" has set in since the time of Donne. Elsewhere Eliot claims that both Tennyson and Browning "ruminate," and that Browning exhibits "too little seriousness" (1932: 288; 304). Harold Bloom or Richard Ellmann might interpret Eliot's professed disregard for his poetic forerunners as a form of subterfuge by which he minimizes their importance to his own art. As Carol T. Christ writes, "Eliot's criticism throws up a smokescreen ... which at one and the same time produces a climate of appreciation for his own work and obscures the genuine continuities between him and his immediate predecessors" (1981: 157). In Victorian and Modern Poetics (1984), Christ goes a long way toward delineating these continuities. Yet I would argue that she oversimplifies Eliot's debt to the Victorians by proposing that his "monologues resemble Tennyson's rather than Browning's" and that Tennyson is "the profoundest poetic influence of the Victorian period on Eliot" (162). According to Christ, Eliot defines himself in opposition to Tennyson as a poet and to Arnold (with whom he is "at war") as a critic--an argument which leaves Browning as a sort of neutral territory (153).
David Ned Tobin likewise posits Arnold and Tennyson as Eliot's chief influences, making no mention of Browning whatsoever (1983). Elisabeth Howe notes Eliot and Pound's shared "use of spoken language in poetry, for which they have at least one common ancestor in Browning," but she ultimately concludes that Eliot's poetry "sounds more like Tennyson than either Browning or Laforgue" (75, 89). George Bornstein recognizes Browning's incipient modernism, but T.S. Eliot is conspicuously missing from his Poetic Remaking: The Art of Browning, Yeats, and Pound (1988).
I believe this tendency to associate Pound with Browning and Eliot with Tennyson arises not merely from stylistic commonalities within the poetry of each respective pair--the fractured syntax, exuberante, and obscure historical references of the former, the mellifluous, elegiac refinement of the latter--but from, paradoxically, accepting as sincere Pound's effusions over Browning and suspecting as insincere Eliot's excoriation of Tennyson. Indeed, Eliot himself would term Pound "Browning's greatest disciple," perhaps as a means of further disassociating his own work from both Pound and Browning (1957: 95). In this way, Eliot's criticism, through simple reverse psychology, continues to obscure his debt to Robert Browning. I would argue, however, that Browning's monologue is Eliot's purloined letter, an appropriation so obvious as to have remained hidden in plain view.
In a 2003 article in Victorian Poetry, Ivan Kreilkamp asks why "we have no English Charles Baudelaire," no Victorian poet whose work is read as participating "explicitly and consciously, in the early theorization of modernity" (605). Kreilkamp argues that Browning, read in a new light, could represent such a figure:
That Browning may not have seen his own work as grappling with a Baudelairian modern of rupture, transience, and discontinuity does not mean that we need limit ourselves with the boundaries of his own self-understanding. (608)
Jessica Feldman makes a similar argument for recognizing "a Victorian modernist aesthetic of both rupture and continuity, of stark differences and relations across gaps" (2001: 453). Kreilkamp and Feldman ate continuing a decades-long conversation, as one of the shared projects of both Victorianists and Modernists has been to construct a narrative of influence, confluence, and transition that would adequately address "rupture and continuity" between the two periods.
The current interest in Victorian Modernism has produced several good studies of Eliot's relationship to Victorian poets and novelists, and a few which specifically treat Eliot and Browning. Cory Bieman Davies argues that "the capacities shared by Browning and Eliot for approaching certain truths and deeper realities through dramatic perspectives reveal that Browning's dramatic poetic forms and themes touched Eliot's defiantly modern poetry most creatively" (1982: 36). Ashton Nichols identifies in Browning's poetry an "epiphanic imagination" that he places on a continuum from Wordsworth's "spots of time" to the epiphanies of Joyce's fiction. However, in making the Joycean epiphany his principle touchstone for Modernism, Nichols gives less attention to the proto-Eliotic aspects of Browning's work.
