Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Design in T. S. Eliot's 'The Family Reunion'

The work of art is by its very name a single construct. However intricate or complicated in detail, it is essentially one thing. A valid criticism of a work is to say that its form is obscure or contradictory. It is fair to demand of the writer, "Explain this form. What did you mean by it?"And the only acceptable answer from the writer (or the critic who ventures to speak in his stead) is that he had to use a particular form, however complex and subtle, to put over the whole complex and subtle experience which was his meaning.I would like to re-examine

T.S. Eliot's play The Family Reunion in light of this statement-a play which was written exactly fifty years ago and yet speaks in the most contemporary modulation. Present-day readers of the play-it is rarely performed-are likely to come away from the text with one of two convictions: that this work, like Ulysses, is perfectly justified in its form, and as closely organized as a Bach fugue or it contains too many riddles and perplexities recalcitrant to any sensible design, and that it is therefore a failure as a work of art.

For example, one may ask, are the various levels of the plot really unified, or do they in the end stand resistant to reconciliation? Are the Eumenides any more than a melodramatic device that the author himself later repudiated? Doesn't the Greek framework finally limit Eliot's vision? Aren't both the language and structure of play gratuitously poetic in a manner more tedious than telling? For the reader who asks such questions, I shall undertake in this paper to trace and reveal the design - "the significant form"-which gives the play its impact.

The main dramatic action deals with the gradual and progressive liberation of Harry Monchensey from his sense of guilt and defilement in a private, curse-haunted universe.

This liberation is brought about by the presence of certain mysterious forces represented by the Eumenides. They appear to Harry on three separate occasions; each time Harry perceives them with increasing clarity, and as he does, he is led coincidentally to a deepened discovery of himself and of the knowledge he needs to recover his identity. In other words, the appearances of the Eumenides coincide with the successive steps in Harry's liberation, marking out as it were the stages of his progress.

This has never been noticed in Eliot criticism, nor has it been recognized precisely how significant the Eumenides are in the design of the action and the designation of character. They are not-and here I am forced into the embarrassing position of defending the author against himself-merely theatrical freaks or inopportune invocations of the classical spirit.

In one sense, they are leading figures in the play, the pivots in the pattern, the turning points of Eliot's Byzantine mosaic-not merely adjuncts to the action like the ghosts in Murder in the Cathedral. Some explication of the text is necessary if I am to clarify my contention.

Harry sees the Eumenides as concrete entities for the first time when he returns to Wishwood. Whatever hope he had of finding release from his sense of guilt is reduced to despair under the gaze of his pursuers. In their presence, Harry realizes that one does not escape the burning wheel by flight or by violence; the former is merely a change of position on the wheel, the latter a momentary reversal of its direction.

This realization puts Harry in a state of isolation which makes the entire universe seem corrupt and corrupting. This deranging isolation breaks his contact with reality and projects him into a private world without direction, purpose, or principle of conduct.

Haunted by hallucinations, Harry has no one to cheer him up. His family expects him to take up routine as head of the household as though nothing had happened. Annoyed by their pretense, Harry accuses his family of insensibility and tries to awaken them to his suffering, without success. Thus, his first encounter with the Eumenides finds Harry holding the hope that he can forget at Wishwood, and leaves him with the despairing realization that he cannot.

During the next stage of his liberation, Harry gropes his way up from despair towards freedom and illumination. He starts by fastening upon a question he had asked himself earlier: why should the Eumenides wait until his return to Wishwood to show. themselves? His aunt Agatha, who does not believe his condition of mind can be explained by his professed crime, encourages him to explore the past as the path to freedom (nearly all of Eliot's heroes are prophets of the past).

From this point on, Harry becomes the hunter as well as hunted -like Oedipus, hunting himself down, pursuer and pursued. Where his cousin Mary removes the illusion that he had once been happy at Wishwood, she confirms his stirring suspicion that his present misery is somehow linked to the house. The possibility of a romantic relationship glimmers for a moment in his mind as a means of escape from his guilt and loneliness. At this moment, the Eumenides appear to him again, this time to warn him away from his contemplated evasion.

When Mary pretends? that there is nothing to see, Harry withdraws his confidence. But now he is convinced that Wishwood holds part of the secret he seeks, and he decides to stay. This decision to face the Furies and not to run from them is the second stage of his liberation, part of the progressive ascent towards the experience of truth Eliot feels.

