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Plurilingualism and the mind of Europe in T. S. Eliot and Dante.

'They tell me this is me light of Asia, me light of Palestine, of Persia, of Egypt; and I realise me unity of history that for thousands of years past shapes our inner destiny. Troy--me Ten Thousand under Xenophon--Cleopatra--Theodora of Byzantium, too--all these adventures become, through the chiliads, as intelligible and united as the parts of a single melody.'

[Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 'Greece', in The Criterion II 5, October 1923, p.96]

In his introduction to Dante's Modern Afterlife Nick Havely justifies the absence of an essay on T.S. Eliot's relationship with Dante explaining that it has 'received a fair amount of critical assessment' elsewhere [1998: 4]. Indeed, and how astonishing that despite the numerous studies on the two poets, so little attention has hitherto been paid to the formal debt Eliot owes to the literary mentor he identified as 'the most persistent and deepest influence' on his own verse [1950:125]. Throughout his writings on Dante, Eliot was always at pains to emphasise the lessons of style he learnt from the medieval poet. A survey of previous critical appreciations, however, reveals that these have been shamefully neglected. Higgins set out to concentrate on 'the nature of [Eliots] debt to Dante in poetic theory [...] and to assess the worth of Eliot's appreciation of the Commedia' [1970:130]; Ward [1973] limited himself to identifying Eliot's allusions to Dante; despite McDougal's promising title, 'T.S. Eliot's Metaphysical Dante', and his intention to focus on Eliot's 'ways of adapting Dante's poetic strategies to his own uses' [1985: 57], he went on to discuss for the most part thematic and ideological links, touching on metaphysical poetry only in the last section of his essay (pp. 70-79], and focusing therein primarily on Dante's fusion between sense and thought; Manganiello, author of the only full-length book on Eliot and Dante, set out to illustrate how Eliot 'translated these lessons [of craft, of speech, and of exploration of sensibility] into his own art and criticism' [1989: 5], but, again, failed to go beyond the mere appreciation of the lessons of sensibility. The list could go on and on.


One of the most striking--and often perplexing--features of Eliot's early verse is unquestionably his incorporation of lines and quotations in different languages. What is even more striking, however, is that critics have thus far attempted to elucidate this idiosyncrasy with reference to Bakhtin. Bedient discusses The Waste Land in terms of Bakhtin's idea of Menippean heteroglossia (1986: 8), airing his disputable view that 'the sheer number of [...] languages is overwhelming in such a short space as the 434 lines of the poem, and a very queer thing to find in poetry at all' (1986: 10); McLaughlin observes: 'I find Bakhtin's work very helpful in elucidating the poem' (2000: 218); similarly, Maraget E. Dana argues that 'it might be interesting to study the poem from this point of view [Bakhtin's heteroglossic dialogue]' (2000: 293); and even Steve Ellis applies Bakhtin's term 'polyphony' to The Waste Land, though he usefully suggests that the work of Eliot's classicist period, the Four Quartets, moves towards a suppression of different voices to achieve a homogenous style (1991 : 63). Had Eliot and Bakhtin even been aware of each other, the intellectual affinity between them would have certainly been very tenuous indeed. Bakhtin concentrates almost exclusively on fiction and shows very little sympathy for poetry; besides, the subversive 'carnivalesque' nature of the polyphonic novel he extols is ideologically too remote from Eliot's ethical assumptions. Given that Bakhtin himself greatly admired Dante's 'heteroglossia' (1984: 25), it seems more sensible to turn to the original source in order to elucidate this characteristic in Eliot.

The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that there is a direct relationship between the plurilingualism of the Commedia and Eliot's polyglot and multistylistic poetic idiom, which is arguably one of the main 'lessons of speech' Eliot acquired from the Italian poet. It will argue that in Dante's oeuvre Eliot observed a technique of cultural reference through which he felt he could recover 'the mind of Europe' and sought to stimulate plurilingual reading as a pre-condition of a renewed unity. As far as critical assessments of this aspect of Eliot's social engagement are concerned, Moody went in the right direction by suggesting that in his poetry Eliot 'was seeking to realize that mind [of Europe], or rather to practise it, in the English language' (1994: 24), but failed to relate it explicitly to the multilingual nature of Eliot's verse and to identify its role model in Dante. Cambon, conversely, made a passing reference to the Dantesque 'polyglot range' in Pound's Cantos and, in brackets, in The Waste Land, and clarified it as Pound's method to 'yield their [of various languages] melodic or visual tribute to the madly ambitious poetical enterprise' (1969:131), without even allowing the possibility that this could be part of a wider social, as well as poetical, enterprise. Even E. R. Curtius explained that 'this medley of languages in the poem is one of the stylistic devices that can often be found in the literature of the late antiquity. [...] In Dante this technique is given a true poetic value' (1949: 120). Disappointingly, however, he failed to associate this practice explicitly with Eliot's--and Dante's--attempt to recover the 'mind of Europe'. This study, then, begins where previous critical appreciations end.

Wir guten Europaer
   The heart of man, in so far as it is budding,
   is budding warless and budding towards infinite variety,
   variegation and where there is infinite variety there is no
   interest in war. Oneness makes war and the obsession of oneness.
   (D. H. Lawrence, 'Future War')

The multilingual intertextuality pervading Modernist writing is arguably the most conspicuous manifestation of this literary habit since the Middle Ages. Elwert's cross-cultural chronological survey (1960: 412-5) clearly illustrates that, although the employment of foreign idioms within the same composition has been practised sporadically throughout the ages, in modern and medieval times there seems to be a consistent plurilingual trend ill literature: from Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, Dante and Fazio degli Uberti through to Pound, Eliot and Joyce. This unprecedented revival should be interpreted in the light of the social conditions which rendered it possible in the Middle Ages, and necessary in the twentieth century. In Deutscher Geist in Gefahr, recommended by Eliot to anyone 'who can follow a simple and lucid German style' (1932: 74), Curtius argues that the Middle Ages can offer us the strength needed to bring about a revivification of a decaying culture: 'nicht Pindar oder Sophokles, wohl aber die erlauchten Grunder unseres Abendlandes von Augustinus bis Dante konnen uns die Krafte darbieten, die wir heute am notigsten brauchen' [not Pindar or Sophocles, rather the illustrious founders of our Western culture from Augustine to Dante can offer us the strengths which we require most urgently today] (1932: 126). Eliot seems to have taken this exhortation to heart also in his everyday life. He always used to carry with him his pocket edition of Dante in London (Aiken 1958: 194) and would recite to himself lines from the Commedia 'lying in bed or on a railway journey' (1950: 125), deriving therefrom the energy to counteract the sordid squalor of life in a modern metropolis. Moreover, Curtius's views on literary continuity from the Middle Ages are reconcilable with Eliot's own envisagement of a 'direct current of European thought' flowing from the Trecento to Donne, French Symbolism and finally to himself (1993: 43, 60, 98). In his first essay on Eliot, however, Curtius seems to conceive of a different current flowing from the Provenqal poets of trobar clus through to Dante, Mallarme and Eliot on account of tile obscurity they all have in common (1927: 303). This alternative but parallel 'family tree' based on difficulty in poetry jars with Eliot's justification that modern poetry has to be difficilis and allusive because it is a reflection of the complexity of our society (1921 : 65), rather than being a manifestation of a deliberate obscurity for artifice.

Eliot's and Dante's works cannot be understood outside the socio-political context in which they came into being. For this reason, before focusing on plurilingualism proper and Eliot's stylistic debt to Dante in this respect, I shall first examine the similarities between their personal backgrounds, their ideological stances reflected in their desire to foster unity in times of war and social chaos, and the cultural conditions which facilitated their polyglot poetic experiments, all of which are of crucial importance in order to account for the modern revival of this quintessentially medieval practice.