Short articles by Loucks, Vondersmith, and Wilkes each contrast a poem by Eliot with one by Browning, seeking to locate indebtedness and commonality. As much as each of these articles may illuminate the relationship between a given pair of poems--such as "The Last Ride Together" and "Prufrock" (Wilkes) or "My Last Duchess" and "Prufrock" (Vondersmith)--none fully articulates the relationship between the two poets who wrote those poems. Wilkes, for example, argues that the speaker of "The Last Ride Together" is, like Prufrock, "rendered inarticulate" by the feminine gaze (108). This is an insightful reading, but its implications for the further study of Browning and Eliot ate limited.
In some ways, the rise of Victorian Modernism and the concurrent interest in Eliot's Victorian sources attempts to reconstruct the literary climate in which Eliot's work was first received. For the first few years of Eliot's career, he is compared to Browning with relative frequency. To sympathetic readers, both ate poets of the psychological monologue who use masks or personae to distance themselves from their speakers. Reviewing Prufrock and Other Observations in June of 1917, Ezra Pound writes: "Mr. Eliot has made an advance on Browning. He has also made his dramatis personae contemporary and convincing" (Grant 72). Of course, Browning is a touchstone for Pound (see Canto II: "Hang it all, Robert Browning, there can be but the one Sordello"). It is perhaps not surprising to find Pound linking Eliot, an admired contemporary, with Browning, an admired predecessor.
Yet Pound was only one of many reviewers to make this connection. An unsigned review in The Times Literary Supplement of 12 June, 1919, claims,
Mr. Eliot, like Mr. Browning, likes to display out-of the way learning, he likes to surprise you by every trick he can think of. He has forgotten his emotions, his values, his sense of beauty, even his common-sense, in that one desire to surprise ...
Here is a charge familiar to Browning and Eliot scholars alike: that of obscurity or obscurantism. In 1921, Desmond MacCarthy made an extended comparison of the two poets an article for The New Statesman:
Reread "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" or "Portrait of a Lady"; it will be obvious that he not only owes much to the diction and rhythm of Browning, but that he is doing the same thing as Browning for a more queasy, uneasy, diffident, complex generation ...
(Litzinger and Smalley 114)
Eliot's caginess regarding Browning becomes more understandable when one locates it within this context of repeated, often pejorative comparisons of the two poets by contemporary reviewers.
After the publication of The Waste Land, however, reviewers no longer identified a Browningesque quality in Eliot's poetry. The rise of New Criticism and the concomitant decline in stature of the Victorian poets--two trends to which Eliot through his poetry and criticism directly contributed--further served to occlude the relationship between Browning and Eliot. In 1969, Isobel Armstrong writes that her purpose in editing a volume of new criticism on Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold is to counter, "the great redirection of energy in English criticism initiated in this century by Eliot, Richards, and Leavis ... and a corresponding ebb of enthusiasm ... for Victorian poetry in particular" (1). This "redirection of energy" effectively closed the discussion of Eliot's relationship to Browning from the middle of the 1920's through the 1960's. One of the few articles to link the two is Curtis Dahl's three-page "The Victorian Wasteland," in which the author argues that Eliot is indebted to Browning's "Childe Roland" for some of the imagery of The Waste Land. Dahl makes his case through gritted teeth, seemingly ready for the charges of fustianism that such an argument will bring down upon him. The parabola of the Victorian poets' twentieth-century reputations goes a long way toward explaining why relatively little work has been done on the topic of Eliot's relationship to Browning.
Two other factors make a study of Eliot and Browning more profitable today then it would have been thirty or forty years ago. The first is the publication of Eliot's early poems, drafts, and manuscripts. Both The Waste Land drafts (1971) and Inventions of the March Hare (1996) show Eliot drawing on Victorian sources and experimenting with a Victorian poetic and sensibility. Browning is undeniably present in both the early poems of Inventions and in several of the monologues which Pound suggested Eliot cut from the drafts of The Waste Land. In the process of editing and publishing his poetry, Eliot tends to alter or exclude those works which bear a clear indebtedness to Browning and to his other Victorian predecessors.
