In relation to the existing body of criticism on T.S. Eliot's other works, the quatrain
poems contained in Poems (1920) have elicited relatively scant study. While they are
highly allusive and dense, they are no more so than the majority of Eliot's subsequent
works; indeed, it may be argued that the mode of dislocation in The Waste Land has its
origins in the palimpsest techniques applied in the quatrain poems. Whatever the reason
for the comparative neglect these works have suffered, they nonetheless form a crucial
component of Eliot's corpus. The aim of this study is to provide a detailed, 'close'
reading of each of the quatrain poems and to explore how they correlate both to Eliot's
artistic and moral vision as evinced in his critical prose and his other poetry.
Chapter One presents an analysis of 'Sweeney Erect' and 'Sweeney among the
Nightingales'. A case is made for Sweeney as a figure persistently surrounded by the
possibility of redemption. His ambiguous relationship with literary figures like Theseus,
Polyphemus, Agamemnon, etc. is explored with the aim of demonstrating the tragic
potential he is endowed with despite his grotesquery and repugnance.
'Whispers of Immortality' is given isolated focus in the next chapter. Two dominant
threads are followed: Eliot's polemic surrounding the 'dissociation of sensibility' and his
attempt to endow the poem with 'metaphysical' qualities. Attention is devoted to two
critical prose works in particular: 'The Metaphysical Poets', Eliot's 1921 essay, and The
Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry. The third chapter pivots on the theme of regret in 'A Cooking Egg'. On the surface, the
poem presents a self-satisfied speaker whose facetiousness persistently steers the action
and ideas toward seeming bathos. But it is illustrated that, once proportional sense is
made of each allusion, the speaker's bravado is underpinned by nostalgia and
'The Hippopotamus' and 'Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service' are examined in the
penultimate chapter. Eliot's 'hunger for seriousness'- his incipient quest for the austerity
of religion- brings the two poems into contact. 'The Hippopotamus' is shown to be tom
between the impulse for gravity and the impulse for flippancy. 'Mr. Eliot's Sunday
Morning Service', on the other hand, exhibits an unequivocal distaste for tepidity.
Finally, 'Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar' concludes the analyses. Due
to the density of the poem, the chapter is divided into two parts: a discussion of the
epigraph (its individual sources and their collective impact) and of the poem proper. The
argument holds that the poem ushers in the mode and techniques found in The Waste
Land, and that it betrays a deep scepticism in Eliot about the future of Europe.