The spirit unappeased and peregrine

From a very early age, Eliot was exposed to a variety of foreign languages and literatures. By the time he was fifteen, he had received extensive training in English, French, Greek, Latin, some German, excelling especially in the study of the classics (Eliot 1988: 7). Significantly, though Eliot was familiar with all these languages by the beginning of the century, it only after he read Dante that they made their way into his poetry. Though very little is known about Dante's own schooling, the knowledge of medieval education in general should enable us to establish a parallel between Dante's and Eliot's intellectual and linguistic formation. As Reynolds points out, 'the alphabet the puer learns is not the alphabet of the mother-tongue--French or English--but the alphabet of Latin. In other words, even at its earliest stages, learning to read means learning to read a foreign language' (1996: 8). Both poets were therefore surrounded by a multilingual and multicultural environment from the very beginning. Throughout Eliot's life, combining and reconciling disparate elements from the most diverse cultures had always proven a natural and effortless activity. On 25 July 1914 he wrote to Conrad Aiken from Marburg reporting that he was spending his mornings working up his Greek and his evenings reading Husserl's Logische Untersuchungen (1988: 44), and the two are not perceived as distinct or discordant. Besides, though it has been demonstrated that the 'Epistola di Frate Ilario', in which the friar claims to have seen a first draft the Inferno in Latin, is a Boccaccio forgery, the possibility that Dante had begun composing the Commedia in Latin is not to be ruled out. Eliot too was seriously considering writing exclusively in French and settling down in Paris, a common cultural magnet for avant-garde intellectuals, from Marinetti to Apollinaire, from Joyce to Beckett. 'Death by Water', it should be remembered, is for the most part a literal translation of the last stanza of 'Dans le Restaurant' (1917). However, as Dante realised that he was not capable of living up to the great classical auctores--or at least constructed such an image--and chose the vernacular as his medium of expression, Eliot was aware of the limitations of the French language and of his own command of it (1959: 56-7) and decided to compose his poems in English. Well, for the most part. Just as in the Commedia there are numerous instances in which words and syntactical constructions are plainly modelled on Latin, such as the Latinism 'sale' [sea] in Par. II 13, Eliot's early poems are distinguished by an unambiguously French atmosphere created through such Gallicisms as 'Regard the moon' ('Rhapsody on a Windy Night').

When recovering from ill health in Lausanne in 1921, furthermore, Eliot wrote to his brother: 'I am very much better, and not miserable here--at least there are people of many nationalities, which I always like [...]. I am certainly well enough to be working on a poem [The Waste Land]' (1988: 493), thus clearly suggesting that the 'metier of poetry' benefits enormously from the enriching dialogue with diverse traditions and languages. This idea of a rejuvenation of literature rendered possible by the contact with other cultures could have been suggested by Remy de Gourmont, to whom Eliot acknowledges a considerable debt in the preface to the second edition of The Sacred Wood (1928a: viii) and commends as 'the critical consciousness of a generation' (1928a: 44). In Le probleme du style he argues:

Les echanges entre peuples sont aussi necessaires a la revigoration de chaque peuple que le commerce social a l'exaltation de l'energie individuelle. On n'a pas pris garde a cette necessite quand on parle avec regret de l'influence des litteratures etrangeres sur notre litterature. (1924: 22)

[The exchanges among peoples are as necessary for the reinvigoration of each population as social interaction is for the exaltation of the individual's energy. We have not taken this necessity into account when we talk with regret about the influence of foreign literatures on our own.]

--a passage also quoted in Pound's appreciation of Gourmont in Make It New (1934: 327)

In practice, Dante and his age proved to be the best exemplars in this respect. Eliot in fact greatly admired the originality of the Trecento, which, according to him, was substantially enhanced by the revigoration introduced by alien forces, notably the Provencal and Latin traditions (1993: 99). Unlike Milton, who was also steeped in the classics, but instead of making use of them in a way that would profit the language, he modelled English on Latin syntax and created an English style that resembles a 'dead language' (Eliot 1936: 261), Dante benefited from foreign influences without allowing them to deaden his own originality and the living vernacular in which he was writing.

The situation looked rather different at the beginning of the twentieth century. As exile had opened Dante's mind ('in hoc minimo mundi angulo' [in this tiny corner of the world], DVE I x 7) by making him conscious of the existence of innumerable and variegated cultures and languages other than his own, resulting in such assertions as 'quicunque tam obscene rationis est ut locum sue nationis delitiosissimum credat esse sub sole, hic etiam pre cunctis proprium vulgare licetur' [whoever is so offensively unreasonable as to suppose that the place of his birth is the most delightful under the sun--such a one, I say, may be allowed, into the bargain, to place his own vernacular before all others] (I vi 2), Eliot's 'international consciousness' and his travels abroad made him inveigh against the narrow-minded provincialism he detected in England. In 'What is a Classic' he defined 'provincialism' in terms of a nation being isolated from or lingering behind the best European society and letters on account of an undue emphasis on its own culture (1944a: 121). These are just a few of the instances in which Eliot voices his concern for an unhealthily monolingual cultural environment: 'contemporary English verse has borrowed little from foreign sources; it is almost politically English' (1917a: 118); "The serious writer of verse must be prepared to cross himself with the best verse of other languages. In Georgian poetry there is almost no crossing visible; it is inbred' (1918a: 43); 'contemporary poetry is deficient in tradition' (1919a: 40); 'La majorite de ces poetes font montre d'interets locaux a l'exces et d'une culture toute 'provinciale.' (1922: 620), ad nauseam. It is well known that if something requires urgent attention, like the importance of ascetic values in an overly secularised and materialistic society scourged by a senseless war, Eliot does not hesitate to repeat himself:
   You say I am repeating Something I have said before. I shall say it
   again. Shall I say it again? (1)

As Dante saw himself as a world citizen ('nos autem, cui mundus est patria' [but we, to whom the world is our native country], DVE I vi 3), Eliot confessed that he became used to being a foreigner everywhere (1988: 431), a 'Metoikos', as he signed an article in the Christian News-Letter of 21 March 1945. This attitude is reflected in their linguistic consciousness, which is markedly influenced by the experience of migration. Just as the exile 'per le parti quasi tutte a le quali questa lingua [del si] si stende' [through almost every part where the language [of si] is spoken] (Conv. I iii 4) contributed significantly to enhancing and enriching Dante's eclectic vocabulary (Nencioni 1989: 179), Eliot's distinctive poetic diction was internationalised even further thanks to his wanderings through Europe. This change can be easily observed by comparing their early 'provincial' poems, like the Vita Nuova and 'Prufrock', with the more sophisticated European ones composed after 1301 and 1914 respectively, the Commedia and The Waste Land. Like Eliot's landscape, which shows traces of every environment in which he has lived, his poetic language is unavoidably 'composite' (1960: 421). Even when he settled down in London, his career in the Foreign and Colonial Department of Lloyd's Bank placed him at the centre of the international crossroads of cultures which the English capital represented: 'I am busy tabulating balance-sheets of foreign banks to see how they are prospering [...]. I shall pick up scraps of the spanish [sic], Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian languages' (1988: 166). It is thus no coincidence that Eliot's most stylistically and linguistically eclectic poem, The Waste Land, is also the one which engages most vividly and memorably with the fragmented nature of urban reality. As McLaughlin obviously, 'the turn-of-the-century English capital [...] was an anarchic culture of different voices--working-class and Irish, upper-class and Greek, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish' (2000:171). And all these 'voices' made their way into Eliot's poetry, corroborating his later theory that poetic idiom is invariably determined by the language the poet hears spoken around him (1945a: 159-60). Rather than a Foucaultian panoptic scope, the neologism 'panotic' (from the Greek for 'all' and 'auricular'), would therefore most appositely define the gamut of speaking voices audible in Eliot's and Dante's poetry, ranging from Cockney to Sanskrit, from incomprehensible infernal gibberish to Provencal.

In his first essay on Eliot, Curtius revealingly defined The Waste Land as 'eine complexio oppositorum, eine Einheit in der Mannigfaltigkeit' [a complexio oppositorum, a unity in diversity] (1927:311), and possibly alluded to the 'laudabilis suavitas' distinguishing Bolognese by virtue of its 'commixtio oppositorum', its incorporation in the language of elements from the spoken dialects of surrounding regions (DVE I xv 2, 5-6). It follows, therefore, that just as the pulchritudo of Bolognese owes something to its contacts with Imola, Ferrara and Modena, the uniqueness of The Waste Land lies in its incorporation of traits from the languages and cultures surrounding Britain, notably France, Italy and Germany. This is also reflected in the structural organisation of the poem. As Everett cogently argues, 'The Burial of the Dead' is divided into three culturally diversified zones. The opening section is definably German or central European; the following scene, featuring Madame Sosostris with its characteristic atmosphere from Baudelaire, Marivaux and Maeterlinck, represents France, while the closing part depicting office-workers and London landmarks evokes Eliot's notion of an intrinsic Englishness (1980: 50-2). And these cultural units will all come together in close succession in the epilogue of 'What the Thunder Said'. This organisation, moreover, is a reflection of Eliot's socio-political convictions. In contention with Andre Siegfried's pronouncement that Britain must choose between her European affiliations and her ties with the English-speaking countries of the Commonwealth and the United States, Eliot advocated the policy of the via media declaring Britain's position within Europe as 'the bridge between Latin culture and Germanic culture in both of which she shares', and more widely as the connection between Europe and the rest of the world by virtue of her empire (1928c: 194). In a similar way, Italian becomes the bridge between Latin and the Romance vernaculars in the DVE. The Waste Land and the Commedia could be seen as the materialisation of this bridge, inasmuch as their linguistic and cultural scope is not restricted to the Latin and Germanic--and the Latin and vernacular--languages they attempt to reconcile, but includes lines in Sanskrit and Provenqal respectively. The only possible linguistic model of Eliot's poem is therefore to be identified in the Poeta's 'encyclopaedic' enterprise, a term Eliot was already using before Contini in relation to Dante's impressively wide knowledge (1920b: 442). Rather than merely a poem for Europe, as Howarth (1965: 199) and Everett (1980: 50) contend, The Waste Land--and indeed the Commedia--would therefore more accurately be termed as unprecedented attempts to create a 'world poem' (McLaughlin 2000: 175).