The second development central to this inquiry is an ongoing critical reassessment of the nature and scope of Browning's poetry. Browning studies have long been dogged by formal codifications of the dramatic monologue (a term Browning himself did not use) such as that of Ina Beth Sessions, who proposed in 1947 that the dramatic monologue must contain "speaker, audience, occasion, revelation of character, interplay between speaker and audience, dramatic action, and action which takes place in the present" (508). Browning is too polytropic to be contained by such a definition, and only four or five of his poems could safely lie in this Procrustean bed. Such codifications can overdirect one's reading of Browning by focusing too much attention on the "spoken" and "staged" aspects of his work. Reading Browning through this lens minimizes his importance for Eliot, whose poems generally do not fit the criteria of the dramatic monologue as Sessions and others have formulated it.
Recent studies have destabilized both the working definition of the dramatic monologue and the usefulness of such a term as applied to Browning's work. This is a welcome corrective to several decades of critical commentary which moved Browning's poetry further away from the mode in which it was initially received. For Browning's contemporaries considered him as much a psychologist as they did a dramatist. George Eliot, for example, termed his work "dramatic-psychological" poetry (Litzinger and Smalley 176). Recently, Ekbert Faas has explored the dramatic monologue's relationship to the movements that would eventually be called psychiatry and psychology: alienism, mesmerism, and mental science. Faas notes that just as the Victorians initiated the practice of reading Shakespeare's soliloquies as representations of a character's inner thoughts rather than as spoken words, so too did they interpret contemporary poetic monologues as, in the words of one reviewer, sketches of "poetic mental psychology" (21-3). Browning, in particular, was singled out as "the poet of psychology" and as "a psychologist" (20). Reading Browning's poetry in light of the rise of psychology rather than according to prescriptive definitions of the dramatic monologue allows one more profitably to compare his monologues with those of Eliot.
The logical starting point for any discussion of Browning and Eliot is to establish the latter's familiarity with his predecessor. As an extension lecturer at The University of London, a position he held from 1916-1919, Eliot taught a number of Browning's poems. Eliot's syllabus includes Dramatic Lyrics, Dramatic Romances, Dramatis Personae, Men and Women, Sordello, and The Ring and the Book. In describing his "workingmen's class in English Literature" to his cousin Eleanor Hinkley in March 1917, Eliot writes, "I have steered them through Browning (who arouses great enthusiasm)" (1988: 168).
In August of 1920, Eliot's mother mailed him a "List of Books, the property of Thomas Stearns Eliot," asking him to mark those which he wished her to send to England (Letters 398). The list includes "Robert Browning Six Volumes" and "Monologues, Browning." Eliot requested the former. He had by then finished his appointment at the University, so his interest in the six volumes went beyond that of a teacher preparing for his courses. Rather, it was Eliot the critic and poet who needed to have Browning at his fingertips.
The early 1920's finds Eliot dwelling on Browning in his critical reviews and articles. In 1921, Eliot addresses Browning not only in "The Metaphysical Poets," but also in "Andrew Marvell," a complementary essay in that it treats a quality possessed by the Cavalier Poets, but lost to their inheritors: "wit, a tough reasonableness beneath the slight lyric grace" (1975: 102). Eliot claims, "You cannot find it in Shelley or Keats or Wordsworth ... still less in Tennyson or Browning" (102).
In "The Possibility of a Poetic Drama" (1920), Eliot's praise and censure of Browning are inextricable: "Two men, Wordsworth and Browning, hammered out forms for themselves--personal forms, The Excursion, Sordello, The Ring and the Book, Dramatic Monologues; but no man can invent a form, create a taste for it, and perfect it too ..." (1975: 62-63). "Personal" is always a loaded term for Eliot. He tried to deflate his own accomplishment in The Waste Land by characterizing the poem as "the relief of a wholly personal gripe." Read in light of "Tradition and the Individual Talent," in which Eliot argues that poetry should be "not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality" (1932: 21), Eliot's characterization of Browning as a writer of "personal forms" becomes almost wholly pejorative.
While Eliot tends to use Browning as a foil in the early essays, he occasionally praises particular poems or passages. Davies argues that Eliot's praise of Browning is to be found in short reviews because, "nearly always Eliot was less guarded and defensive in short reviews than he was in the carefully deliberated and polished essays" (23). In the 1920 article "Modern Tendencies in Poetry," Eliot writes, "The one Victorian poet whom our contemporary can study with much profit is Browning. Otherwise, almost all of the interesting developments in poetry are due to Frenchmen" (1996: 403). In another 1920 piece, "The Poetic Drama," he argues that "the natural evolution, for us, would be to proceed in the direction indicated by Browning; to distil the dramatic essences, if we can, and infuse them into some other figure" (Athenaeum, 14 May 1920, p. 635).
