T S Eliot and Indic Traditions

T S Eliot and Indic Traditions

Product ID: 14141

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Author: Cleo McNelly Kearns
Publisher: Samvad India
Year: 1987
Language: English
Pages: 314
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8190131818


T S Eliot’s allusions to Indic philosophy in several poems, from the Sanskrit ending of The Waste Land to the What Krishna meant section of Four Quartets have puzzled and intrigued readers since the poems first appeared. In T S Eliot and Indic Traditions, Cleo McNelly Kearns laces Eliot’s lifelong interest in Indic philosophy and religion in the context of his concomitant studies in Western philosophy and his views on literary theory and poetic practice. The author establishes the depth and extent of his knowledge of not only Sanskrit and Pali texts but also of the scholarly tradition through which they were interpreted in the West. She explores as well Eliot’s keen sense of the important distinctions between specific schools of thought. Kearns concludes that Eliot was less intenerated in synthesizing various traditions than in comparing the texts for what he called the difference they can make to one another.

Examining the influence on Eliot of such thinkers as Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, F H Bradley, William James, and Bertrand Russell, the author shows how the realist-idealist debates in Western philosophy shaped Eliot’s understanding of Indic thought. Kearns also studies the important ramifications of Indic philosophy for Eliot’s religious development and for his poetic theory and practice. In the light of recent work in literary theory, she discusses the difference made to Eliot’s reading of Indic texts by his acceptance of the Anglican Communion and examines his changing relation to a series of precursors in the use of Indic thought in literature from the early Romantics through the Symbolists and Moderns.

T S Eliot and Indic Traditions includes detailed discussions of essays, poems, and plays. The emphasis throughout is not only on specific allusions to Indic material, but also on patters of thought and characteristic modes of expression that color and subtly alter the poet’s more overtly Western and Christian world. The book culminates in an extended analysis of the way Indic philosophic traditions inform and illuminate The Waste Land, Four Quartets, and Eliot’s poetic plays.


Kearns’ argument is original, her scholarship rigorous, and her account of Eastern speculation come alive within The Waste Land persuasive, this is the first study of Eliot I’ve seen that knows the difference between Eastern speculation or metaphysical philosophy and Eastern religion, and to realize that Eliot’s interests and affinities were with the former and not the latter. But best of all, this goes on to present a fresh reading of The Waste Land which seems to me both more comprehensive and more cognitively acute than any before it.
-Harold Bloom
Sterling professor in the Humanities, Yale University

T S Eliot and Indic Traditions, traces with creditable aplomb a virtual genealogy of Eliot’s poetic tradition. Kearns is about the only commentator on Eliot’s Indian sources who has given us an as yet unrivaled account of them. Her method is to put us on luminous trails, offer speculative asides as we proceed, and ground us firmly in sources whose relations we begin to see more clearly than before. Kearns tells us, for example, that the voice of Eliot’s wisdom owes as much to the Vedic and Buddhist discourses as it does to its does to its putative Western sources. That perhaps we might have sensed but not quite known till Kearns shows it to us.
-K Narayana Chandran
Professor of English, University of Hyderabad







Tradition and the individual reader
Surrender and recovery
Metaphysics and wisdom
Texts and teachers

Hindu traditions
Vedas and Upanishads
Shankara and Paul Deussen
The Bhagavad Gita
Patanjali and James Woods

Buddhist traditions
Henry Clarke Warren and the Pali Canon
Masaharu Anesaki and Mahayana Buddhism


Philosophical issues
Realism and idealism
Josiah Royce and the Upanishads
Bradley, Vedanta and Nagarjuna
Bertrand Russell and the New Realism
Knowledge and Experience as an ars poetica

Religious points of view
William James and counter conversions
Babbitt, More, and the need for roots
Roger, Vittoz and meditation
The Anglican Middle Way

Literary influences
The Oriental Renaissance
The American sublime
The anxieties of influence


Metaphysics in The Waste Land
The reader as Parsival Memory and desire
Tiresias: ego or Seer
Phlebas: the meditation on death
Repeating the rain mantra
From Da to Damyata
Sovegna vos

Wisdom in Four Quartets
Critique of immediate experience: Burnt Norton
Raid on the inarticulate: East Coker
What Krishna meant: The Dry Salvages
The simplicity of wisdom: Little Gidding

Drama and dispassion
Genre trouble
Karma and negative incarnations
Witness and dissociation
The way to freedom
Departing in several directions

Works cited