T.S.Eliot and Animals

Paul Spampanato


The Animals of World War

T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Four Quartets are the beginning and culmination of Eliot’s meditative musing about the world wars.  In The Waste Land, Eliot’s sporadic visions manically examine many themes involving sexual ineptitude, bareness, and futility.  What many scholars overlook, or flat out ignore, is Eliot’s use of animals throughout the poem.  Ecotheory is a particularly troubling genre of literary study that gives little to no credence to animal studies in these Eliot poems.  It is important when writing about environmental concerns, that ecotheory makes sure to give attention to all forms of nature, not just landscapes.  In Four Quartets, animals show up less frequently than they do in The Waste Land, but when they are present, they emphasize a few different themes that correspond with Eliot’s ideas about time, which involve both kinship and slavery. Animals often share the same fate (for better or worse) that humans do throughout the poems.  By making use of animal studies in The Waste Land and Four Quartets readers can gain a better understanding of the important themes of fear, anxiety, desecration, and time that The Waste Land and Four Quartets portrayed.

Animal studies is still a very new form of analysis in the humanities that has yet to be fully “accepted” by the literary community.  Evidence of this reluctance to accept animal studies as a new form of literary theory is no more prevalent than in the writings about T.S. Eliot’s poetry.  Unless someone is studying Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the scholarly world ignores Eliot’s use of animals.  In the introduction to Marion C. Hodge’s essay about Old Possum’s the author begins by stating: “In general, T. S. Eliot’s poetry is intellectual, subtle, static, lyrical. Nothing much happens in it. There are few characters, and they do little except think… For the most part, then, Eliot’s poetry is thought and symbol, state of mind, state of consciousness” (129).  This essay gives importance to animals as their own beings/characters in Old Possum’s, but as this quote presents, Eliot’s other works are just about symbols and state of mind/consciousness.  Essentially, if one wanted to find a detailed scholarly source about Eliot’s use of animals in The Waste Land or Four Quartets they would have a difficult time.  One book written in 1984 entitled Eliot’s Animals is all that seems to exist until about 2009 when animal studies began to pick up momentum in the literature community.  Even with slightly more scholarly work on animal studies, very little is written about the use of animals in The Waste Land and Four Quartets.  Ecotheory fails miserably at this topic, as it blatantly ignores the effects that society’s treatment and understanding of animals has had on the environment.

Ecotheory has established itself as a prominent literary study in modern times. This theory’s focus around the environment has led to many interesting angles to read classic works of literature.  However, there are pitfalls that are becoming conspicuous with essays written within the last ten years.  It seems as if many scholars are trying to use Ecotheory to regurgitate old themes under the guise of “environmentalism.” The Waste Land is, unfortunately, a target for these eco-theorists.  A good example of this failure in the ecocriticism sect, is an article published in 2015 that tries to combine modern ecological crises with the Waste Land.  The author focuses on water and yet never comes to any new conclusions: ” Eliot constantly uses the lack of water in connection with infertility, which conveys to us the sense that the modern world cannot produce anything new or beautiful” (163). The author also makes note of five aspects that are the cause of modern “ecocide” according to ecocriticism: ” The world continues to witness threats to the environment triggered by warfare, oil leaks, global warming, population explosion, and pollution” (161).

Throughout the essay, the author never makes any lasting arguments about why readers should read The Waste Land through an ecocritical lens.  It is a 15-page article that restates themes of impotency, decline, and death, while trying desperately to relate it to modern ecological issues.  This essay is not an example of why ecothoery should be discontinued, but it points out an incredible pitfall about analysis surrounding the environment: the ignoring of non-human animals.