The third and final stage begins during his conversation with Warburton and ends during his final duet with Agatha. Warburton provides fragments of the puzzle, and Agatha fills in the missing links. She recalls her affair with his father and his plans to murder the wife he hated. Harry asks, "In what way did he wish to murder her'?" This is apparently the overwhelming question. Up to this point, whether or not Harry actually pushed his wife overboard is left vague; in light of Harry's condition, Uncle Charles has viewed the confession with skepticism, perhaps even suspecting that Harry cannot disassociate the pollution of his wife's existence from that of her death.

Now when Agatha forces Harry to focus upon the event, to strip himself of his compulsive habit of self-immolation, he begins to understand that he has imagined the murder: somehow he has objectified a fantasy, and then accepted the objectification as true.

Here is the situation we can piece together from Eliot's unpublished letters to Martin Browne and from hints scattered throughout the play: Harry is standing on the deck of the liner, a few feet from his wife, who is leaning against the rail. She has sometimes talked of suicide, and at this juncture, is drunkenly taunting him with this threat.

She overdoes it and accidentally falls overboard. Because the whole scene of shoving her overboard has passed through his mind before, Harry believes he has pushed her. He does not call for help, or attempt to rescue her in any way. His recollection of this extraordinary behavior-the event itself he has buried deeply in his unconsciousness-convinces him that he is guilty. The wish has become the overwhelming reality.

Agatha helps him to understand this through her patience and love, and the load of guilt drops from Harry. He perceives that his remark to Warburton, "The things that are going to happen/Have already happened" is "true in another sense." His father's desire to kill his wife has repeated itself in him as a kind of mysterious family curse. The inheritance for which he has returned turns out to be the knowledge of the past, and the knowledge that the past may be redeemable. The truth frees him from his guilt.

Harry's perspective is re-ordered by his release, and he is attracted to the agent of his release, half as a son, half as a lover. Agatha, who has also known "that circular desert", responds with the opposite but complementary love and they join in spiritual meeting, the only true reunion in the play.

As Agatha responds, Harry is carried away by his mounting excitement, expressed in images of encounter. But the encounter is brief. Agatha's answer is enigmatic certainly, but seems to say this: one does not pass twice through the same door (to the desert) or return to the door through which one never passed (fulfillment in love). A bond such as theirs, instead of being a refuge from responsibility, must be a release for a new beginning, a key to other doors that remain to be opened, for new experiences beyond life itself.

Harry does not comprehend her meaning until the Eumenides appear for the third time. Now Harry does not deny them. His rose-garden experience raises him to a state of spirit which is described more explicitly in Part II of Burnt Norton. Surrounded by a sense of grace, Harry intuits ("His Lordship is rather psychic"-Downing) the higher function of the Eumenides by connecting their appearance with what Agatha has been trying to tell him: "relief from what happened" comes not through evasion, but through quest; not through rejection, but through the "awful daring of a moment's surrender."

Illumined by this insight, Harry is released for action and suffering on a higher plane; he accepts without fully understanding Agatha's paradox, "To rest in our own suffering/Is evasion of suffering. We must learn to suffer more." When Harry announces his decision to depart from Wishwood on the trail of the Eumenides, his mother concludes that Agatha has persuaded him to become a missionary and asks him to change his mind.

Harry refuses the request, and departs with Downing in pursuit of the "hint half guessed, the gift half understood" (Dry Salvages, V). Soon after his departure, his mother collapses, and the play ends as Agatha and Mary, in circular procession around the cake intended for her, gradually extinguish the candles in a tenement service for both of the departed.

They reverse their circular movement to indicate that the wheel has also changed direction. As Harry is freed to follow the promptings of his spirit, we see how intricately the sin-salvation symbol has been woven into the horizontal structure of the play.

Just as deftly the symbol is spread over the vertical structure. The characters are grouped in stations along a hierarchical scale of values. In this scheme their position is determined by the nature of their spiritual perception (or, in somewhat different terms, by the level of consciousness or awareness the character is capable of attaining), and by the nature of the actions arising from the perceptions of the character. Seen from this perspective, the Eumenides become the point of reference in the manipulation of various, shifting planes of perception, or a kind of index to spirituality or what we might call "awareness quotient."

The presence of these silent agents every member of the family feels as a strange force working behind the scenes, assembling the group almost against its will, exerting peculiar powers on Wishwood, appearing at strategic moments. But only the characters with capacity for belief have the vision to recognize the higher function of these spirits.

These members of the family actually see what they sense, so strongly do they sense it "If this strains your credulity, entertain the suggestions that a sudden intuition, in certain minds, may tend to express itself at once in a picture" Those who deny the spirit, in this scheme, cannot see. Yet nor can they escape it: in almost animal fashion, these characters can only feel.