Nor should it be surprising that Eliot's interest lies specifically with Browning's dramatic monologue form. If Arnold haunts Eliot as a critic, and Tennyson haunts him as a lyric poet, then Browning haunts him as dramatic poet and poetic dramatist. A dramatic impulse runs through the work of both Browning and Eliot. Both wrote plays--Browning early in his career, Eliot late in his. The 1910's and 1920's witness Eliot's series of aborted efforts to write some form of closet drama: "An Agony in the Garret," "Sweeney Agonistes," and "Coriolan" all point to the impossibility of a poetic drama. Like Browning, Eliot's achievement--at least as measured in 1920--lies not in drama but in "some other figure" into which he must channel his dramatic impulse.
Yet Eliot continues to write about Browning long after the 1920's, after he had written and seen staged his own verse plays and long after, with "Ash Wednesday," he had broken decisively from a monologue form which owed something to Browning. Perhaps Eliot's fullest treatment of Browning comes with his 1953 lecture "The Three Voices of Poetry." Here Eliot argues that Browning's process of composition is fundamentally opposed to that of the playwright. Writing for many characters "compels" the playwright "to extract the poetry from the character, rather than impose his poetry upon it" (1957: 95). Only having to write for one character at a time, Browning always writes in his own voice. Eliot sums up the distinction this way: "In The Tempest, it is Caliban who speaks; in "Caliban upon Setebos," it is Browning's voice we hear, Browning talking aloud through Caliban" (95). This leads Eliot conclude that "the dramatic monologue cannot create a character ... The poet, speaking, as Browning does, in his own voice, cannot bring a character to life: he can only mimic a character otherwise known to us" (95).
Long after coming to terms with Tennyson, Eliot continues to see Robert Browning as a source of contention. In returning so often to Browning, Eliot may indicate the centrality of his predecessor's enterprise to his own.
Eliot's 1962 volume The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 contains only one explicit reference to Browning: lines from "A Toccata of Galuppi's" are worked into the pastiche of quotations that serve as an epigraph to"Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleinstein with a Cigar." Yet Eliot's debt to Browning manifests itself (at least in the poetry published in Eliot's lifetime) not in direct quotations, but in his modeling of several of Browning's monologic and dialogic innovations and techniques.
How then do Eliot's early poems echo and subvert the Browningesque monologue? To begin with, Eliot tends to internalize or otherwise transform the role of Browning's silent auditor. Whereas Browning's characters often speak aloud to a second party, Eliot more often represents not a character's spoken words but rather his mind at work. Prufrock, for example, formulates his thoughts as an address to a listening aspect of his own psyche ("Let us go then, you and I"). In other words, the character Prufrock, rather than the poet Eliot, composes a Browningesque monologue. At the poem's conclusion, Prufrock's speaking and listening personae briefly become one: "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea."
In "Portrait of a Lady," Browning's silent auditor becomes an ironic narrator who reacts to the Lady's spoken monologue. The poem essentially consists of two monologues: the interior monologue of an Eliotic narrator which frames and mocks the Browningesque monologue of the lady. In quoting Arnold ("these April sunsets, that somehow recall / My buried life") and in speaking in relentless triplets, the lady is a parody of Victorian sensibility. Thus she is not entirely wrong when she says "I am always sure that you understand / My feelings" (58-9). Eliot's narrator understands her feelings only too well, for they are the reductio ad absurdum of his own inherited poetic tradition. This is why the narrator is both fascinated and revolted by the lady, why he returns to her despite himself: she is an embodiment of Victorian sensibilities and poetics from which the youth, like Eliot himself, must flee in order not to be subsumed by.
Eliot's characters, like Browning's, are concerned with self-representation, yet their "special pleading" takes place not in conversation with another character but in their own self-lacerating processes of thought. The Browning auditor remains silent, but the Eliotic internal auditor is always ready to castigate and judge. Mayer notes, "The early poetry is a series of enactments of self-consciousness ... placing the self-aware mind at the center of a new form of monologue" (viii). "Enactments" is the right word, for Eliot's characters think dramatically, staging little scenes in the theater of the mind. Like so many of Browning's characters, Eliot's narrating personae are burdened with a post-Romantic self-consciousness that borders on the solipsistic.