Ahi serva Europa

The gangrenous patriotic provincialism Eliot deplored reached its nadir, as is often the case, during and after the two global conflicts, events which seriously hindered his strenuous efforts to foster cultural harmony in Europe. Eliot's war writings deserve close attention inasmuch as they reveal his steadfast commitment to fight for a united Europe. Just as Dante legitimised the role of the poet as a social and political authority in the DVE, Purgatorio and Monarchia, (2) Eliot takes it upon himself to expose the scourges afflicting society and to propose a solution for them. As Spender points out:

The war modified his attitude by convincing him that there was a Western cause to be positively defended. And after the war there was a Germany to be brough back within the Western tradition. (in Bergonzi 1978: 150)

This is consonant with Eliot's contention in 'The Metaphysical Poets' that the interests of the poet are potentially innumerable and his post-war claim that the man of letters has an obligation to reconstruct the cultural map of Europe in times which have seen material and cultural devastation of such unprecedented magnitude (1945b: 336). His commitment to reassemble the dispersed 'broken images' of a continent torn apart by political dissension emerges in the essay which consolidated his critical pre-eminence, 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', where he formulated for the first time the pivotal notion of 'a mind of Europe', a common cultural receptacle for European intellectuals in which 'the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of [one's] own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order' (1919b: 38). Though Crawford points out that no European in 1919 would have equated Europe with his own country, and that Eliot's vision of Europe springs from his intrinsic 'Americanness' and the Harvard curriculum (1992: 229), (3) his concern about the cultural disintegration of his adopted continent and his desire to re-establish order and stability are indisputably genuine.

During 'the years of l'entre deux guerres' Eliot put theory into practise not only by including 'fragments' from the most wide-ranging European sources in his poems, as discussed above, but also through his role as editor of The Criterion (1922-39), a literary journal aimed at establishing 'an international fraternity of men of letters within Europe' (1946: 118). It featured European contributors of high standing like Valery, Pirandello, Praz, Montale, Woolf, E. M. Forster, Hofmannsthal; quarterly 'Foreign Reviews' from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, sometimes Brazil and Switzerland, and even regular contributions by D. H. Lawrence. (4) The calamitous outbreak of the war in 1939, however, definitively shattered the utopian prospect of a 'European dream' and erected an impenetrable and insurmountable cultural barrier separating the countries involved in the conflict as well as European intellectuals:

I attribute this failure [the interruption of The Criterion] chiefly to the gradual closing of the mental frontiers of Europe. A kind of cultural autarchy followed inevitably upon political and economic autarchy. (1946: 116)

'The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry' were gradually superseded by 'the varieties of chaos in which we find ourselves immersed to-day' (1944b: 192), something which had already been witnessed at the end of the first global conflict:
   Falling towers
   Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
   Vienna London

As a result, Eliot's post-war critical output is distinguished by the emphatic exaltation of a common European heritage, both from a linguistic (in 'The Music of Poetry' and 'The Unity of European Culture') and a cultural point of view (in 'What is a Classic?', 'Cultural Diversity and European Unity'). This seems to be a natural reaction to deep-seated national division observable also in Dante, who, dismayed by the sectarian political fragmentation afflicting Italy, often appealed to a common linguistic heritage:
   Ahi Pisa, vituperio delle genti,
   del bel paese la dove il "si" suona.
   [Ah Pisa! scandal to the people
   of the beauteous land where "si" is heard.]
   (Inf. XXXIII 79-80)

Now alluding to a linguistically unified Italy in the fourteenth century was probably as audacious and provocative as advocating the importance of the mind of Europe in 1919, arguing that 'Europe is a whole' in 1944, and promoting the unity of European culture to a German audience in 1946. Dante's theory of language in the DVE reaches unprecedented heights in the eclecticism of its sources to attack the political roots of internal division among Italian cities (Shapiro 1990: 34; Pazzaglia 1967: 128), and will be put into practice in the Commedia. And this is by no means limited to Italy: 'Ab uno postea eodemque ydiomate in vindice confusione recepto diversa vulgaria traxerunt originem' [Afterwards, from one and the same idiom, derived from the foul Confusion, various vulgar tongues drew their origin] (DVE I viii 3). Dante's 'lingua del si' is in fact part of the ydioma tripharium he identifies as the common root of all Romance languages, a theory which is inextricably related to his desire to re-establish peace and political stability within the whole continent: 'the unity of Dante's political, theological, moral and poetic aims is too evident to need demonstration' (Eliot 1954b: 214).

Eliot's ex-cathedra wartime invectives against the European state of affairs in The Idea of a Christian Society, like Dante's in the Monarchia and the Commedia, are complemented by a nostalgic reminiscence of an idyllic age of peace and harmony, which he located in the Roman Empire. In his 1944 Presidential Address to the Virgil Society, Eliot placed the Latin poet 'at the centre of European civilization', and apotheosised him, in Dantean fashion ('Tu se' lo mio maestro' [Thou art my master] Inf. I 85), by maintaining that 'our classic, the classic of all Europe, is Virgil' (1944a: 130, my italics). The fact that the Aeneid was essentially conceived as an encomiastic tribute to the glory of Rome and as a celebration of the pax augustea may have a direct bearing on Eliot's enthusiastic commendation of Virgil during the war. The imperium could in fact be identified as the cradle of that unified Western culture which Eliot was attempting to revivify, probably meant to be contrasted with Hitler's dystopian plan to constitute a despotic monocultural Reich. Given that for Dante too Augustus's reign symbolised the supreme political 'Golden Age', it seems likely that Eliot borrowed this idea from Dante. In the course of the same address he argued that in the Divine Comedy 'we find the classic in a modern European language' (1944a: 122), the realisation of which was facilitated by the cultural environment surrounding Dante. And it is here, as Curtius had urged, that Eliot found the main reinvigorating Krafte required to re-establish Die Einheit der Europaischen Kultur.

Dante as a "Cultural Leader"

What previous scholarship on T.S. Eliot and Dante has failed duly to acknowledge is the literary impact on Eliot's verse of his envisagement of Dante and the Trecento as the quintessential embodiment of the cultural unity he championed throughout his life. Manganiello ignores it completely; Howarth (1965: 75) and Ellis (1983: 245-6) mention it only in passing; Moody recognises its importance, but contextualises it in terms of a unifying religious element, rather than concentrating on its influence on Eliot's poetry (1994: 19). Indeed, the 'common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe what it is' (1946:122-3), played a crucial role in determining the course of European history and tradition, besides being what rendered cultural harmony in Dante's age possible. (5) Eliot, however, stated that his debts to thought, philosophy, ideology and view of life, namely his debts to 'Dante as a "Spiritual Leader"', are by no means unrelated to the stylistic ones he owes to the Italian master (1950: 132), and the two arguably merge in Eliot's adoption of Dante's plurilingualism, which is a testimony of the intrinsic unity of the European mind existing in medieval times. From a linguistic point of view, Eliot argues, modern languages tend to separate by reflecting the cultural differences among European countries, while 'mediaeval Latin tended to concentrate on what men of various races and lands could think together', a quality which inheres in Dante's Florentine speech (1929: 18). This idea, interestingly, has a direct bearing on Eliot's knowledge of the Commedia, which is visibly influenced by his Latin, as his misquotation of Inf. III 4, 'Justitia mosse il mio alto fattore' [Justice moved my High Maker] ('O lord, have patience'), clearly indicates.

