This poem was written in the same year and season as the Treaty of Versailles was signed It was an important turning point in the twentieth century. He disliked the Treaty. He could represent something of what was then contemporary history and a new secular way of seeing the world. There are a range of interpretations a reader might have in regards to what this piece is about. He was in the war and spends time at the beginning of the poem juxtaposing it against his current life.

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The psychological coherence of the first verse paragraph, instrumental in clarifying both the main structural principle of superimposed contexts and the main image of the house within the house, is abandoned as Eliot moves to his second stanza. The tenuous psychological connections that critics have pointed to as transitions between these two stanzas are inventions, not discoveries. They are fabrications compelled by a desire for order. The fact is that the second stanza "follows" the first only in its arrangement on the page; logically and psychologically, the second does not follow at all.

It does not properly begin, and it does not end; it simply starts, and then, without a period or even a comma, in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a line, it stops. This stanza relocates readers, giving them a far more inclusive vantage point. All of those ruined houses in windy spaces--from Gerontion's withered brain to Europe's war-shattered civilization--are suddenly placed in the context of the rejection of Christ. Although the second stanza lacks the internal coherence of the first, it is unified by the fact that all these fragments are related to the Christian religion and, as will become evident, to a special relation between knowledge and unbelief.

As far as the overall structure of the poem is concerned, this stanza takes the most teratical image of the previous stanza--the Jew lying in wait for his prey--and superimposes one of history's greatest houses, the house of David.

The principal tenants in this vision of the house of Israel are the Pharisees, Christ, and pulling together nineteen hundred years of history, the landlord squatting on the window sill of Europe. But these sons of David are not the only tenants of this antique house. Joining the natural brothers are many half brothers, audacious upstarts who irreversibly alter Abraham's line.

The rejection of Christ by his brothers in blood led to an expansion of the house of Israel. Anyone of any race whatsoever who would accept Christ in faith was adopted into what the Bible calls the new Israel, the Christian Church.

The tenants in Jacob's greater house include, then, Christ's adopted brothers and joint heirs, including in this stanza the seventeenth-century preacher, Lancelot Andrewes.

The house of Israel, like the house of Gerontion, is decayed, dry, wind-sieged. Eliot's main allusion in this second verse paragraph is to a sermon preached by Lancelot Andrewes before King James I on Christmas Day, This sermon deals with the particular theme of Christmas--the Incarnation. The mystery of the Incarnation, of course, is the mystery of God being immured in a house of flesh. The ancient image of the body as a house, central in the previous stanza of this poem, has a special meaning here.

In the case of Jesus of Nazareth, the tenant of the body is a god; the house, therefore, is much more than a house--it is a temple.

The Bible frequently describes the body of Christ as a temple. The book of Hebrews, for example, contains a detailed analogy between the Jewish house of God, the tabernacle, and the incarnate Christ, "a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands" Hebrews 9: And Christ referred to his own body in just these terms in a text alluded to by both Andrewes and Eliot John The temple of the Christ, then, is superimposed upon the Jewish temple which it transformed.

The greater temple was swaddled in darkness, the darkness of infancy's powerlessness, the darkness of corrupted Judaism, the darkness of history. The body of Christ is a house apart in "Gerontion"; it also stood in a dry and windy land, but instead of decaying in the general aridity, it was arrested in full strength and destroyed.

The ruin in all of the houses in in the poem is related to the destruction of this temple. The text for Andrewes's sermon and for Eliot's poem is the demand by the Pharisees that Christ give them proof of his divinity--"We would see a sign!

The mind of the Pharisees is this new house, and it is in certain ways analogous to the mind of Gerontion. Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.

Matthew This passage is crucial to understand "Gerontion," for it identifies the curse that has brought all these houses Greek, Jewish, Christian to ruin; this curse is a mentality that isolates intelligence from passion and from belief. Separated from its context, the above passage seems to say that Christ refused to give the Pharisees a sign, demanding that they accept him by faith alone. In context, the passage says almost the opposite.

Most of Christ's career was devoted to giving signs to these professors of law and religion; but whenever a sign was given, the proud but unperceiving scholars took it for a wonder and, ironically, resumed their campaign for a sign. In the incident quoted above, Christ gave two signs of his divinity. First, he restored a paralyzed hand, and then he cast out a demon which was making its victim blind.

The Pharisees witnessing these signs responded with their usual request, "We would see a sign! They would soon see the supreme sign, but their unbelief, inseparable from their learning, would prevent them from recognizing it. This rejection by the Pharisees, quoted by Andrewes and by Eliot, was a turning point in the life of Christ and in history, because it led to an expansion of the house of Jacob. In his immediate response to these Pharisees, Christ oversteps the racial definition of Israel by asking "Who is my mother?

And who are my brethren? In the second stanza of "Gerontion," Eliot's use of Andrewes's sermon superimposes this more inclusive house of Israel, the Christian Church.

It may be supposed that Eliot, who became an admirer of Andrewes's theology, is contrasting the rejection of Christ by the Jews to the acceptance of Christ by the Church, or that he is contrasting the Pharisees' blindness to Andrewes's insight. But Eliot's opening fragment, "Signs are taken for wonders," is as applicable to Andrewes as it is to the Pharisees, as applicable to the Christian Church as to Israel. In the specific part of the sermon to which Eliot alludes in his poem, Andrewes repeatedly declares that the Incarnation is a "wonder too," a "wonder sure.