In certain works of poetry and prose, where the author themselves never makes any use of animals or make very little use of them, ecotheory is not harmed by ignoring animal studies.  But in The Waste Land, Eliot makes poignant use of animals to enhance his themes of impotence and desecration.  When ecotheory ignores animals, they are selling themselves short both as literature scholars and as modern environmentalists.  This essay never mentioned animals in a meaningful way, which is probably why she ignores the fact that humans’ modern “ecocide” has much more to do with animals, than most people realize: “Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions” (cowspiricy.com). Ignoring animals in modern ecology is just as bad as ignoring them in ecocriticism.  Therefore, an animal studies approach is better to view Eliot’s themes in a deeper fashion than what is already written in many books and articles.

A book published in 2014 entitled Representing the Modern Animal in Culture features a chapter on Eliot, in which the author uses Eliot’s feelings towards animals as an explanation for his portrayal of sexuality throughout his career.  The author states: “Eliot’s attitudes toward animals, and toward humans, were shaped by this belief in non-progressive evolution.  His views on human-animal relations can be linked to his anxieties surrounding those (sexual) appetites that we share with other animals” (Essert 121).  The chapter focuses around how animals further emphasize Eliot’s uncomfortable feelings surrounding sexuality and how his use of zoomorphism[1] enhances readers understandings of how Eliot’s views of acceptance change throughout his life.  The chapter later investigates the differences in how animals are used as metaphors during his earlier works, compared to that of his later works.

Animals studies can provide a slightly deeper look into the symbolism of Eliot’s poetry by reexamining old themes of sexuality and acceptance through animal symbolism.  The one aspect that jumps out about an approach like this is that the author does not analyze any non-human animals, but instead chooses to analyze the “animality” in Eliot: “Revisiting Eliot’s early work with attention to animal imagery will provide further evidence of this ambivalence…Eliot often uses zoomorphism in his representation of human sexuality” (121-122). This approach seems to be less about the study of animals, as it does to be the study of humans grasping with an animalistic nature.

There are other routes to examine throughout Eliot’s poetry that can make more use of animals, not just as symbols, but as characters themselves.  One aspect, I feel that animal studies must combat is allegory.  Much of the above author’s argument leaves too much room for critics of animal studies to dismiss this approach as allegory.  By looking at Eliot’s use of animals as more than “explanations” of Eliot’s feelings at particular moments in his writing career, animals such as rats, dogs, and birds can provide readers with a much more immersive look into his poetry.  Animal studies in literature is in such an early stage that it has yet to be considered a form of literary analysis.  Therefore it is important for scholars of animal studies in literature to analyze not just the symbolism of an animal, but what is it about that specific animal that makes the symbolism work.  Animal studies would benefit greatly by establishing that animals must be examined as individuals that are part of the story/poem, not just an allegory meant to enhance a human idea.

Beginning with The Waste Land, every time an animal is mentioned there is either a body of water or bones present, sometimes both items are present at the same time.  Thus, it is important to examine the use of the animals to promote Eliot’s themes of desolation and desecration.  Both of these themes show up right away in The Waste Land when Eliot makes a small, but very significant change to John Webster’s play, White Devil.

In part I “The Burial of the Dead,” the final lines of the section state: “‘O Keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men, / Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again! / You! Hypocrite lecturer! —mon semblable, –mon frère!'” (74-76).  Eliot’s notes reference Webster’s White Devil for line 74 about the dog.  In the quote Eliot is referencing many animals are seen as friends to the buried dead.  However, the wolf is seen as a menace that digs up the bones of the dead and does not allow them to rest in peace:

Call for the robin redbreast, and the wren,

Since o’er shady groves they hover,

And with leaves and flowers do cover

The friendless bodies of unburied men.

Call unto his funeral dole

The ant, the fieldmouse, and the mole,

To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,

And (when gay tombs are robb’d) sustain no harm;

But keep the wolf far thence, that’s foe to men,

For with his nails he ‘ll dig them up again. (White Devil 5.4)

There are a number of animals listed in this quote that Eliot chose to reference.  The birds are laying flowers on the forgotten dead, ants mice and moles are keeping the bodies warm, yet the wolf is a threat to the deceased.  Before exploring the final lines that Eliot uses, there is a point to be made about why Eliot excludes the other animals in The Waste Land.

