T.S. Eliot and Michael McFee

T.S. Eliot starts his poem “Burnt Norton” with an epigraph that reads, “Though the world is common to all, most people live as if each has an understanding uniquely his own.” This epigraph seems to correspond closely to Eliot’s idea of Poetry and the Poet in general. In his article “Modern Tendencies” Eliot says, “Not only do all great poets seem to have something in common, but they seem like parts of one Mind, working under different conditions and at different times.” There seems to be a contrast between living in a common world and having feelings common to all and having a unique expression of these common feelings because we live in a different time. Eliot discusses this in “Modern Tendencies” by claiming Poets, similar to Scientists, need to know their past but not repeat it. Rather there is growth that should come from simply living during this contemporary time rather than time past. This idea of time seems to transfer over to “Burnt Norton” as he says, “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.” Eliot’s complex view of the Poet and his job or purpose in writing Poetry can be seen in the complex way Eliot talks about time in “Burnt Norton.”

In the poem “Answering Machine” McFee also addresses the concept of time. He says at the end of the poem, “Then, at the tape’s dead end, I hear myself cut in on a message and say, ‘Hello? Hello? I’m here. I just walked in.’ There’s a pause, the steady exhale of the long-distance line, the ambient noise of chatter and electricity, then I speak again: ‘Hello? Dad? Is that you?’ ‘Are you there son?’ he asks, as the tape runs out.” The poet is listening to an old tape hearing him interact with his father who is now dead. Time present is interacting with time past creating a deep emotional response in the reader of nostalgia and sadness over the death of a father. However, Eliot’s discussion of time in “Burnt Norton” does not create the same emotional response “Answering Machine” does. It contains the emotion but addresses it in a more critical, and unemotional way.

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One thought on “T.S. Eliot and Michael McFee

  1. Hi, Emily! I enjoyed how you included the “Modern Tendencies” article to help contextualize Eliot’s “Burnt Norton.” The McFee poem was both a nice comparison with Eliot’s exploration of past, present, and future time colliding and a nice contrast to Eliot’s emotional appeal. Nice post! 🙂

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