Dante seems to embody the balance Eliot advocated after 1945, namely an inherent Europeanism complemented by an interest in the local culture in which he shared. His being the most European poet, therefore, does not prevent him from being the most local too (1950: 134-5). This trait is reflected also in Dante's political concerns, which are not parochially limited to the situation in Florence, but expand to include Italy and the whole Empire, as the broadening perspective of the sixth canto in each canticle and the universal scope adopted in the Monarchia demonstrate: 'Dante, none the less an Italian and a patriot, is first a European' (1929: 18). The same applies to his linguistic pluralism. Just as Dante managed to achieve the 'perfection of a common language' (1929: 35) in the Commedia writing in his native Florentine, but--and this is important--drawing on the whole gamut which his literary and personal experience offered him, from Provencal to Latin, from his propria loquela to other Italian dialects, from high to low registers, so Eliot's ambition seems to be to attain a European style writing in English by using the same linguistic scope and striking a similar balance between local and supranational, appealing thereby to English-speaking muliercule as well as to foreign intellectuals. But Dante arrived at this synthesis by assessing the stark differences dividing Italian dialects in the DVE, differences which Eliot takes no account of in his commendation of Dante's common style. His familiarity with Dante's 'minor works' is difficult to ascertain. He quotes a passage from Convivio I ix 7 once (1920b: 441); refers to the concept of justice in the Monarchia and the Convivio (1928d: 732), and in his discussion of the Vita Nuova he dismisses Dante's other works as 'important' (1929: 61). Eliot could be deliberately neglecting the opere minori in which Dante conceives of contrast rather than harmony among languages, and looking mainly to the Commedia, which, by its eclectic but not hierarchically stratified linguistic organisation, represents the ideal model to adopt in an attempt to write in a universal style. As in his sacrato poema Dante had to go beyond the intrinsic linguistic differences he outlined in the DVE, Eliot probably found it convenient for his purposes to overlook this treatise. (6)

Eliot's relationship with the German scholar Ernst Robert Curtius and his writings on Dante touched on above deserves close attention. (7) As the correspondence between them shows, the two intellectuals mutually influenced each other on various aspects of European literature. As Curtius managed to persuade Eliot to reconsider his rather negative judgement on Goethe, (8) resulting in his 1954 talk 'Goethe as the Sage', Eliot's conviction that 'in Dante's time, Europe, with all its dissensions and dirtiness, was mentally more unified than we can now imagine' (1929: 19) is likely to have had a direct impact on Curtius's belief that 'im Mittelalter besteht uber die Sprachgrenzen hinaus eine kulturelle Gemeinsamkeit der Romania' [in the Middle Ages Romania has a community of culture which extends across language boundaries] (1948: 40). Eliot's emphasis on the mental unity of Europe was thus appropriated by Curtius and used to justify the naturalness with which Dante and other medieval poets could shift from one language to another: 'dass man zwischen [den Sprachen] wechseln konnte, bezeugt das lebendige Bewusstsein von einer einheitlichen Romania' [that it was possible to alternate between [the various languages] shows that there was a living consciousness of a unified Romania] (1948: 40). This view is also taken by Pabst (1952: 162), Kuen (1957: 95) and Smith (1980: 107), but strongly rejected by Elwert as 'suppositions chimeriques et gratuites' (1960:411), who nevertheless usefully corrects Curtius by pointing out that this Wechsel included Teutonic languages and was widespread in Germany itself, so that Europe, rather than Romania, would be the apposite term for this spiritually unified region. However, the validity (or otherwise) of this theory is of relative importance to us. What does matter instead, is that a direct relationship of interdependence between a unified mind of Europe and a kind of naturally accepted linguistic eclecticism in poetry is clearly established in Curtius's Europaische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, which Eliot received in 1949 and praised as a 'magnificent work' in a letter to him (14 February 1949, in Honnighausen 1990:246). Indeed, by that time all of Eliot's plurilingual poems had been composed, but the contacts between them date back to 1922, and their like-mindedness on the subject of medieval poetics is significant. Like Eliot, the German scholar deplored the lack of interdisciplinary awareness in modern educational institutions required to foster the idea of a European literature and tradition, and, in a passage which resembles Eliot's vitriolic diatribes against provincialism at their best, he laments that 'die akademische Organisation der philologischen und literarischen Studien entspricht dem geisteswissenschaftlichen Aspekt von 1850' [Academic organisation of philological and literary studies corresponds to the intellectual picture in 1850] (1948: 23). It can therefore be argued that, as Grandgent, Santayana and Pound introduced Eliot to Dante, thus affecting his initial appreciation of the Italian poet, and as his editorship of The Criterion put him in contact with the theories on Dante put forward by Praz, Read and Maurras, Eliot's later opinions on the spiritual unity of the Middle Ages and Dante's Europeanism influenced, and were influenced by, Curtius's pronouncements on this topic.

In order to come to terms with historical periods in which the heart of man was unhealthily obsessed with a destructive 'oneness', the artistic sensibility of two of the most syncretic minds in Western literature, T.S. Eliot and Dante, naturally 'budded' towards 'variety in unity: not the unity of organisation, but the unity of nature' (Eliot 1946: 120), based on a common linguistic and cultural heritage. It is clear that both poets were faced with similar plights and shared the same social concerns, so that, in order to oppose chaos, their work assumed the role 'of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history'. The plurilingual nature of The Waste Land, inspired by Dante's Commedia is inextricably related to the sociopolitical situation in which both masterpieces came into being, and could be regarded as the embodiment of the ideal order Eliot and Dante indefatigably endeavoured to restore. Goethe's view that 'wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen' [he who does not know foreign languages, knows nothing about his own] (1978: 116) is shared by Eliot as well, who put it into practice through his constant emphasis on the epistemological function of the mutually enriching confrontation with other cultures and languages, which is ultimately synonymous with an enrichment and not an adulteration of one's own national identity, (9) as many people all too often contend. It should be pointed out that Dante is only the first in a long series of eminent European intellectuals whom Eliot singled out as political and literary allies in his programme of social reform. His debt of gratitude to Curtius, whose work is commended as 'one of great importance for the uniting of Europe' (letter of 22 January 1926 in Honnighausen 1990: 250), therefore extends to all the 'gute Europaer' in literary history, who through the centuries exemplarily contributed to the consolidation of the 'European idea' by the multilingual and intercultural nature of their literary production: Dante Alighieri, William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Andre Gide, Valery Larbaud, Ortega y Gassset, Giovanni Battista Angioletti, Christopher Dawson, William Paton Ker, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ernst Robert Curtius, In Ihnen begegnet sich das Abendland. (10)


Le style est une specialisation de la sensibilite

(Remy de Gourmont, Le probleme du style)

In The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, Eliot argued that 'it is Wordsworth's social interest that inspires his own novelty of form in verse', explaining that 'any radical change in poetic form is likely to be the symptom of some very much deeper change in society and in the individual.' (1933: 74-5). On this basis, Eliot's championing of European unity and his belief that Dante is the poet who more than any other embodies the concept of 'the mind of Europe', can be said to find their practical application in the plurilingual nature of his literary output. The term plurilinguismo was first utilised in relation to Dante by the Italian critic Gianfranco Contini in his piece 'Preliminari sulla lingua del Petrarca', whereby 'non si allude naturalmente solo a latino e volgare, ma alla poliglottia degli stili e, diciamo la parola, dei generi letterari' [one obviously refers not only to Latin and vernacular, but also to the polyglottism of styles and, let's say it, of literary genres] (1951: 171). It seems noteworthy that Eliot had employed the term 'unilingual', which is the adjective Contini uses to contrast Petrarch's language with Dante's (1951: 173), in one of his attacks on the Anglo-Saxon prejudice against importing culture from abroad, France in this case: 'America's affairs of culture will need to be conducted on a unilingual basis' (1918b: 84). The other aspect of Dante's linguistic poetics Contini expatiates on under the heading 'plurilinguismo' is the 'pluralita di toni e pluralita di strati lessicali', a trait which Eliot was aware of through Curtius's monumental work Europaische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, where, like Contini, he characterised the verbal eclecticism of Dante's masterpiece as 'ein Sprach- und Geistgefuge [...], umfassend vielschichtig' [a structure of language and thought, comprehensively multi-layered] (1948: 382). Although Contini was familiar with both of them, it is difficult to ascertain whether he was directly influenced by the terminology used by Eliot and Curtius in his discussion of Dante's plurilingualism.