Eliot may have learned a second technique from Browning: the melding of psychology and geography in a speaker's self-illuminating descriptions of landscape and architectural structures. Compare, for example, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" with "Prufrock," two poems which represent what I would calla "psychogeography"--a landscape which is an amalgam of a character's sensory impressions, memories, and projected fears and desires, all transformed through the act of poetic narration. In Eliot's city, as in Roland's wasteland, one's self and one's surroundings are inextricably bound. The landscape of "Childe Roland" will be more explicitly echoed, as Martin Puhvel argues, in the "towers tolling reminiscent bells" of The Waste Land (287). Roland's grey plain, along with the desert of Ecclesiastes, Dante's Inferno, Thomson's The City of Dreadful Night, should be read as informing The Waste Land narrator's vision of London as an infernal city. Yet one of the results of Eliot's internalization of the monologue form and of his gradual effacement of the narrator is to produce a landscape that is inherently intertextual. Whereas Roland is haunted by memories of what he has seen, Prufrock, like subsequent Eliot narrators, is haunted by memories of what he has read.
The publication of The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts including the Annotations of Ezra Pound (1971) and Inventions of the March Hare (1996) reveals a decidedly more Victorian Eliot than do the works published within the poet's lifetime and confirms that Browning was important to Eliot. In Inventions of the March Hare, Christopher Ricks cites eleven instances of Eliot alluding to lines from Browning's poetry. Perhaps the most obvious and extensive of these allusions is to be found in "A Song for St. Sebastian." A psychological monologue about an obsessive lover who thinks of strangling his beloved in order to possess her, the poem is clearly a variation on "Porphyria's Lover." Had "The Love Song of St. Sebastian" been published before "Prufrock," it might have been readily understood--in a way "Prufrock" was not--by an audience long accustomed to Browning's dramatic monologue form and to decadent imitations thereof.
If Prufrock and Other Observations restructures Browning's monologue form by internalizing its speaker and auditor and by creating an intertextual rather than a psychological landscape, The Waste Land seems at first blush to demolish this form altogether. By excising from his manuscripts the narratological cues, frameworks, and titles that are the hallmark of so many of Browning's monologues, Eliot decontextualizes and disembodies the voices of his speakers, creating a sort of narratological analogue to cubism. Yet The Waste Land is greatly indebted to Browning's practice of putting voices (and hence poems) in dialogue with each other. Harrold argues that this use of complementary poems is Browning's paramount innovation, more central to his art than is the dramatic monologue form (3). Browning, like Eliot, tended to link poems that he originally conceived of as separate works: six years after composing "Porphyria's Lover" and "Johannes Agricola in Meditation," for example, Browning gathered the two poems under the heading "Madhouse Cells" in the 1842 Dramatic Lyrics. He also composed complementary poems which would, when read in conjunction with each other, produce a whole. The text of The Waste Landtherefore resembles the courtroom of The Ring and the Book, the work in which Browning deploys complementary monologues on the grandest scale: each is a place for constructing truth through the juxtaposition of voices.
In The Ring and the Book, Browning created a structure dense enough to require him to employ an authorial figure within the text who would serve as witness, reader, and judge. Pope Innocent is the character who most clearly speaks for Browning; he is the text's vates, one who is able, as Browning said of the subjective poet, "to see the world steadily and see it whole" (1903). While the Pope is distinct from "Browning the poet," who introduces the poem in Book I and concludes it in Book XII, his role in the world described by the text is comparable to the poet's role in the world outside of the text. Like Browning, he reads the transcripts of the murder trial and reconstructs a "whole" truth from them. He is, in other words, a stand-in both for the reader and for the author. While "Browning the poet" speaks extradiegetically about his mode of composition, the scheme of the poem, and the nature of its characters, Pope Innocent judges and orders all of the poem's other voices from within the text itself. The Pope's reflections and judgments concerning the guilt and innocence of Pompilia, Guido, and Caponsacchi are therefore definitive and authorial in a way the other characters' monologues ate not.
