Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James Olney


Although most readers of T. S. Eliot have agreed that the European experience of world war and the resultant political and cultural dislocations provided an important context and source of imagery for much of his work, what has not been recognized is Eliot's use of figures of war to represent the intimate yet antagonistic relations between the poet's writing of modernity and the text that is history. Beginning with a tropological analysis of Eliot's "A Note on War Poetry," relative to both the genre of war poetry and aesthetic modernity, this study examines the figural interpenetration of war and literary construction in Eliot's two "post-war" poems "Gerontion" and The Waste Land. In these poems, figures of war express the impulse to displace through formalist strategies of appropriation the real and threatening proximity of war to art, but, paradoxically, this very translation of the vocabulary of war into the terms of art exposes the inescapable correlation between the aesthetic and the historical, a correlation increasingly problematic in a time when all cultural forms seemed suddenly deprived of their innocence. The study concludes with a close analysis of the figuration of war in Eliot's wartime poetry, the Four Quartets. To write poetry in a time of war, for T. S. Eliot, was to confront the accusations of history's "horrific capability," accusations of poetry's complicity, of its irrelevance, of its inadequacy. To figure such a threat into the poetry meant not to cancel or to evade history's accusatory colloquy but, by giving it form, to articulate the necessary implication of all writing in the conditions of history.