The Webster quote uses non-threatening animals to show them as friends to mankind.  Robins, wrens, and moles are not only innocuous, but widely considered to be cute. Ants and field mice are also non-threatening, but they are widely considered to be pests of humans’ homes.  The common idea is that none of these animals are real threats to the safety of humans.  However, a wolf can be threatening and can not only desecrate a dead body, but also create a dead body.

Webster’s choice for a wolf to dig up the buried dead in search of food, is well within the nature of a wild canine.  Mankind’s fear of wolves would be worth exploring in that text, but the fascinating aspect of this quote is not why Webster chose a wolf, but why Eliot changed it to a dog.

The change Eliot makes to Webster’s quote is from a threatening animal that mankind generally stays away from, to an innocuous animal that mankind has dominated through domestication. It is the domestication that drives home the underlying fear of desecration that The Waste Land portrays.  Therefore, it would have been pointless for Eliot to use the whole team of animals.  Eliot only needed to make the savage animal more ubiquitous.

In “Burial of the Dead” dogs are an interesting choice for Eliot to depict fear and anxiety about death, especially when you consider that he changed the line from wolf to dog.  The speaker even states that dogs are friends to men.  Some authors claim that Eliot made the change from dog to wolf as an amusing alteration: ” Eliot’s contriving of this, by means of a slick transposition of words, affords amusement” (Macklin 6).  Virginia Woolf even claims that Eliot told her that he “was having a joke about Webster” with these lines (Poems of T.S. Eliot 620).  These explanations are quite convenient to disregard the change and once again ignore an animal in a literary text.  But that is not what the change really symbolizes.  When a reader views the dog as an individual capable of causing desecration, this animal change becomes a symbol of the fear of war.

By changing the wolf to a dog that is a friend to men, Eliot is removing the comfort of the familiar (dog) and giving the readers the fear of the savage (wolf).  The domestic dog “with his nails he’ll dig it up again!” does not paint the picture of a dog finding an old rawhide bone in a flower bed and digging it up for fun.

This ending in a section about burying the dead, pits mankind’s friend against mankind.  The dog will not show mercy or respect to the dead bones of its friend.  The dog is destroying its kinship with mankind, because it is showing disrespect to the dead.

By domesticating the desecration of the dead, Eliot is familiarizing this action.  Eliot is portraying desecration as something that is normal in society.  This poem was written during the aftermath of World War I and Eliot is showing his readers that desecration has become societies norm, in this culture of war that he feared was still ongoing.  War desecrates cities, governments, traditions, and the dead.  War was normal during Eliot’s lifetime, and therefore the domestic dog was more apropos than the wild wolf to portray desecration of the buried dead.  The domestic dog is no less savage than the wolf, whom is no more respectful to the dead then the rat rattling around in the bones of the deceased.

Mankind’s friend is simply treating mankind no more or less kinder than mankind has treated itself.  Is the dog betraying its friend, or has it simply adapted to the society mankind has created? A society that bends the domestic dog to its will.  When mankind cannot treat itself well, then it’s domesticated friend will follow suit.

Eliot not only shows fear by exploiting the relationship of a friend, but also through mankind’s pests.  Throughout the poem, water is constantly described in some form: rain, snow, rivers, the sea etc… Not every time water is mentioned are animals referenced, but there are significant moments in the poem where the two intersect.  One animal, in particular, has prominent poetic moments with water: the rat.

The first time a rat is referenced in The Waste Land is during part II. “A Game of Chess.” On lines 115-116 the speaker states, “I think we are in rats’ alley/ Where dead men lost their bones.” This is a refence to a trench in the Somme sector that involved a battle over territory between the British and the French.  Rats and bones will become inseparable later in the poem as this relationship solidifies during “The Fire Sermon” section.  In part II, Eliot begins with a long thought of 33 lines, before his stanzas become short and erratic for the next 28 lines.