In his notes to The Waste Land, Eliot writes that Tiresias, "although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character,' is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest ... What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem" (1962: 52). Eliot would seem to be creating in Tiresias, as Browning did in the Pope, an authoritative double within the world of the poem, one whose consciousness brings order to otherwise chaotic fragments of monologues, descriptions, and quotations. Tiresias, like Browning's Pope, is a spectator and a judge of crimes rather than a participant in them. Yet Eliot's own assessment of Tiresias's role seems overstated and reductive. The poet's assertion simply is not born out by a reading of his poem: Tiresias possesses neither the authority that Eliot would ascribe to him in his notes nor the ordering, vatic role that Browning granted his Pope in The Ring and the Book.
Ellmann suggests interpreting the Tiresias note as "an afterthought, a token placation, say, of the ghost of Bradley, rather than as elucidative of the assumption under which the writing was originally done." Koestenbaum, writing after the publication of The Waste Land manuscripts, cites Pound's marginal note, "make up yr. mind you Tiresias if you know damn well or else you don't" (47), as influencing Eliot's interpretation of his own poem. Koestenbaum believes that "Pound convinced Eliot, by addressing him as Tiresias, that this androgynous seer was the poem's center" (128). Like so many of Eliot's notes, the Tiresias comment constitutes the imposition of a structuring principle adopted after the composition of the poem rather than the revelation of an underlying structure that guided that composition.
The Tiresias footnote is not the only instance of Eliot's attempting to impose a governing consciousness on The Waste Land. He briefly considered affixing "Gerontion" as a "prelude" to the poem (Facsimile 127), a decision which might have rendered all of The Waste Land's voices the "tenants of the house, / thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season." Both the note and the proposed inclusion of "Gerontion" would seek to locate the text of The Waste Land within the psyche of a single perceiving character of persona. However, the voices, characters, and terrains of The Waste Land ale diffused in a way that mitigates against this sort of intradiegetical narrative framework; The Waste Land is beyond the scope of a Prufrock of a Gerontion. Within the poem, neither Tiresias nor any other character of personage can fill the role of Browning's Pope. Rather, it is an artificer outside of the framework of the poem who arranges what the Pope calls "rags" and "tatters"--and Eliot calls "fragments"--into a solid artifice. Moreover, Eliot's fragments, unlike Browning's testimonies, ate not reconcilable within the context of a single world. The disparate voices of The Ring and the Book all refer to the same set of circumstances and happenings in seventeenth-century Rome, and a skilled reader such as the Pope may use them to reconstruct a single historical event. The fragments of The Waste Land construct an order which is removed from history: they point not to a truth located in the material, temporal world but to one found beyond the material and the temporal.
Eliot's anxiety concerning the lack of what I have termed a vatic figure in The Waste Land reveals much about both the models of poetry with which he was comparing his work-in-progress and the degree to which his practices as a poet had outpaced his theory of poetry. A comparison of Browning's Pope and Eliot's Tiresias reveals the widening of a fundamental divide between the central tenets of Browning's and Eliot's poetic enterprises. The Pope, like Browning's Roland and Karshish, validates an engagement with text and world. In what he says and in the role he fills in the structure of the Ring and the Book, the Pope is an advocate for active struggle against the chaos of the world and for the (re)construction of a whole truth out of fragments. Eliot's Tiresias, like Prufrock and the Magus, is a passive figure who offers salvation through withdrawal and retreat rather than through engagement and struggle. The effaced figure of the poetic consciousness that brings together The Waste Land's many voices has retreated even further from materiality than has Tiresias. Ultimately, The Waste Land's lack of a governing vatic consciousness, its erasure of individual identity, and the effaced character of the medium in which its textual elements combine are the features that most compellingly express Eliot's poetics of retreat and that most dramatically represent his break with Browning and the long poems of the Victorians.
I would argue that Eliot used the Victorian long poem as a point of departure for The Waste Land, and that his anxiety about the lack of a clear authorial presence or governing consciousness in his own poem reveal both the degree to which he deviated from a Browningesque mode of complementary monologues meant to represent the same set of events from multiple points of view, and the degree to which this mode of representation still informed Eliot's theory of the long, dialogic poem.