They respond only to the tangible: and they feel the supernatural only as something which troubles sleep. If they are without vision, then they are beyond change: and beyond change themselves, they behave as though nothing else changes. Living and partly living, they try to avoid the reality that lies behind appearance in Eliot's haunted universe.

Of this group, only Uncle Charles tries to comprehend the design that may exist beyond the world of external events, of strictly practical purposes. He is dimly aware of forces outside his grasp, and at the end, says with a selfeffacing humor, "I fear that my mind is not what it was-or was it-and yet I think that I might understand." But Charles has measured out his life with sherry glasses, and when his moment of salvation flickered he was afraid.

Gerald is a foil to his brother Charles, a beautifully cryptic creation whose manner manages to suggest why young men in England are angry. Like his accident-prone nephew, Arthur, who is apparently stamped in his image, Gerald is on vacation from consciousness. He sees nothing and knows nothing, a voice straight out of "The Game of Chess." The two aunts, whose personalities reverse the qualities implied by their names, also lack perception. Behind their trivial concerns, they have hidden and continue to hide from spiritual disturbance.

This foursome of aunts and uncles-the chorus- feels and fears the strange events at Wishwood, but fears to examine what they feel and fear. During ordinary moments, each seeks comfort behind such reassurances as "Of course we know what really happened, we read it in the papers" ("I seen that in the papers"-Sweeney).

But when they are overwhelmed by what the sub consciousness will not overlook, a procession of forebodings, superstitions, and terrors march through the lower centers of their minds and into simultaneous articulation. As they sink back into this primitive state, their common recitation becomes clogged with surrealistic images, with slumbering memories from the past and disturbing moments from the present "all twined and tangled together."

But this kind of animal awareness, without belief, is merely animal. Until they have learned a change of heart, these people can neither escape nor exercise the nameless forces lurking within and about them. Whether in Argos or in England, one must have the courage to look into the heart of light, Eliot seems to imply, in order to transform devils into angels.

While Harry is saying, "Now I see," the chorus declares dolefully, "We have lost our way in the dark." They pass each other, Harry and these spiritually decadent gentlefolk, going in opposite directions.

Part of this secular group, Amy is the most forceful person in it, living on the plane of will alone. But will without spirit is like sensation without spirit, and Amy's attempt to will a design to which all must consent is wrecked by her inability to see beyond her own schemes. Unmoved by physical disasters, she is crumpled completely by Harry's departure, which she regards as the greatest disaster. When her clock stops, she too is still in the dark, and her party, more dismal than Dusty's (Sweeney), becomes her funeral.

After her collapse, we are left with the inescapable inference that these representatives of English aristocracy have lost every advantage their age could confer. Deprived of even simple belief by their sophisticated secularism, and shaken from their sophistication by their simple fear, they are the hollow men and women.

Occupying "the territory between two worlds" are Agatha, Mary, and Downing. All three see the Eumenides. But like the protagonist of "A Song for Simeon", they have not been elected to pursue the Vision, and to his words give reluctant assent: "Not from me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,/Not for me the ultimate vision." However, because they know that revelation is possible, they can help Harry towards his election.

After he is beyond their assistance, they will go each in his own direction to find what peace may be granted to those who "shall not know the one veritable transitory power." As part of the almost geometric using and re-using of patterns, there is a parallel between Mary's starting life as a reacher and Agatha's debut in that profession: disappointed in sexual love, Mary will devote herself to the enlightenment of others, while learning the attitudes of resignation that her aunt has already attained.

If their future seems drab, yet both have been fortified for it by their encounter with the powers that emerge now and then. At the outset only "watchersand waiters" like the women of Canterbury, they emerge from their spiritual experience as wanderers with wisdom, surprisingly unsoured by prospects that might seem sterile to their secular kinfolk. As his name suggests, the valet-chauffeur Downing is the common-folk counterpart of the two women, a demonstration that spiritual flexibility is not a matter of intellect or class.

Presumably because his vision is unhampered by involvement in the tangle of loves and hatreds, Downing becomes awed of the Eumenides earlier than any of the others. Downing is to accompany his master on the first leg of his journey; at some point along the way, perhaps he will say in the words of Simeon, "Let thy servant depart,/Having seen thy salvation."

To his valet, Harry is a hero. Having been most low, he becomes most high by accepting the election of the Eumenides to explore the meaning of the rose-garden experience. When first confronted by these powers, he sees them as evil eyes, but during the moment of illumination, he perceives them as the "final eye," judicial and benevolent (the shift from the plural to the singular is significant and parallels the play's ascent from pagan to Christian meaning).