Indeed, though Eliot's own writings on Dante pay little attention to the multilingual nature of his verse, he was nevertheless fully aware of his 'immense resources of language' (1950: 134) not only through his detailed knowledge of the text, but also because this characteristic was often emphasised in the Dante scholarship which informed his appreciation of the Italian poet. Apart from Curtius, Charles Grandgent, whose Dante Eliot acknowledges as an important formative influence (1929: 12), explicitly pointed out that 'Dante Alighieri was deeply interested in the art of versification and in the literary possibilities of various kinds of languages' (1920: 138). Mario Praz, moreover, fleshed out this point in his discussion of Chaucer and the Trecento in The Criterion: 'All stations of life, all kinds of character, from the lowest to the highest, appear to talk to Dante [...]. Loathsome, poignant, noble celestial apparitions, they talk to him each one in a suitable style' (1927: 150). Bearing in mind Contini's two-fold definition of Dante's plurilingualism, I shall concentrate on a detailed comparison between Eliot's poems and excerpts from the Commedia which he admired particularly, in an attempt to demonstrate that his polyglot and stylistically eclectic diction owes a considerable debt to Dante's multilingual poetic idiom, encompassing 'in un volume, / cio che per l'universo si squaderna' [in a volume the scattered leaves of all the universe] (Par. XXXIII 86-7).

Diverse lingue, orribili favelle

The characteristic which distinguishes the uniqueness of Dante's plurilingualism is his consistent practice of incorporating foreign verses and phrases within the rigid structural, metrical and rhythmic organisation of his poem. As Bara?ski illustrates, the Latin line 'In te, Domine, speravi, for example, rhymes with the Italian 'le vive travi' [living rafters] and 'li venti schiavi' [Slavonian winds] (Purg. XXX 83-87), a feature which, according to him and Brugnolo, is not detectable in any other plurilingual poem (1996: 75). If this is the case, then Eliot's Dantesque composition 'The Burnt Dancer' (June 1914), which anticipates Little Gidding both in content and style, presents not only close thematic but also notable and unique formal affinities with Dante's verse:
Too strange for good or                Ei cominci liberamente
  evil:                          A       a dire:
How drawn here from a                  "Tan m'abelis vostre
  distant star                   B       cortes deman,
For mirthless dance and                qu'ieu no-m puesc, ni-m
  silent revel                   A       vueil a vos cobrire
O danse mon papillon                   Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor
  noir!                          B       e vau cantan;
The tropic odours of your              consiros vei lapassada
  name                           C       folor,
From Mozambique or                     e vei jausen to jorn,
  Nicobar                        B       qu'esper, denan.
Fall on the ragged teeth of            Ara vos prec, peraquella
  flame                          C       valor
Like perfumed oil upon                 que vos guida al som de
  the waters                     D       l'escalina,
What is the secret you                 sovenha vos a temps de
  have brought us                        ma dolor."
Children's voices in little            s'ascose nel foco che gli
  corners                                affina. (11)
('The Burnt Dancer',                   (Purg. XXVI 139-48)
  11. 11-20)

As in the 'superb verses of Arnaut Daniel in his Provencal tongue', which are formally an integral part of the Italian frame so that the last words of the lines in Italian, 'dire' and 'affina', rhyme with the Provencal 'cobrire' and 'escalina' respectively, the French word 'noir' rhymes with the English 'star' and 'Nicobar'. Throughout the poem, significantly, the adjective 'noir' in the refrain always rhymes with the last word of the penultimate line in the stanza preceding it, namely 'star', which, repeated on three occasions, may well be an allusion to the closing word of each canticle of the Commedia, 'stelle'. Besides, it always appears in the rhyming scheme ABAB.

Hence, the unidentified French verse becomes the element which holds the poem's structure together by linking words from the preceding stanza with the one following. This could be interpreted as the practical application of the theoretical notion discussed above, according to which a revivification of literature can be introduced from abroad. It is in fact the French verse which sustains the metrical organisation of the poem, distinguished, at least in the lines quoted above, by an unambiguously Italian rhyming scheme, the terza rima (ABA BCB CDC), which should leave no doubt as to the literary model Eliot must have had in mind when he composed it. It seems noteworthy that two of his most Dantean poems, 'The Burnt Dancer' and Little Gidding, were composed at the beginning of or during the global conflicts, as if indirectly appealing to Dante for assistance in re-establishing cultural unity when it was most imperilled. It is probably no coincidence either that Eliot turned to Dante as the ideal master in the very first poem of his production where a foreign phrase appears cohesively incorporated in its body, rather than being employed merely as an epigraph in 'Prufrock' (July 1911), or as a title in 'Ballade pour la grosse Lulu' (July 1911). Indeed, Eliot later developed his own technique and was probably influenced by other writers such as Joyce, but the idea of integrating foreign quotations within the rhythmical and metrical structure of his compositions must have been suggested by Dante. It should also be pointed out that this is by no means an isolated case, but recurs consistently in Eliot's early poems. In the 'Gallic' lines, 'Regard the moon, / La lune ne garde aucune rancune', for instance, 'Regard' rhymes internally with 'ne garde' and 'moon' with 'rancune' and also internally with 'lune' and 'aucune' ('Rhapsody on a Windy Night'); in 'Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service' the Greek 'TO HEN' rhymes with 'Origen'. Even in the unpublished 'Marching Song of the Pollicle Dogs' the Latin 'fortiter' is linked by consonance to 'auditor' (Hayward Bequest V9, 11. 31-3). This practice could have had a direct impact on Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), praised by Eliot for its varied versification (1928b: xxiii), where he also rhymes Greek and French words with English ones: 'TROIE' / 'lee-way'; 'trentiesme' / 'diadem'; 'THEON'/ 'upon'.

At this youthful stage, however, Eliot still feels the need to signal the alienness of these terms. The refrain, 'O danse mon papillon noir' is in fact typed in red, just as the letters written in this period show a consistent practice of italicising foreign words he nevertheless appears to be using very naturally: 'Anyhow, I have become a great friend of the petites gens de l'histoire, materialist, even "householder". Das ewig weibliche [sic]' (to Aiken, 19/07/1914, 1988: 43). Already in the drafts of The Waste Land, the 'fragments [he has] shored against [his] ruins' no longer need to be differentiated from the rest of the text through italicisation, either in the first manuscript or in the typescript (1971: 81, 89), as they are no longer perceived as foreign, but become part of a single harmonious whole, the unified 'mind of Europe' which is gradually taking shape in Eliot's critical writings and being put into practice in his poems. Accordingly, in his correspondence with John Hayward in the 1940s, he acquired the habit of using French words without signalising them by underlining, as in 'a little insolite' and 'any reference to the reverberes' (in Gardner 1978: 191, 178). Moreover, up to the very final draft of Little Gidding, Eliot had consistently spelt 'asphalte' with a final 'e' until Hayward pointed out the misspelling to him (Gardner 1978:173). Eliot's manuscripts and drafts may often present spelling and typing errors, but this one is so consistent that he must have had the French spelling of the word in mind. Further, both in the manuscript and the typescript version of the excised section from 'Death by Water', instead of writing 'manicured' (from Latin manus, 'hand', and cura, 'care') Eliot misspelled the word with a 'u', 'manucured' (1971:55, 63), which seems to indicate that he was thinking of the Latin manus. 'Perhaps I am unconsciously bi-lingual, so that whichever language I hear or read seems to me my own', he illuminatingly revealed talking about the differences in spelling between British and American English (1953: 4). The same obviously applies to French and Latin, the two foreign languages he knew best. We either have to accept this possibility, or else come to the conclusion that T.S. Eliot could not spell.

Unlike Dante, however, who adapts the Latin noun 'vir' following vernacular linguistic conventions in order to make 'viro' [man] rhyme with 'miro' [joy] (Par. XXIV 34-6), Eliot often appropriates foreign terms and naturalises them into English but respects the grammatical and syntactical rules of the original language. Thus, the neologism 'laquearia' in 'A Game of Chess', which is the first and only recorded instance in English (OED), is adapted from the Latin noun 'laqueare, -is' from Aeneid I 726: 'laquearibus aureis', but conforms to the syntax of the English sentence and is consequently used in the nominative (or accusative) plural as it would appear in a Latin text, just as the exclamation 'Tereu' is in the vocative in 'The Fire Sermon'. The meaning which the word 'laquearia' has acquired in English, 'a ceiling, roof, however, is singular, where it should more accurately be plural. Eliot is hereby indirectly deploring the decline in our knowledge of the classics and applying to his verse the firm conviction that Greek and Latin are the lifeblood uniting the whole of Europe and are of vital importance for the preservation and the furtherance of European culture: 'neglect of Greek means for Europe a relapse into unconsciousness' (1925a: 342).

