Category Archives: Poetics

Poetics Research Paper Scholarly

Reading Between the Lines: Liminal Spaces in the works of T.S. Eliot By Jonathon Dey

eliotPoetry captures something that other mediums struggle with. Novels, prose and films are all effective at capturing spaces, thoughts, and moments but poetry captures the flickering space between the static frames of the ostensibly moving film or the void between paragraphs; the nebulous space of feeling and transition between one thought and the next. This space might be loosely described as the ‘liminal’, the concept of individuals or entities which are “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions” (Turner 1967 p.25), encapsulating the disorientation and ambiguity that occurs at a threshold that has yet to be crossed. In literature and poetry, the spaces between are important because the boundaries surrounding them are a membrane, the crossing of which necessitates a kind of cost (Viljoen, H & Van Der Merwe 2007 p.11). Interacting with the liminal provides insight and meaning that would otherwise be lost to the filter and consequently by doing so, poetry is able to substantiate feelings and create emotional responses that defy concrete explication (Viljoen, H & Van Der Merwe 2007 p. 10). Exploring this idea, T.S Eliot’s The Hollow Men (1925) and Ash Wednesday (1930) illustrates how liminality creates meaning in the space between meanings, a literary ether in which cognition is ultimately both fluid and diffuse.

T.S. Eliot is a modernist poet, a movement characterised by the desire for something new, owing to the disillusionment with humanity arising from the first world war among other things (Walz 2013 p. 6) The first poem, The Hollow Men expresses this disillusionment directly with a distinct sense of nihilism and hopelessness (Urquhart 2001 p. 199-201). By comparison, Ash Wednesday tracks Eliot’s movement from hopelessness and agnosticism towards religious belief in the notion of a higher power and meaning (Kirk 2008 p. 111-120). In a way, they are themselves a picture of a man caught in a liminal space, ascending from one system of belief to another without truly belonging to either. More importantly however, is the fact that they both also engage with liminality on a textual, structural and philosophical level.

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