T. S. Eliot
An Essay on the American Magus

Marion Montgomery


"The essay is itself a celebration and a sustained and studied recognition of the wholeness of Eliot's poetry. It is a formidable and valuable discourse."
American Literature

"Marion Montgomery's essay on T. S. Eliot is a sensitive and informed reading of the major poems. I have learned for the first time how to read "Ash Wednesday" and "Prufrock." The book deserves wide circulation as a fresh contribution to our understanding of Eliot's Christianity."
—Allen Tate

"Marion Montgomery is just the sort of astute critic that Eliot himself called for thirty-five years ago. In tracing Eliot's progress from the romantic stance of "Prufrock" to the triumph of the timeless moment in Four Quartets, Montgomery sheds considerable light on many of the major poetic impulses of our age."
—Walter Sullivan

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This brilliantly allusive and gracefully written study is focused on T. S. Eliot's developing commitment to Christianity, but the essay is by no means procrustean or reductive in its strategies, nor is it theological.

Montgomery shows how Eliot's intellectual and emotional uneasiness in the early poems is reflected in such technical devices as point of view and imagery. The questions of the poem's voice and the poet's mask (which are often ironic in nature) become less pressing as time goes on, and finally Eliot comes to a dynamic stillness—a frozen point in the sea of change that is variously called nature, history, and society. This stillness embodies the poet's rendering of Christian incarnation—the Word within the word. The author finds too that Eliot's imagery grows richer during the progress of his spiritual journey. As the imagery becomes more religious it also grows more complex and more concrete.

Eliot in the end decides the poet's personal struggle to know his world is more important than the poetry which "does not matter," as he says in East Coker. Paradoxically the poetry of T. S. Eliot takes on an increasingly classical quality as it steadily becomes more personal and Christian. Montgomery accordingly shows how Eliot ultimately arrives "where he started and sees the place for the first time."

Page count: 108 pp.
Trim size: 5 x 8


List price: $22.95

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Marion Montgomery is a poet, novelist, and critic who taught English at the University of Georgia for more than thirty years. His most recent books include With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party: in Company with Flannery O'Connor, T. S. Eliot, and Others and Hillbilly Thomist: Flannery O'Connor, St. Thomas and the Limits of Art, as well as On Matters Southern: Essays About Literature and Culture, 1964–2000.