Thomas Stearns Eliot
The Battle After the Battle
"The battle is going very heavily against us. We're being crushed by the enemy weight...We are facing very difficult days, perhaps the most difficult that a man can undergo” (Erwin Rommel). During World War II, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel says on behalf of Germany that his army faces the most difficult days they have ever been through. This relates to all soldiers in all wars, as well as to people who lost their loved ones from the war. The time during and after World War II, the Naturalist period, resembles a time when people grieve over their losses from the war, and they write about the war and its effects on them. In Thomas Stearns Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” Eliot portrays a dark, hopeless, spiritual Naturalist point of view by referencing World War II and its effects on its victims through hospital and subway imagery, two bells at sea, and opportunities for spiritual reflection. By describing active places of escape and physical treatment, Eliot references World War II, the popular subject of writing during the Naturalist period, and he also describes the effects of the war through people’s emotions. The tunnels he describes reminds the reader of the subways in London during the war. Specifically, he illustrates the situation in the subway “when an underground train … stops too long between stations / And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence / And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen / Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about” (Eliot, “East Coker” III). The transition from “conversation” to “silence” in underground trains replicates the actual events of World War II, when people would escape underground from the incoming air raids, with “nothing to think about” but the “terror” and destruction exploding above. In addition, their “silence,” “mental emptiness,” and “growing terror” express the emotions that people experience during the Naturalist period due to this war. In addition to the tunnels, he describes a health care facility that refers to the wounds and sicknesses from the war. Namely, he generalizes the problem with the sicknesses, “If we obey the dying nurse / Whose constant care is not to please / But to remind of our, and Adam's curse, / And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse” (IV). “Adam’s curse,” or the idea of original sin, resembles human corruption; this “curse” results in the war and destruction. Since the only restoration solution is to “grow worse,” treatment by a “dying nurse” is futile; this unstoppable disease and the corruption of mankind both outline the darkness of Naturalist writing. The subway tunnels and the hospitals depict the physical and sentimental causes and effects of the war as human sickness, a Naturalist idea, and these introduce the human anxiety due to the war. Eliot refers to the war also through two bells’ tolls out in the sea, a place where brave men die, similar to the battlefield of the war. The first bell warns the ones lost at sea of distant rocks, which mirrors the battlefield of World War II and distant enemies. Eliot introduces the first bell’s tolls, “the distant rote in the granite teeth, / And the wailing warning from the approaching headland / …And under the oppression of the silent fog / The tolling bell” (“Dry Salvages” II). This “warning” bell, near the “approaching granite” rocks unseen in the “silent fog,” work similarly to the civil defense sirens and bells during World War II, which alert citizens of incoming air raids. Both bells in the poem and the war signify the danger coming ahead, and the situations mirror each other because both show humans at jeopardy, a dark Naturalist idea. The second bell tolls in prayer and remembrance of the men who passed away in World War II as well. In addition to the first warning bell, the second bell leads “a prayer also on behalf of / Women who have seen their sons or husbands /...
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