Seduced by paradox, they were enthralled by the wonder of omnipotence dependent upon a young woman for diaper changes, of omnipresence locked up in infant flesh. By transforming the Incarnation into an abstraction, by treating it as an occasion for rhetorical play, the Church had also taken the sign for a wonder.

The Church is another of this poem's decaying, crumbling houses in dry and windy lands. The Church, furthermore, is occupied by desiccated and dying tenants housing dull and shriveled thoughts; the churchyard is parched and, literally as well as figuratively, packed with dry bones, dry stones, dry excreta. The third stanza, which describes a corrupt eucharist ceremony, elaborates and complicates the houses already introduced in the poem.

Attention is focused on the house of the twentieth-century Church as contemporary participants in the Mass are superimposed upon the Pharisees and upon the seventeenth-century Church as accomplices in the ongoing rejection of Christ. The motif of the body as a house is extended in this stanza. In the Church Age, i. Silvero, Hakagawa, Madame de Tornquist, and Fraulein von Kulp, then, are decayed temples, windswept, wind-sieged, wind-abandoned, wind-destroyed.

Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, But the poem provides no continuing determinate scene or narrative within which such lines can confidently be placed, though there are sporadic indications of possible scenes and narratives. The relatively disjointed quality of both "Prufrock" and "Gerontion," especially the lack of good continuity between the verse paragraphs, makes it hard to ascribe the language to a speaker, even one who is in the kind of extreme situation mentally or physically that is sometimes portrayed in dramatic monologues.

Instead of being located, grounded in a referential way, the language, which is full of dislocations, tends to float; it refuses to be tied to a limiting scene or to a limited meaning. The conversational language is not sustained, for instance, in the lines that follow the opening ones in "Gerontion":. We find out where this "I" was not and what it did not do, not where or what it is in any positive sense. The passage gives rise to questions that it does not answer and that are not answered elsewhere in "Gerontion.

The difficulty of maintaining the illusion of an "I" who speaks becomes greater as "Gerontion" proceeds, for example, in the fifth stanza with its sequence of sentences beginning with the verb "Think," which continues into the next stanza. The sentences may be in the imperative mood. Or the subject of an indicative verb may have been omitted. The grammatical indeterminacy disturbs the statements' coherence in ways that resist resolution.

The language pertains not to a character whose name indicates that he is a person but to one who is named artificially. Like a figure in a medieval allegory whose name points to a concept that is abstract and general rather than personal and individual, Gerontion is not a person but one among many possible incarnations of the meaning of his name in Greek, "little old man. Eliot, Romanticism, and Imagination. Hugh Kenner has noticed that Eliot's characterization of Senecan drama provides a fair description of "Gerontion.

Here Gerontion has quoted St. Matthew's report of the pharisees' challenge to Christ "We would see a sign! In his essay on Andrewes, Eliot remarks that Andrewes is "extracting all the spiritual meaning of a text" in this passage. That is precisely what Gerontion cannot do. Andrewes is talking about the logos, the Word within the word.

Gerontion's words have no metaphysical buttressing, and his language is studded with puns, words within words. The passage on history is a series of metaphors that dissolve into incomprehensibility:. Gerontion has already described himself as "an old man in a draughty house," and his "house" of history has its corridors and passages and issues. Written histories also have "cunning passages," and historians write about "Issues.

From Eliot's point of view, this is merely self-deception. Given the idealist historicism that Eliot inherited from Bradley, history cannot possibly be an "other," separated from the self who conceives it.

By presenting history as something other than an "ideal construction," a product of his own mind, Gerontion shifts the blame for his own situation from himself onto history:.

Neither passive fear not active courage will save us, says Gerontion, because history has duped us, perverting our heroic intentions. Gerontion's understanding of history is a rationalization of his own inability to act or feel. It is to his advantage to be what Bradley calls an "uncritical historian" or what Eliot calls an "imperfect critic.

Unlike Eliot, the speaker of "Gerontion" does not understand that his knowledge of history is his own "ideal construction," and that a vision of historical chaos is a product of the mind that cannot unify the present and the past. As I mentioned in the introduction, Eliot's drafts for "Gerontion" show that the passage on history was finished in all but one crucial point before other sections of the poem were given their final forms.

In his last revision, Eliot altered only one word: he substituted "history" for "nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, From his draughty windows Gerontion looks up a barren hill: once again the eye ascends in order to descend into an abyss, reversing the motion of Dante and the Christian saints who followed St.

Augustine's "Descend that ye may ascend. He thinks of history as a system of corridors ingeniously contrived to confuse and finally to corrupt the human race. Like these women, history leads nowhere but to corruption.

She "gives too late or too soon," like a frustrating woman, and she leaves her lover not only ill-at-ease but frightened. Heroic efforts to satisfy the unclear demands of history have led to nothing but cruelty and hate. And into this history "Came Christ the tiger.


A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’

The psychological coherence of the first verse paragraph, instrumental in clarifying both the main structural principle of superimposed contexts and the main image of the house within the house, is abandoned as Eliot moves to his second stanza. The tenuous psychological connections that critics have pointed to as transitions between these two stanzas are inventions, not discoveries. They are fabrications compelled by a desire for order. The fact is that the second stanza "follows" the first only in its arrangement on the page; logically and psychologically, the second does not follow at all.


Gerontion by T.S. Eliot

Eliot, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the giants of modern literature, highly distinguished as a poet, literary critic, dramatist, and editor and publisher. Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give.


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