Lines 115-116 comprise the entire stanza.  As fears and anxieties begin to arise in the speaker: “‘My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad…'” (WL 112), the image of bones in rats’ alley enters the poem.  The imagery seems fairly standard for a moment of fear and anxiety about death; but nothing is that simple in The Waste Land.  Rats’ alley being a place where dead men lose their bones is an unsettling thought about what happens to our bodies after death.  Rats are shown to be survivors throughout the poem, and they are depicted as benefitting from the death of humans.  Mankind falls so far down the food-chain in The Waste Land that they must fear the desecration by their friends and become sustenance and trinkets for rats.  Rats do not just simply eat the flesh on the bones but, they take them from humans.  The dead men lose their bones in rats’ alley[2].

The fact that it is worded that dead men lose their (possessive form of the word) bones in rats’ alley, shows that something is taken from these men that makes them human.  Eliot’s notes about this line points to the rat rattling around bones in “The Fire Sermon,” which is a continuation of Eliot’s use of rats showing no respect to the dead.  The bodies of these men are desecrated by the rats and a piece of their humanity is taken with their bones.  This is the second instance in The Waste Land where a non-human animal is feared to desecrate the dead bodies of men. In this instance, the rat is not betraying its friend, but instead is using mankind to sustain itself.  Not only does Eliot show the ease with which rats will make use of human bones, but they will openly mock humans while they defile their bones.

In section III “The Fire Sermon” desecration, water, and mocking, assault the speaker in the first two stanzas.  The speaker is sitting near the bank of a river that is devoid of nymphs: “The nymphs are departed” (WL 175).  Immediately, the reader must understand that any joyful superstition/imagery is not going to alleviate the anxiety of the speaker.  Throughout the speaker’s meditation he will not find an image of happiness or buoyancy.  Instead, the speaker muses on the ruined lives of a father and a brother, as a rat sniffs around the bones of the dead:

The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation

Dragging its slimy belly on the bank

While I was fishing in the dull canal

On a winter evening round behind the gashouse

Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck

And on the king my father’s death before him.

White bodies naked on the low damp ground

And bones cast in a little low dry garret,

Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year. (WL 186-195)

The first line sets up the entire scene of the rat mocking the struggles of mankind.  The rattle of bones is the rat walking amongst the bones of the dead.  The “chuckle spread from ear to ear” is Eliot’s reference to the Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Cheshire Cat is a smug and haughty character from Lewis Carrol’s novel where the surreal is ubiquitous.  Eliot’s reference placed here undercuts the severity of the speaker’s musings.

The image of a rat kicking around the bones in the garret should bring out an emotion of appall and disgust in the reader. The rat shows no respect to the bones of the deceased, and our feelings of revulsion are openly mocked by the image of the Cheshire Cat’s grin spread (literally) from ear to ear.  Once again, a non-human animal is present to mock the traditions of mankind, just the same way that war has undermined the foundations of society.  Not only is this rat nonchalant about the “white bodies naked on the low damp ground” (WL 193), but it is fattened from the surfeit of available food.  The rat is “dragging its slimy belly on the bank” (WL 188) revealing that the death of others is the surplus for the rat.  While people are dying, the rats are thriving.  Rats survive, while humans perish.

Rats are symbols of many different things that vary from person to person.  One may call a rat an adorable pet, while another would call it a despicable pest. Since Eliot is undermining common opinions and practices in The Waste Land this portion of the paper will focus on the more common thought of the rat; the rat is a conniving rodent that lives only to fill its belly and reproduce.  However despicable humans find rats, there is something that not one human can deny: rats were here before humans and they will most likely be here long after humans.

This last accepted fact is what drives Eliot to use the image of the rat snuffling around the bones of the deceased.  The futility of mankind to survive in a time of war is openly mocked by the ultimate survivor, the rat.  It is not just this author’s opinion of the rat as the ultimate survivor, the speaker in The Waste Land states that the bones of the deceased are ” Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year” (WL 195).  Year to year, the rat will be in this garret feasting on the remnants of dead humans.  The rat will be pushing around the bones and growing fat on mankind’s downfall.  A rat who is only concerned with eating and reproducing will thrive while mankind kills each other over territory and pride.  The rat will mock mankind’s selfish motivations with a chuckle spread ear to ear.

