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A heap of broken images :The Masks of T.S.

Eliot

Abstract
Eliot maintained in his lifetime that Poetry is an escape from life and the best poetry should
always be impersonal. He went on to inspire a generation of New Critics with his warning
that literary criticism should try to read a text based on its own literary merits and refrain
from looking at it from a biographical context. A few Eliot scholars like his biographer
Lyndall Gordon, in particular, who after his death have tried to read Eliots life and poetry
together, have however claimed that most of Eliots poetry is best understood if read
biographically.
Eliots comment on Pound - He must hide to reveal himself - might well apply to his
paradoxical nature. Masks for Eliot was a grave necessity to hide his personal turmoil -while his poetic masks were constructed out of literary tradition and myth to depersonalise
the personal, in his life, it was the multiple psychological representations that helped him
pose a placid, detached facade. I will try to suggest in my paper that, for Eliot, the mask was
a second flesh and it is impossible to dismiss his represented selves as untrue. And as he has
confessed, there were times at which he himself could not remember some of the roles he had
played earlier. Those were the ghostly, reticent masks Eliot lived in and left behind
periodically. And after he had relinquished these personalities that he had taken on, these
masks always quietly slipped away, almost non-existent, but like the quantum cat, both dead
and alive. Trying to locate these alien, discarded selves is a game in which Eliot has kept his
biographers busy for some time now.
What has particularly fascinated me about Eliot always is his love for role-playing and his
resistance to adhere to a single, monolithic idea of selfhood. Though there have been endless
debates and discussions, literary scholars have always found themselves grappling for the
truth whenever questions of Eliots identity or personality have arisen. It is difficult perhaps
to pin down on an objective truth in this regard for Eliot himself has, quite willingly, left
behind this puzzle. What he has left behind, with respect to his real personality and tastes, can
well be called a heap of broken images.

In this paper, I have tried to look at biographical readings of Eliots poetry and tried to
examine if Eliots theory of impersonality rose from an insecurity or anxiousness about
some of his most personal traits which he took utmost care to conceal. I will try to argue that
Eliots notion of tradition is important to him both in his life and poetry as it helps him to
achieve the process of depersonalisation; tradition along with myths, in a way, serves as a
mask that helps him in constructing a representative selfhood that protects his personal fears
and insecurities which are the actual crux of his poetry.