Ironically, the early drafts of Browning's and Eliot's poems are more alike than are the published versions: Browning's drafts are more fragmentary and disjointed than his published poems; Eliot's are less so. In their processes of revision, the two poets put more distance between one another. Whereas Pound relentlessly cut text from "He Do the Police in Different Voices," Elizabeth Barrett Browning urged her husband to add to his monologues "some word of introduction ... a rifle ... a name" (Harrold 11). She describes Browning's monologues, using the same word The Waste Land narrator will, as "fragments" (11). Barrett Browning urged Browning to give his readers more clues as to context; Pound insisted that Eliot not provide such clues. Browning's worktherefore becomes less opaque through the process of revision, while Eliot's becomes more so. In addition, Pound urged Eliot to cut the two poems which ale most clearly indebted to Browning's syntax, diction, and narrative structure: the monologues with which "The Burial of the Dead" and "Death by Water" first began.
The Ariel Poems, particularly "Journey of the Magi," represent Eliot's final engagement with the Browningesque dramatic monologue. Narratologically and thematically, "Journey of the Magi" echoes Browning's "An Epistle ... of Karshish." The narrator of both poems manages to tell a story in spite of himself. The implied author and the implied reader, both living in the Christian era, see a divine order at which the first-century Karshish and the Magus can only guess. As in The Waste Land and the subsequent "Ash Wednesday," religious ritual serves as the ordering principle that gives meaning to the otherwise arbitrary sense experience of the Magus.
Yet an extended comparison of "Karshish" and "Journey of the Magi" reveals that despite their many similarities in form, setting, and plot, the two poems present radically different visions of the effect that witnessing the divine might have on a man's ability to live in the temporal world. Karshish, a physician, never loses his passion for empirical inquiry into the nature of all things. Although he examines the resurrected Lazarus and seems, at the poem's end, to be on the brink of formulating a Christian credo, his brush with the infinite nevertheless leads back into a love of the finite. Eliot's Magus, on the other hand, returns from his adoration of the Christ child--a literal Epiphany--dissatisfied with a world which once pleased him, but not yet aware of a new dispensation in which he might find peace. The witnessing of divinity leads him not to a love of the finite, but to a renunciation of it. Christianity may offer an alternative to the paralyzing self-consciousness and ennui (what Eliot terms, in "Thoughts after Lambeth," the "illusion of being disillusioned") that haunts Prufrock, but Christianity is not yet available to the Magus. Yet Eliot's Christianity, like the Buddhism which he studied at Harvard and to which he once considered converting, also validates the abnegation of the self and the renunciation of the world.
As Eliot becomes more interested in ritualized language and the escape from self which Christianity promises, he effectively effaces his narrating personae. I agree with Davies that, "[w]ith Ash Wednesday, Eliot's poetry begins to move in new directions and to achieve symbolic dimensions which separate it from Browning's always discursive poetry of voice" (29). I would hazard an explanation for this departure from the Browningesque monologue: Eliot found an outlet for his dramatic impulse in his writings for the stage. His poetry came to be dominated, in the Four Quartets, by a different set of concerns. Having found the poetic drama to be possible, Eliot effectively exorcises Browning from his poetry; after Murder in the Cathedral, his struggle with his predecessor will center not on dramatic poetry but on poetic drama.
Browning was one of Eliot's critical touchstones, a figure to whom he returned over the course of his career in a self-reflexive critique of the potentialities and limitations of dramatic poetry and poetic drama. Eliot's preoccupation with Browning indicates the degree to which he felt his own work to be engaged with that of his Victorian predecessor. By the same token, Browning, like several of his contemporaries, has a presence in Eliot's manuscript poems which Eliot (aided by Pound) effaces through the processes of revision. After identifying the Browningesque elements of the early poems and drafts, one begins to find these elements--albeit attenuated, muted, or encoded--in the poems which were printed in Eliot's lifetime. Browning is one of the voices in Eliot's poetry "not known, because not looked for / But heard, half-heard." To read the two poets in light of each other is therefore to qualify and challenge some of the tradition constructions of Victorian and Modernist poetry.
Bornstein, George. Poetic Remaking: the Art of Browning, Yeats, and Pound. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988.