The Waste Land was Eliot’s early masterpiece that granted him fame and recognition.  It is well documented that Eliot transformed as a poet throughout his life, and his use of animals is not immune from that transformation.

Eliot’s Four Quartets are the culmination of his poetry involving the world wars.  The animal imagery in The Waste Land pits animals against mankind or at the very least seperates them from humans.  The Waste Land is much more blunt than the animal imagery in Four Quartets.  Much of this subtlety is a result of both Eliot’s topic (time) and his growth as a poet in the decades that span the two poems.  In The Waste Land there is a separation between humans and non-human animals.  The animals are individual entities that emphasize themes of desecration and anxiety about humans.  The animals do not take part in this fear or anxiety, they are the perpetrators of it.  Animals openly mock humans in The Waste Land and it smacks readers in the face when they look at animal imagery through the lens of animal studies.  The animals in Four Quartets are great representations of Eliot’s theme and his growth, because they transform from separate entities in “Burnt Norton” to creatures that abide by the same rules and share the same fates as humans in “The Dry Salvages.”[3]

Four Quartets and much of Eliot’s later works are widely agreed upon by scholars as proof of Eliot’s maturity and growth as both an individual, religious man, and poet.  “Burnt Norton” is an example of Eliot’s growth by portraying a peaceful acceptance of the world and time.  Emily Essert states that “Throughout Eliot’s later work…there are strong suggestions of continuity between humans and animals, and of untroubled kinship with animals” (133).  This “kinship with animals” is portrayed through the use of birds in “Burnt Norton.”

“Burnt Norton” was written during a time of relative peace in Europe, and the way the speaker interacts with this bird, portrays a happy moment, in which time makes sense to Eliot:

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,

Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present. (BN I 40-46)

This scene takes place in a rose garden in which the bird is guiding the speaker because (as the bird states) “human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality” (BN I 42-43). There are a few interesting angles about Eliot’s choice for a bird to be a guide during part I of “Burnt Norton.” A bird actually being a guide, is nothing new to literature or poetry, in fact it is a frequently used image for guided meditations.  Birds represent a freedom, through their ability to fly, that humans cannot possess.  This flight grants birds a perspective of reality that humans can only dream of when they imagine floating above the world.

Thus, the question to ask about this scene should not be why did Eliot choose a bird, but what does a bird represent about time?  Brian Cheadle examines Four Quartets‘ structure and states that “In ‘Burnt Norton’, where time registers on the individual pulse, the rose-garden intuition is the intense experience of an intimately personal intuition of the timeless” (242).  “Burnt Norton” is an examination of time as timeless.  Timelessness is a reality that humans cannot bear, but the guiding bird can bear.  Above any other creature in the animal kingdom, Eliot chose a bird (one which he did not specify a specific breed) to be a master of the timeless reality.  Eliot could have chosen a religious figure, such as an angel to be the guide, but instead he chose a bird.

Eliot’s choice to keep the guide limited to a creature on the material plane that is not a representative of any religion is important to proving the kinship that grows stronger throughout Four Quartets with animals.  Eliot wants to be taught about timelessness by an animal who has a freedom that humans don’t, but also abides by the same laws of nature as a human.  Had Eliot’s speaker been guided by an angel or cherub, the message of time would lose viability.  By choosing a guide that is both non-human and a fellow member of nature, it reveals that humans have much to learn from our animal brethren, and that it is possible to come to an understanding of time, that the birds find so easily.

Lastly, Eliot had to choose a non-human guide, because humans are too bogged down with memories and distractions:

To be conscious is not to be in time

But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,

The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,

The moment in the draughty church at smokefall

Be remembered; involved with past and future.