It may seem useful at this point to compare the only two instances in Dante and Eliot where there is a prolonged use of a foreign language in their poems, namely Arnaut Daniel's speech in Purg. XXVI quoted above and the passage in 'East Coker' from Sir Thomas Elyot's The Governor. The formal similarity between them is that they are not verbatim quotations from the authors, but are a pastiche made up of lines of Daniel, Provencal poetry and Dante's own inventions, and archaic spellings from Elyot's book respectively, which are cohesively incorporated into the structure and rhythmical flow of the poems in which they are located. In both instances, a literary and personal value seems to be attached to the utterance in a foreign or archaic tongue. Eliot had clarified in a letter to Hayward that the use of the old spelling had the public intention of creating an early Tudor setting, and a private one of affectionately evoking an eminent ancestor from East Coker (in Gardner 1978: 99). Frank Morley, furthermore, who was in charge of preparing the American publication of the poem, reported that Eliot was deeply upset when the publisher refused to print the Tudor spelling 'aresse' and modernised it to 'arras'. Eliot wrote: 'You may say all this doesn't matter, but it does to me. (ob. 1546 ... ob. 1946? beginning & end of A epoch)' (in Morley 1967:111). Similarly, in Purg. XXVI, the only instance in the Commedia in which a soul has the honour to speak his own tongue (Pound 1970: 24), leaving aside the 'orribili favelle' [horrible outcries] in Inf. VII and XXXI, Dante's public function in reproducing Provencal lines in his poema sacro is to justify Guinizzelli's claim by providing a taste of the miglior fabbro's verse, while the private one could be to render a personal homage to such an important literary mentor and acknowledge his indebtedness to the Provencal tradition in general. Arnaut is also highly commended in the DVE and Dante's 'Al poco giorno' is modelled on his sestina. This tribute, however, is likely to be a backhanded compliment, inasmuch as the Provencal lines do not appear in the complex Arnautian style of trobar clus, but in a simplified and more accessible Dantean diction (Bergin 1965: 20).

While plurilingualism in Dante is mainly related to the ideology and organisation of the Commedia, like the Latin verses employed to highlight the dignity and importance of a character such as Cacciaguida (Par. XV 28-30) or Pope Adrian V (Purg. XIX 99), the raison d'etre of the 'different voices' in The Waste Land and Eliot's other plurilingual compositions lies mainly in their 'social function'. The allusions to a wide-ranging variety of European and non-European works are in fact complemented by the notes exhorting the reader to consult the original sources: 'V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado'. Vide is, after all, an imperative. This educational campaign was probably launched by Ezra Pound, who maintained that Italian should be learnt for the sake of enjoying the Commedia in the original (1970: 144). In 'How To Read' he went even further and suggested a knowledge of Confucius, Homer, Ovid, a Provencal song book, Villon, Voltaire, Stendhal, Gautier and so forth as 'the minimum basis for a sound and liberal education in the classics' (1954: 28). Elwert explains that the employment of foreign languages or patois within the same literary work presupposes the condition that the reader will be able to comprehend them, but also that the writer can deploy them as he wishes assuming that they will not be understood, the extent of its use being determined by the readers' tolerance of this 'immixtion' (1960:415-6). Eliot's plurilingual practice therefore points to the need for cross-cultural interaction, and becomes a means to attack Anglo-Saxon unilingual philistinism, betraying a desire for a return to a medieval time when people would be capable of appreciating the beauty of poetry offered by other cultures: 'It is not to be expected that any very large public in either England or America will ever take the trouble to read and understand verse in any other modern language' (1918b: 84). The intrinsic difference between the presence of foreign languages in Eliot and Dante thus lies in their reception: while the medieval audience would have understood the Latin and Provencal in Dante's works (Kuen 1958: 76), Eliot's general readers were baffled and unable to come to terms with his polyglot poetic exercises, to such an extent that The Waste Land was taken as a hoax by many. Plurilingualism in Eliot and Dante is thus not employed at will merely for the sake of difficilis artifice or condescending obscurity, but has precise functions that are not distinct from the other rhetorical and stylistic devices which poets use in their compositions; it has clear literary, aesthetic, ideological, social, political and personal value. (12)

The complete fitness of content and idiom

Contini's definition of plurilinguismo does not restrict itself solely to the employment of various languages, but also refers to Dante's practice of making language and poetic dicassertion uttered by the sailor as tile ship inexorably approaches the iceberg meaning certain death, appropriate for the context in which it is located. The word 'Another', by contrast, is a solemn Dantean allusion pronounced seemingly by the same speaker after death, which is probably meant to signal that he is reporting his story from hell or Purgatory and is consequently not worthy of mentioning His Name. Eliot later translated the line he is alluding to here, 'com'altrui piacque' (Inf. XXVI 141), as 'as pleased Another' (1929: 31), following the rendering in the Temple Classic edition. Just as Ulysses's assertion betrays an element of acquiescent submission to divine will anticipating Piccarda's dictum, 'la sua volontade e nostra pace', Eliot's lines look forward to the verse adapted from St. John of the Cross in 'East Coker' III: 'And what you do not know is the only thing you know'. The obsessive insistence on the verb 'know', repeated four times in two lines, is to be related to Ulysses's recklessly unbridled quest for knowledge ('per seguir virtute e conoscenza' [to follow virtue and knowledge], 1. 120), leading ineluctably to his and his crew's demise. In both instances, the knowledge of the fate of Ulysses, who does not ultimately quench his thirst for conoscenza, since, being pagan, he cannot possibly realise that the 'montagna bruna' is Mount Purgatory, and of the sailor, who does not explicitly acknowledge the iceberg, perceived instead in a climactic crescendo as 'A line, a white line, a long white line, / A wall, a barrier' and finally as 'cracked ice', resides exclusively in God: all the speakers must content themselves with is that 'there is no more noise now' after death. (13)

Having demonstrated that Eliot was aware of Dante's practice of adapting style to content, let's now see how he took advantage of this lesson in his own poems. In Purg. XVI Marco Lombardo expounds on the creation of the soul, a passage which Eliot greatly admired and used as the basis for his Ariel poem 'Animula':
   Esce di mano a lui, che la vagheggia
   prima che sia, a guisa di fanciulla
   che piangendo e ridendo pargoleggia,
   l'anima semplicetta, che sa nulla,
   salvo che, mossa da lieto fattore,
   volontier torna a cio che la trastulla.
   Di picciol bene in pria sente sapore;
   quivi s'inganna, e retro ad esso corre,
   se guida o freno non torce suo amore. (14)
   (ll. 84-93)

In order to render the mystery of the creation of the soul more intelligible to the reader and emphasise the close intimacy existing between the newly-born creature and its Creator, Dante employs terms and expressions taken from the semantic area of courtly love and childish jocularity. The words 'vagheggia' [loves], 'fanciulla' [little girl], 'pargoleggia' [sports] and 'trastulla' [delights] are typical of the poetic idiom of courtly poets. Eliot applies the same technique of juxtapositional coexistence of spiritual and physical in 'Animula' by envisaging the metaphysical entity par excellence, the 'simple soul' (fanciulla), 'moving between the legs of tables' (pargoleggia), 'grasping at kisses and toys' (vagheggia, trastulla), and illustrating 'The heavy burden of the growing soul' (l. 16) through a sudden change of tone in the second part of the poem. As a matter of fact, when the animula 'issues from the hand of time', she is defined by negative prefixes ('Irresolute', 'misshapen', 'unable'), just like Lombardo's pluralita di strati lessicali, whereby the soul's act of gradual detachment from God is conveyed through the abrupt introduction of the negative verbs 'inganna' [beguile], 'corre dietro' [runs after] and 'torce' [wring, curb], the latter being comparable to the stifling rigidity of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1.23). Further to this point, the last line of Eliot's poem, 'Pray for us now and at the hour of our birth', could be interpreted as another Dantean influence. The habit of altering religious quotations in order to suit one's purpose was widespread in mediaeval Italy, (15) the beginning of Lucifer's canto being one of the most notable instances:

Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni (Inf. XXXIV 1)