Having tracked himself down, Harry leaves his homeland with his will made ready for the thousand natural shocks that an heir is heir to. As he heads rejuvenated for his awaiting chariot, we may safely infer that the author, too, is repudiating the desperate declaration of Sweeney: "I've been born and once is enough."

The Eumenides are also used to lock the various levels of the plot together, to relate each plane of action to the other. The reader will recall that the theme of the Quartets is the interrelationship of time past, time present, and time future. Written while Eliot was in the midst of composing the Quartets, the play appears to be an attempt to make this highly abstract idea dramatically concrete, to re-state it in another voice. The Eumenides may be regarded as the objective correlative of the central meaning in each statement, and the symbol under which all these meanings are infolded.

Let us consider the play in this light. Eliot's interest in present time is reflected in the play's examination of the nature of psychological guilt, its effect upon people in general and an individual in particular living in the modern world. The concrete embodiments of the guilt-sense, the Eumenides, reveal themselves for the first time at Wishwood because it is the locus of the guilt. "The origin of wretchedness" lies in the unhappy bondage of Harry's parents.

Guilt about his homicidal wish drives Harry's father into exile, while her feelings of guilt separate Agatha from the family. Harry is left to the care of a mother who clutches and dominates him. Out of his position as the possessed, he develops a strange morality-being good is pleasing mother, being bad is hurting her.

He feels guilt for resisting her and out of his guilt, feels a desire to be punished; therefore, he misbehaves in order to be chastised and therefore purged of his guilt. The chastisement in turn intensifies his hostility, which culminates in an act of open defiance: he marries a "non-U" instead of the woman whom his mother intends for him. The mother feels strong homicidal impulses towards the intruder ("I believed that Cousin Amy had killed her by willing" - Mary).

To punish herself for these impluses, the mother devotes her life to the "purposes of Wishwood" and eventually becomes, like the manor-house, a shell of stone. Harry is affected by these tragedies. Never having known love, he expresses the opposite impulse towards his wife, who has become a surrogate for his hostility towards all women. Dependent himself, when he finds her to be the same, his hostility deepens into a desire to be rid of her.

He quite readily holds himself guilty in the accident, for he has come to regard himself as an outcast predestined to crime. This fantasy so absorbs him that he loses contact with reality. In these terms, the Aeschylean curse may be interpreted as a streak of family neuroticism which Harry inherits: the desire of both parents to kill somehow descends upon the son with such intensity that need becomes indistinct from deed.

Harry's attachment to Agatha resembles what the psychiatrist calls "transfer." Acting as analyst, she helps Harry to free himself of loathing. During this process, he tries to release positive feelings, first with Mary, then with Agatha. In the former instance, he is incapable of developing the emotion: he has never had the chance to identify with a father figure, and therefore finds heterosexual relationships difficult to enter; and second, he has been symbolically castrated by his traumatic experience (the fact that his most enduring association is with his male servant may be relevant here).

Later, he reaches a high pitch of tenderness with Agatha, but at this time his super-ego in the form of the Eumenides, remind him that this is not the way to divine union. However, this exploration of the past cures Harry of his near schizophrenia.

The reader who is inclined to may disregard the extra-physical aspects of the Eumenides by thinking of the play as a dramatization of modern psychological problems, with the Eumenides as the dramatically-tangible counterparts of our obsessions, the idea of guilt and alienation. In this light, the play is as modern as Macbeth. This modern theme Eliot fuses with the myth of the ancient house of Atreus.

The present is interwoven with the past in a manner that enriches the fabric of the action and brings into collocation the wisdom of the two ages. Through this dramatic overlaying, Eliot gives us his version of the permanent but often unacknowledged psychical attitudes and forces operational in the life of mankind. Some critics have argued that there are more departures than affinities to the Oresteia, but this is true only in the most literal sense.

Just as we regard Joyce's departures from Homer not as departures but as symbolic equivalents that add meaning to the original, so may we regard Eliot's departures from Aeschylus. Thus, the characters need not do things merely because their Greek prototypes did: they may have their own identity and meaning as modern people, but within a familiar but flexible shaping medium.