Only through time time is conquered. (BN II 37-43)

While the bird is guiding the speaker, it frequently tells him to “Go.” The bird is constantly pushing the speaker forward into the rose-garden because to stop and contemplate is to miss the moment.  The importance of a bird being the guide is that birds live in the moment: flying from one perch to the next, foraging for items to make a nest, and migrating south once the weather changes.  Birds always seem to be unconsciously moving in a forward direction (metaphorically) without contemplating the past.

Contemplation is a barrier to the understanding of time.  The last reason that a bird works better than nearly any other animal is that birds have less barriers to prevent them from going through a garden without consciousness. Birds can fly above or below most obstacles, and when needed, they can fly high in the air to put everything into perspective.  A birds-eye view is a perfect metaphor for being “involved with past and future.” The bird can see the entire rose garden or just a small section if it so chooses.  The bird can view both past and present as one entity, due to its ability to see the world from whatever angle it so chooses.  Thus, mankind must learn to be like the guiding bird and remove the obstacles of consciousness to view time as a whole, both as past and present.  To be like a bird is to conquer time.

Eliot’s cheery animal guide is an adequate representation of his emotions during the time of “Burnt Norton.” There was much for mankind to learn, but Eliot was optimistic that time could be conquered.  By choosing a bird guide, as opposed to a rat or a desecrating dog, Eliot portrayed an optimism that was sorely missing from The Waste Land.  That optimism dwindles quite a bit throughout the rest of Four Quartets, but the feeling never disappears completely.  Eliot knows that the bird is ready to guide mankind, but he was perhaps a little too hasty in assuming mankind was close to entering the rose garden or that animals could, in fact, be adequate guides.

In “East Cocker” Four Quartets changes from the tone of optimism to regretful pessimism about the optimism in “Burnt Norton:”

…The poetry does not matter.

It was not (to start again) what one had expected.

What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,

Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity

And the wisdom of age? (EC II 21-25)

Eliot is upset about what he wrote in “Burnt Norton,” because the world took a turn for the worse and World War II was beginning in Europe.  Thus, Eliot lost that feeling of optimism and carries it over into “The Dry Salvages” where human and non-human animals become one in the same, where neither has a grasp of time.

“The Dry Salvages” was written in the midst of World War II, which one author describes as:

In ‘The Dry Salvages’ (1941), by contrast, life in time is conceived in terms of the perpetual agony of personal pain and suffering. Once again it was in part the current state of the war, in which Britain was coming to depend for its continued existence on the Atlantic convoys with their horrendous loss of lives… (Cheadle 241)

“Perpetual agony” and “personal pain and suffering” were feelings and emotions that Eliot was once again growing accustomed to, as he suffered through another world war.  As shown throughout The Waste Land and in “Burnt Norton,” there is a separation between the human and non-human animals.  The Waste Land pitted both sides against each other, but in “Burnt Norton,” there was evidence of a growing kinship.  In “The Dry Salvages” that kinship is solidified in Eliot’s poetry.

The river in “The Dry Salvages” is a powerful character that introduces the idea of continuity across all species: “The river is within us, the sea all about us;” (DS I 15).  Nature is part of us and all around us at the same time.  Yet Eliot makes sure to let his readers know that humans are not the lone species that is part of/surrounded by the river:

Its hints of earlier and other creation:

The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;

The pools where it offers to our curiosity

The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.

It tosses up our losses, the torn seine, (DS I 18-22)

Other parts of this body of water that humans are a part of, include crustaceans, bones, and vegetation.  The river tosses all that is within its current, whether human or non-human.

Time is no different in “The Dry Salvages.” All things are subject to time’s flow and there is no way to fight the current.  Eliot warns against a battle with time, as he states that we must “consider the future / And the past with an equal mind” (DS III 30-31).  To battle time is futile: “Time the destroyer is time the preserver, / Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops, / The bitter apple, and the bite in the apple” (DS II 67-69).  Line 68 is the interesting line in this passage about time’s flow.  Eliot links a human, animal, and object together in the macabre flow of time.  The unrelenting flow of time does not descriminate between the negro or the cow and enhances the kinship (for better or worse).