The first three words are the opening verse of a hymn by the mediaeval poet Fortunatus describing the approach of Christ's banners. Eliot was familiar with Fortunatus's hymn, since he quoted it in his Clark Lecture on Crashaw (1993: 169). He must have been aware of this distortion also because the reference was elucidated in the Temple Classics edition. By adding the noun inferni, thus turning the King of Heaven into the king of hell, and changing 'death' to 'birth', both quotations are no longer seen sub specie aeternitatis, but assume a personal dimension and conform to the content and structure of the poems in which they are located. As this instance illustrates, plurilingualism in both poets is often synonymous with intertextuality, but this is a practice which Eliot may have derived from Dante. His misquotation of Purg. XXX 48: 'Cognosco i segni dell antica fiamma [sic]' [I recognise the tokens of the ancient flame] (1993: 166), conflating the Italian 'conosco' and the Latin 'agnosco', clearly demonstrates Eliot's awareness that many of Dante's lines are translations of, allusions to or adaptations of Biblical and classical sources. And, not least, this allusion was discussed in the Temple Classics edition he was using: 'Verse 48 is a translation of Virgil's Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae (Aen. iv.23)'. (16)

A detailed comparison between the description of Philomel in The Waste Land and Dante's encounter with Piccarda in Paradise Ill, a canto which features prominently in Eliot's literary production, from 'A Cooking Egg' (1920) through to Ash-Wednesday (1930) and his critical appreciation of George Herbert (1962), further illustrates Dante's unique capacity for eclectic verbal and musical contrast which may have directly inspired Eliot. In the 'The Fire Sermon', the melodious song of the nightingale, 'Twit twit twit', is juxtaposed with the cacophonous Elizabethan pun on sexual intercourse, 'Jug jug jug jug jug jug', which could be related to the fact that Philomel's 'inviolable voice' springs from Tereus's monstrously brutal rape. Similarly, Piccarda Donati, confined to the 'spera piu tarda' [slowest sphere] (l. 51) because she was forced to break her vows, expounds on the souls' acquiescent submission to divine will and takes her leave from Dante and Beatrice:
   Cosi parlommi, e poi comincio 'Ave,
   Maria' cantando, e cantando vanio
   come per acqua cupa cosa grave.
   [Thus did she speak to me, and then began
   to sing 'Ave Maria', and vanished as she
   like to a heavy thing through the deep water.]
   (ll. 121-3)

The enjambement 'Ave, / Maria', lengthening the rhythm of the terzina, and the iteration of the verb 'cantando', with the prolonged smooth sound -ando, are probably meant to reproduce Piccarda's chant, like Philomel's 'Twit twit twit'. However, the initial guttural consonants of line 123 ('come', 'acqua', 'cupa', 'cosa', 'grave') seem rather unusual for the language of Paradise and would be more appropriate for use in the 'rime aspre e ciocche' ('Jug jug jug jug jug jug'). The juxtaposition of soft and harsh sounds in the final moment of Dante's encounter with the nun could be interpreted in relation to her biography: like Philomel's change, Piccarda's loss of virginity was 'rudely forced' by her brother Corso Donati, who removed her from the convent and forced her to marry Rossellino della Tosa, with whom he sought alliance at the time. This is further emphasised by the deployment of the adjective 'cupa' [deep], which is the only time it is used in the Paradiso. It appears twice in the Inferno to characterise the profundity of bottomless perdition (Inf. VII 10; XVIII 109), and twice in the Purgatorio, in Canto XIV 52: 'pelaghi cupi' [deep gorges], and metaphorically to delineate the magnitude of the shewolf's hunger: 'per la tua fame senza fine cupa' [for thy hunger endlessly deep] (Purg. XX 12). Considering that in the lines in question Dante utilises the term to designate the physical depth of the water through which the 'cosa grave' disappears, it could be interpreted as a direct reference to the infernal use of the adjective. Hence, the paradisiacal atmosphere of the canto is 'rudely broken' by grating sounds and terms which are in keeping with the idiom of hell rather than the atmosphere of Paradise. Eliot seems to be applying the same technique in the incipit of 'A Game of Chess', where the delineation of the lady's 'heavenly' splendour through such exquisite terms as 'burnished throne', 'glowed', 'glitter', 'satin' and 'ivory' is vitiated by the 'infernal' verbs 'lurked', 'troubled', 'confused' and 'drowned'. This is further intensified by the 'sad light' (1. 96) preceding the description of the 'sylvan scene', an expression comparable to the 'dolorous twilight in which moved the form of Brunetto Latini' (1993:122), which, like Dante's use of the adjective 'cupa', makes the allusion to the Inferno almost direct. Plurilingualism in Eliot and Dante thus also entails rapid changes in tone and style within the same stanza / terzina in conformity with the subject matter and the emotions the poets are trying to convey.

It should finally be pointed out that the multilingual practice in Eliot and Dante could be elucidated in terms of the 'metaphysical' poetry they both represent such accomplished exemplars of. Eliot's views on Dante's metaphysical sensibility saw a dramatic change from 1921 to 1929. In 'The Metaphysical Poets' (1921), he unambiguously identified Elizabethan and Jacobean verse as the quintessence of metaphysical poetry and famously stated that 'in the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in, from which we have never recovered' (1921: 64). At this stage, Dante and the Trecento are only referred to briefly on two occasions as eminent precursors of 'the school of Donne'. At the end of his 1926 Clark Lectures, however, the beginning of this fateful dissociation is set in the thirteenth century:

I have indicated a theory of what I call the "disintegration of the intellect". So far I am concerned, this disintegration means merely a progressive deterioration of poetry, in one respect or another, since the thirteenth century. If I am right about poetry, then this deterioration is probably only one aspect of a general deterioration, the other aspects of which should interest workers in other fields. (1993: 227)

Just as the 'dissociation of sensibility' was conveniently located at the beginning of the English Civil War, namely at a time of social and political upheaval and chaos in the country, similarly the 'disintegration of the European intellect' set in soon after Dante, the unexampled practitioner of the art of poetry and the epitome of the European idea. It seems that in Eliot's mind the two cataclysms are gradually made to coincide, so that Dante eclipses Donne and is regarded as the most metaphysical poet--

Dante is the great exemplar not only for the type [of poetry] which forms the themes of these lectures [metaphysical poetry], but of every type. (1993: 56)

--as well as the most European:

... in Dante's time Europe, with all its dissensions and dirtiness was mentally more unified than we can now conceive. It is not particularly the Treaty of Versailles that has separated nation from nation; nationalism was born long before; and the process of disintegration which for our generation culminates in that Treaty began soon enough after Dante's time. (1929: 19-20)

While this change of heart could have been prompted by Eliot's progressive move towards a religious Weltanschauung, where Dante is put on a pedestal and provides poetic as well as cultural and spiritual guidance, it may also be ascribed partly to Herbert Read's influence. In 1923 he published an article in The Criterion entitled The Nature of Metaphysical Poetry', which appears to have affected Eliot's development of his ideas on Dante's 'metaphysical' sensibility, capable of 'devouring any kind of experience'. Read argues that:

The Commedia is the complete expression of a very complete mind--a mind that saw as much beauty in the Summa of Thomas Aquinas as in the episode of Paolo and Francesca, and did not find these beauties inconsistent. It is in every sense a metaphysical poem, complete and unified. (1923: 258)

Eliot had similarly explained that such heterogeneous experiences as falling in love, reading Spinoza and listening to the noise of the typewriter, 'are always forming new wholes' in the mind of the poet (1921: 64). Read's view is overtly echoed in Eliot's admiration for Dante's 'power of establishing relations between beauty of the most diverse sorts' defined as 'the utmost power of the poet' (1929: 55). And in order to achieve this, Eliot knew that the poet must draw upon all aspects of experience and consequently make use of a plethora of different languages and styles, which in the Commedia are not hierarchically stratified, but co-exist harmoniously on the same level--'pluralita di strati lessicali va intesa come compresenza' [plurality of lexical strata should be seen in terms of co-existence] (Contini 1951: 171-2)--,which is ultimately the most important linguistic lesson Eliot learnt from Dante. Samuel Johnson's derogatory discordia concors, accusing the metaphysicals of yoking but not cohesively uniting disparate concepts, should therefore more appositely be substituted by Horace's original concordia discors (Epistles I xii 19) in Dante and Eliot, with the emphasis lying on concordia. As shown above, the most heterogeneous ideas, and, by analogy, the most diverse styles, tones and languages, are not merely 'yoked by violence together', but seem to be melting and freezing into a crowned knot of new wholes, where the fire and the rose are one: 'Each shall be both, yet both but one' (Lord Herbert's 'Ode' quoted in 'The Metaphysical Poets', 1921: 62).

