The poet as ‘worldmaker’: T.S. Eliot and the religious imagination

In Francesca Knox & David Lonsdale (eds.), The Power of the Word: Poetry and the Religious Imagination. Ashgate. pp. 161-175 (2015)
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Martin Heidegger defines the world as ‘the ever non-objective to which we are subject as long as the paths of birth and death . . . keep us transported into Being’. He writes that the world is ‘not the mere collection of the countable or uncountable, familiar and unfamiliar things that are at hand . . . The world worlds’. Being able to fully and richly express how the world worlds is the task of the artist, whose artwork is the crystallization of this ‘worlding’. For Heidegger it is especially the poet who is attuned to this ‘worlding’, for the poet’s work is focussed on and happens within language itself. The poet is a ‘world-maker’, but this ‘worlding’ is not directed at creating a fictional world; rather it is aimed at revealing the world itself, drawing to the foreground the ‘ever non-objective’ nature of the world, the world happening and unfolding through and with us. This paper, using T.S. Eliot’s poetry, particularly Four Quartets as an example, will delve into how the language of the poet is able to articulate this seemingly invisible boundary between the everyday world and that same world revealed as a mysterious potential that ‘worlds’. The ‘religious imagination’ is central in how this transformation of reality, through poetic language, can manifest. Paul Ricoeur’s work on the poetic and religious dimensions of imagination, particularly the notion of ‘hope’ provides the theoretical underpinnings to explain this transformation.

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Dominic Griffiths
University of Witwatersrand


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