One aspect about this line, that should not go ignored in an animal studies perspective, is the choice of a cow and a chicken coop to be the points of emphasis in Eliot’s analogy.  A farm animal and the housing for another farm animal are the choices Eliot makes to show equality through time.  Is Eliot making a comment about imprisonment/salvery with this line?  A dead negro (whether intentional or not) brings in the thought of slavery.  A cow is an enslaved animal for mankind’s animal agriculture, and chicken coops represent prisons for chickens on a farm.  What this line appears to be stating about time is that all things, living or non-living, are slaves to the flow of time.  This is an aspect of animal studies that is missing from the genre.  Few (if any) would recognize the connection between a cow and a dead negro sharing similar backgrounds.  It would be hard to believe that Eliot linked these two unintentionally on line 68.  The cow and the dead negro show the readers that no living thing is exempt from time the destroyer.  We are all slaves to it’s will.

Ecotheorists and animal studies scholars have much to gain by looking at animals as individuals and recognizing their plights in this world we all share.  Just by looking at a few lines from three poems by T.S. Eliot, this paper has sought to prove that there is an incredible value to an in-depth look at the way animals are used in literature.  The Waste Land used animals to enhance the idea of desecration by showing how domesticated the act of desecration is in Eliot’s war-torn culture; and that while humans desecrate each other, the lowly rat will thrive in the rattling of humans’ dead bones.  In Four Quartets, Eliot concedes that mankind and animals share the same fate when time is in control of the flow.  All animals (human and non-human) are slaves to the will of time.  Therefore, animal studies provides a deeper look into the important themes of some of T.S. Eliot’s greatest works.





Works Cited

Cheadle, Brian. “Four Quartets: Structure and Surprise.” The Cambridge Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 3, 2015, pp. 233–250.

Eliot, T.S. The Poems of T.S. Eliot Volume I. Edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, John Hopkins UP, 2015.

The Waste Land. The Poems of T.S. Eliot Volume I. Edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, John Hopkins UP, 2015.

Four Quartets. The Poems of T.S. Eliot Volume I. Edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, John Hopkins UP, 2015.

Essert, Emily. “Cats, Apes, and Crabs: T.S. Eliot among the Animals.” Representing the Modern Animal Culture. Palgrave Macmillan. New York, 2014, pp. 119-136

“Facts” Cowspiracy.com/facts. Retrieved May 1st 2018.

Gilbert, Sandra M. “”Rats’ Alley”: The Great War, Modernism, and the (Anti)Pastoral Elegy.” New Literary History, vol. 30, no. 1, 1999, pp. 179-201.

Hodge, Marion C. “The Sane, the Mad, the Good, the Bad: T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Children’s Literature, vol. 7, 1978, pp. 129-146.

Macklin, J. “Eliot’s Use of the White Devil in the Waste Land.” English Studies in Africa, vol. 34, no. 1, 1991, pp. 1–10.

Parashar, A. “Reverberations of Environmental Crisis and its Relevance in Managing Sustainability: An Ecocritical Reading of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.” Decision, 2015, vol. 42, no. 2, 159-172.


[1] “a trope that blurs the boundaries between human and animal, domestic and wild” (Essert 121)

[2] There is a fairly useful essay written by Sandra Gilbert entitled “‘Rat’s Alley’: The Great War, Modernism, and the (Anti)Pastoral Elegy” that examines the phrase rats’ alley and its vernal implications about World War I poetry.  However, this text, like many others that I reference in this paper, does not examine the use of the rat in rats’ alley, instead it ignores this aspect and delves into allegorical elements of environmentalism.

[3] Animals appear in all four poems, but for the sake of brevity and to give proper space to “Burnt Norton” and “The Dry Salvages” this paper will just focus on these two poems.