Analysis of ‘The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot

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The Dry Salvages by TS Eliot is the third poem of poet’s set of four poems. The poem was written in 1941 when his lectures were threatened by air raids on Great Britain. The poem discusses the nature of time and what humanity’s place is on time.

Analysis of ‘The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot

It is in this poem The Dry Salvages, that Eliot analyses a number of themes and the use of water as the main symbol is present throughout. We begin the first of the five sections of “The Dry Salvages” with what we might style a comparative analysis of the river and the sea.

In the first half of the second section of “The Dry Salvages” Eliot puts one of the most virtuosic movements as it is written as a variation on the sestina form where the same rhymes are used across all six stanzas.

The second half of the poem The Dry Salvages, makes the readers realize that often when remembering something from our past, we realize that it contained meaning and significance, which was hidden from us at the time – and the memory, takes on a new form as a result.

In the third part, we come across Eliot’s views of Hindu god Krishna according to whom the past and the future are all the same. Eliot mentions Krishna in this poem and how Krishna states that one must not worry about death as it is unavoidable and men should always try to find the divine will and also mentions that the present and past are all the same. Eliot concretizes this notion in the image of an old book that has never been opened: its pages have decayed and yellowed, and remain to be opened at some point in the future, but the book already belongs to the past. When we depart on a voyage, we are not the same people who left the harbor or who will reach their destination. This is a return to the idea, first outlined in ‘Burnt Norton’, of living in the present moment.

The fourth section of “The Dry Salvages” is presented in the form of a prayer, a Catholic prayer commemorating the Incarnation. The ‘Annunciation’  present in the second section of the poem, is an attempt to heal the wound of life’s hardships: all of those who are suffering. ‘Figlia del tuo figlia’, or ‘daughters of your Son’, are Jesus’ children.

The fifth section concludes “The Dry Salvages” by reeling off all of the ways in which humankind has attempted to divine the future: to ‘haruspicate’ is to attempt to tell the future by examining the entrails of animals, while analyzing the tomb is necromancy, and analysis of dreams is oneiromancy. So long as the world remains confusing and unpredictable, and the future uncertain, such acts of divination will continue. Eliot concludes by saying that, like the saint, we need to step outside of time and the temporal and gain a sense of the eternal and timeless.

The final section of “The Dry Salvages” at last offers something akin to hope. While a man will always strive in vain to “apprehend / the point of intersection of the timeless / with time,” everyday existence nevertheless contains moments of only half-noticed grace— moments at which “you are the music / While the music lasts.” Moreover, “right action,” while it will never be entirely successful, is nevertheless almost the only way available to man to subvert the “daemonic” forces that drive him.


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The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot  Themes

In the “The Dry Salvages”, it is the image of water and the sea, which acts as the central image throughout the poem. Humanity loses itself to technology and theories like evolution that separate humankind philosophically from the past. According to Eliot, within each man, there is a connection to all of humanity. We are restrained by time, but the Annunciation gave humanity hope that he will be able to escape. This hope is not part of the present. What we must do is understand the patterns found within the past to see that there is meaning to be found. Our corruption can be overcome and that we are able to join the eternal when we truly know Christ.

Eliot here mentions Adam’s fall and other such events that can be forgotten but it still related and affects mankind. Eliot mentions Krishna in this poem and how Krishna states that one must not worry about death as it is unavoidable and men should always try to find the divine will. If an individual were to follow Krishna’s words then they would be able to free their self from the limitations of time. The way for mankind to understand the divine will is through prayer and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The prayer to the Virgin Mary is intended to help guide the journey that would end with understanding eternity and the Annunciation. While connecting back to his earlier works, Eliot also connects back to his family’s past, the “Dry Salvages” was part of the landscape his ancestor Andrew Elliott traveled to in 1669.

The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot Tone

Again, Eliot plays with words (“womb, or tomb”), and, particularly in the second section, there are moments in which the gravity of the ideas forces the poetry into a somber, prose-like mode. Eliot in an attempt to lighten the tone of the poem uses far less repetition and circular section throughout the whole section. The poem depicts the use of various “landscapes” to the river and the sea and this allows Eliot to engage in flights of descriptive language free from the philosophical seriousness of the rest of the Quartets.

Again, too, formal structures are borrowed from religious and philosophical sources, as in the prayer of section four and the Krishna material in the third section. Perhaps the most famous part of this poem is its opening, with the description of the river as “a strong brown god.”

The final lines of “The Dry Salvages” combine a resigned pessimism with a suggestion of hope. Couched in the beauty of the lines is a dark meaning: “our temporal reversion” is death, which is beneficial only if we can become “significant soil” that might nourish a tree. By hiding behind such flights of language, Eliot once again retreats into the refuge of the poet. He may not be able to master time and experience but he is master of the world that he writes into being. Futility does not diminish beauty.

Bernard Bergonzi claimed, “The Dry Salvages” to be the least satisfactory of the four set of poems written by Eliot but the undeniable fact is that it contains some of the best lines. It is in these words ‘The River is within us,’ and from there to the end of the section we have a magnificently sustained sequence” is when Eliot really picks up his writing. According to F. B. Pinion in the “The Dry Salvages” continues to say the same thing, with some progression, mainly in maritime imagery even though it may appear to the readers as a prose poem.

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