Browning, Robert. An Essay on Shelley: Being His Introduction to the Spurious Shelley Letters. London: De La More Press, 1903.
--. Robert Browning's Poetry: Authoritative Texts, Criticism (Norton Critical Edition). Ed. James F. Loucks. New York: Norton, 1979.
--. The Oxford Authors: Robert Browning. Ed. Adam Roberts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
--. The Ring and the Book. Ed. Thomas J. Collins and Richard D. Altick. Peterborough: Broadview, 2001. Christ, Carol T. "T.S. Eliot and the Victorians." Modern Philology 79 (1981): 157-165.
--. Victorian and Modern Poetics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
Dahl, Curtis. "The Victorian Wasteland," College English 16 (1955): 341-347.
Davies, Cory Bieman. "Another Pattern': T.S. Eliot's Shifting Relationship to Robert Browning." Studies in Browning and His Circle: A Journal of Criticism, History, and Bibliography 10 (1982): 35-48.
--. "Natural Evolution' in 'Dramatic Essences' from Robert Browning to T.S. Eliot. Browning Institute Studies : An Annual of Victorian Literary and Cultural History 11 (1983): 23-37.
Eliot, T.S. "Introduction." Ezra Pound: Selected Poems. London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928.
--. Selected Essays: 1917-1932. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932.
--. On Poetry and Poets. London: Faber & Faber, 1957.
The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962.
The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Ed. Valerie Eliot. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.
Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot. Ed. Frank Kermode. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
--. Inventions of the March Hare. Ed. Christopher Ricks. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996.
Eliot, Valerie, ed. The Letters of T.S. Eliot. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.
Ellmann, Richard. Eminent Domain. New York: Oxford Uni versity Press, 1967.
Faas, Ekbert. Retreat into the Mind: Victorian Poetry and the Rise of Psychiatry. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Feldman, Jessica R. "Modernism's Victorian Bric-a-Brac." Modernism/Modernity 8 (2001): 453-470.
--. Victorian Modernism: Pragmatism and the Varieties of Aesthetic Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Grant, Michael. T.S. Eliot: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1982.
Harrold, William E. The Variance and the Unity: A Study of the Complementary Poems of Robert Browning. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1973.
Howe, Elisabeth A. The Dramatic Monologue. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.
Koestenbaum, Wayne. "The Waste Land: T.S. Eliot's and Era Pound's Collaboration on Hysteria." Twentieth Century Literature 34 (1988).
Kreilkamp, Ivan. "Victorian Poetry's Modernity." Victorian Poetry 41 (2003): 603-11.
Litzinger, Boyd, and Donald Smalley. Browning: The Critical Heritage. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1970.
Loucks, James F. "A Second Browning Allusion in Eliot's 'Burbank' Poem." Notes and Queries 23 (1976): 18-19.
--. "Browning's 'An Epistle ... of Karshish'." Explicator 52 (1993): 30-33.
Nichols, Aston. "Browning's Modernism: The Infinite Moment as Epiphany." Browning Institute Studies: An Annual of Victorian Literary and Cultural History 11 (1983): 23-37.
--. The Poetics of Ephiphany: Nineteenth Century Origins of the Modern Literary Moment. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1987.
Puhvel, Martin. "Reminiscent Bells in The Waste Land." English Language Notes 2 (1965): 286-287.
Sessions, Ina Beth. "The Dramatic Monologue," PMLA 62 (1947): 508.
Tobin, David Ned. The Presence of the Past: T.S. Eliot's Victorian Inheritance. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983.
Vondersmith, Bernard J. "'My Last Duchess' and 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock': A Method of Counterbalance." Contemporary Education 43 (1971): 106-10.
Wilkes, David M. "A Prufrockian Look at Browning's 'The Last Ride Together'.'" Studies in Browning and His Circle : A Journal of Criticism, History, and Bibliography 16 (1998): 106-113.
OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||T. S. Eliot, Robert Browning|
|Publication:||Yeats Eliot Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2008|
|Previous Article:||More than "Prufrock," less than "Gerontion": the moment of knowledge in Inventions of the March Hare.|
|Next Article:||Eliot's echo rhetoric.|