It is hoped that this study has gone some way towards demonstrating that there is more to the literary relationship between T.S. Eliot and Dante than references to Brunetto Latini and quotations from Purg. XXVI. While their identification and contextualisation indubitably provide vital clues to the interpretation of Eliot's poems, it should be borne in mind that beyond these allusions, adaptations and direct quotations from the Commedia, the conspicuous 'lessons of speech' discussed above bear witness to the fact that Eliot's distinctively innovative poetic diction owes a considerable debt to his painstaking study of Dante's art of versification. It is now up to scholars to shift the focus from content and ideology, namely from 'the lesson of width of emotional range' (1950: 134), to the long-neglected poetic lessons, and begin to examine in more detail the full implications of Eliot's claim that 'the poetry of Dante is the one universal school of style for the writing of poetry in any language' (1929: 55, my italics).

Eliot's theoretical and practical debt to Dante's plurilingualism analysed in this piece seems so manifest that its neglect by previous scholarship, and indeed Eliot's own silence on it, could only be accounted for in one way. As Baraski rightly contends, our perception and discussion of Dante's 'plurilingualism' ultimately does him no justice, as his purpose in the Commedia was precisely to transcend the intrinsic differences among languages (1996: 74). Maybe previous critics were right after all in overlooking this connection between Eliot and Dante, and maybe this study does Eliot no justice either, considering that the linguistic pluralism he exhibits in his early poetic production is clearly aimed at re-establishing the medieval unified 'mind of Europe' which did not perceive the contrasts among languages as consciously as we do nowadays. As in the Commedia, then, the polyglot and stylistically diversified 'voices' in Eliot's poetry are not meant to be distinguished from the (high and low) ones 'he do' in plain English, because all are ultimately 'legati con amore in un volume' and become, through his verse, 'as intelligible and united as the parts of a single melody'.



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(1) Eliot as fully aware of this idiosyncrasy in his critical writings, as he acknowledged in 'The Music of Poetry': 'I can never re-read any of my prose writings without acute embarrassment: [...] I may often repeat what I have said before, and I may often contradict myself (1942: 107).

(2) See Manganiello (1989: 141) for the parallels between Dante's Monarchia and Eliot's The Idea of a Christian Society and Murder in the Cathedral.

(3) See also Pound's later assertion in 'National Culture': 'It can't be said that an alteration on Mr Eliot's passport has altered the essential Americanness of his work' (1973: 138).

(4) For a detailed and comprehensive account of the network of European intellectuals contributing to The Criterion. and the importance which Eliot's journal assumed between the two World Wars, see Harding, J. (2002) The Criterion: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-war Britain, especially the final chapter 'Defence of the West' (pp. 202-226).

(5) In 'Ego Dominus Tuus', which had some influence on Eliot's speculations on Dante (Ellis 1983:211), Yeats also defined the Italian master as 'The chief imagination of Chistendom'.

(6) Higgins too drew attention to Eliot's conspicuous neglect of Dante's 'minor works' (1970: 131, 146).

(7) For an account of their literary friendship, see: Uhlig K. 1989. 'E. R. Curtius und T.S.Eliot zur kritischen Affirmation der Uberlieferung', in Walter Berschin and Arnold Rothe (eds.), Ernst Robert Curtius: Werk, Wirkung, Zukunftsperspektiven. Symposion zum hundertsten Geburtstag; Honnighausen, L. 1990. 'Curtius, Eliot und der konservative Beitrag zum Modernismus', in Lange, W. (ed.), "In Ihnen begegnet sich das Abendland': Bonner Vortrage zur Erinnerung an Ernst Robert Curtius; Anderson, M. 1995. 'La Restauration de la decadence: Curtius et T.S.Eliot', in Guyaux, A. (ed.), Ernst Robert Curtius et l'ideed d'Europe.

(8) 'My dear Curtius, You are of course right about Goethe. My few peevish remarks about him have been the result of an early prejudice for which I do not know the reason. Someday I should like to write an essay to make some amends, but it would involve considerable labour and I cannot at present see the prospect of it.' (14 February 1949, in Honnighausen 1990: 246).

Apart from Eliot's harsh assessment of Goethe in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933: 99), see for instance, his contention that 'Shakespeare and Dante divide the modern world between them; there is no third' (1929:51), later modified to include Goethe as a third great European (1954b: 212). In 'Argo' (1950b: 1-27), a cross-cultural survey of the Argonauts myth, attempting 'an einem Beispiel aus der Mythologie die Kontinuitat der literarischen Tradition Europas zu erweisen' [to demonstrate the continuity of the European literary tradition by an example drawn from mythology] (1950a: 11), Curtius draws a parallel between Goethe and Dante, both defined as representing the 'Thesaurus europaischer Tradition' [thesaurus of European tradition] (1950b: 24). Incidentally, Eliot had singled out the Argonaut terzina in Par. XXXIII 94-6 for high praise on two occasions: in his 1926 Clark Lectures (1993: 57) and in Dante (1929: 54-5).

(9) See, for instance, his 1924 claim: 'but let him be French or English or German in such a way that his national character will complement, not contradict, the other nationalities.' (1924: 95)

(10) 'The West comes together in your person', Gottfried Benn's comment to Curtius upon receiving his Europaische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter. This is also used as the title of a Festschrift commemorating the centenary of Curtius's birth (Lange 1990: 8).

(11) 'Willingly he began to say: "So doth your courteous request please me that I cannot, nor will I hide from you. I am Arnault that weep and go a-singing; in thought I see my past madness, and I see with joy the day which I await before me. Now I pray you, by that Goodness which guideth you to the summit of the stairway, be mindful in due time of my pain." Then he hid him in the fire which refines them.'

(12) See also Schmeling's and Rebmann's suggestion that the choice of the Latin and Greek epigraph from Petronius could have been prompted by the charge of obscenity brought against Boni and Liveright, the American publishers of The Waste Land, in July 1922 on account of their publication of Firebaugh's idiomatic translation of the Satyricon. According to them, Eliot knew of the trial, and this stimulated him to include a phrase from Petronius in the original as an erudite nose-thumbing to the modern Philistines who had attempted to suppress the Satyricon (1975: 405-6).

(13) These lines present some affinities with the Dantesque section in Little Gidding II, in which, though the explicit model is Inf. XV, Eliot 'wished the effect of the whole to be Purgatorial' (in Gardner 1978: 176). 'Remember me' is almost certainly a translation of Pia's 'ricorditi di me', alluded to in 'The Fire Sermon' and quoted in the notes to The Waste Land, or of Arnaut's 'sovegna vos', quoted in 'Exequy' (1971: 101). 'And if Another knows', though based on Ulysses, could be regarded as another reference to Pia's 'salsi colui' ['tis known to him], but imbued with the religious significance of Piccarda's 'e Dio si sa' [God doth know], thus bringing Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso together in one verse. This syncretic practice of synthesising Inferno and Purgatorio seems consistent in Eliot's allusions to Dante. The infernal 'Prufrock' originally bore an epigraph from the last two lines of Purg. XXVI, just as The Burnt Dancer', despite the epigraph from Inf. XVI 6, is dominated by a purgatorial mood and strewn with references to it.

(14) 'From his hands who fondly loves her ere she is in being, there issues, after the fashion of a little child that sports, now weeping, now laughing, the simple, tender soul, who knoweth naught, save that, sprung from a joyous maker, willingly she turneth to that which delights her. First she tastes the savour of a trifling good; there she is beguiled and runneth after it, if guide or curb turn not her love aside.'

(15) See for instance the famous epilogue of the Vita Nuova: 'mira ne la faccia di colui qui est per omnia secula benedictus' [gazeth continually on His countenance qui est per omina secula benedictus], which is a Biblical quotation adapted from 'qui est super omnia Deus benedictus in saecula' (Rom. 9: 5) and 'qui est benedictus in saecula' (2 Cor. 11: 31).

(16) Curtius also established a parallel between the intertexuality of Eliot and Dante: 'Eliot's poetry is full of all sorts of allusions. It is necessary to have read a great deal in order to understand and enjoy his subtle web of allusions. The method of alluding to previous literary works is one of the most important artistic devices of Greek and Roman literature. Dante too employs it when he introduces echoes of Virgil into his verse' (1949 124).


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Author:Copley, J.H.
Publication:Yeats Eliot Review
Article Type:Critical essay
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Date:Mar 22, 2005
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