Maud Bodkin has already shown how Eliot gives the Greek plot a fresh interpretation, and we need to add to her discussion only a few remarks. The central affair is replaced by one perhaps more representative of our age, the affair between husband and mistress. Amy, we know, is the Clytemnestra who "destroys" the lovers, but who is Agatha? In the interest of thrift, she combines the roles of Athena and Cassandra: a prophetess put out of the way by the wife, Agatha returns as the protector of the hero (she is, really, the first of Eliot's "Guardians").

Mary, it will be seen, is the counterpart of Electra. Resentful of the matriarch, who looks upon "her as a servant-daughter, Mary can only watch and wait for a rescuer. In contrast to O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, Eliot retains the prominent role for the son-rescuer. Harry returns from exile, "stabs" his mother, and sets free Mary, who has become a sister to him. This is a subtle reversal of O'Neill, who turns Orin and Lavina-naturally!-into lovers.

Among the minor characters, Downing is an enlargement upon the rescuer's retainer, Pylades, and Winchell is Eliot's version of the indispensable Greek messenger. On this level, the play expands upon a cryptic remark Eliot once made: "Aeschylus may have made a statement which is true everywhere and for all time." But Eliot uses the Aeschylean myth only as a handy vehicle for the expression of his own ideas, and his interpretation of it throws considerable illumination upon interfamilial relationships of today.

Eliot is slave to neither his source nor his psychology. He develops the dimension of the play by infusing it with the truth of his religion. Without recourse to specific Christian terminology, he brings to fruition his aim of supplementing the cathedral play with the kind of drama which deals with situations of modern life in an implicitly Christian way.

The focus of interest is not, as one might assume about the work of a poet reared in New England and converted to Anglo-Catholicism, upon the question of "sexual laxity", but upon the discovery and recognition of conscience. In Eliot's eyes, consc:ience is the extra-physical factor in man that refutes the materialistic view of human personality and that justifies man's hope of the future. Io Eliot sets out to examine how far towards an acceptable solution of moral problems we can come without invoking Christian terms.

Hence, the action acquires a third dimension which may satisfy what the author has called "the essentially religious craving ... latent in all serious lovers of the drama."

Harry learns that his sense of guilt and isolation are part of a condition that goes deeper than either- the condition of sin. In this figure, the subjective and psychological complex becomes a supernatural, objective fact, an eternal and external reality both terrifying and reassuring to the faithful.

The author has expressed himself directly on this subject: "People often talk as if the sense of sin were something invented by a group of gloomy fanatics ... it is absolutely essential to Christianity." Sin, to Eliot, is the universal sickness responsible for man's nature ("We're all of us ill in one way or another"- Warburton). Of course, sin may grow out of thought as well as deed-as Christ's own words testify.

Therefore, if Harry's criminal desire is innate and the moral equivalent to the act, then the curse transcends the confines of family and society, and represents the unfolding of man's primeval impulse to violate the Law-the impulse which Adam passed on to Cain. Apparently, then, the ultimate origin of wretchedness lies in the theological fact of man's sinful nature. There is nothing new about this concept: Eliot subjects it to the scrutiny of modern and ancient wisdom and tries to show it as consistent with both.

The Eumenides play their part in this construct. Associated with primitive blood-curse and modern guilt, in another aspect entirely continuous with the first two they stand for sin-consciousness. Harry becomes aware of the root of his unhappiness after their final visit. He senses that the business of his life must become ascetic purgaton. Guilt vanishes but sin remains.

By following the Eumenides as immediately and as unintelligibly as the Disciples dropping their nets, Harry leaves for a triple salvation: to lift the doom on himself, on the house, and on the world. This conviction of sin and expiation is, in Eliot's definition, the "certain inflexible law unalterable whether in Argos or England."

Hence, what began as a primitive flight from fear is changed into a Christian pilgrimage of penance, with pagan furies at the entrance and bright angels at the exit. As a dramatically perceptible parallel to the interior transvaluation, there is the exaltation of Agatha's pagan exorcisms into Christian rituals of hope. While the stage at the end is symbollically darkened, Harry descends into the Night of the Soul.

Divested of impure love of created beings, he can act in the future with a purified, impersonal, and self-sacrificing submission to God, in alien places under stranger skies. Even the time of the action, about Holy Week, suggests that the hour of re-birth is to be celebrated. Just as Thomas Becket emerges as a symbol of faith, and Celia Coplestone as a symbol of charity, so does Harry stand as a symbol of hope (each play is concerned with the Christian virtues in order).

For the faithful, the Aeschylean concept is elevated to one of nobler meaning: as Agatha says, perhaps for the author, "What we have written is not a story of detection,/Of crime and punishment, but of sin and expiation."

The play is thus an exercise in the manipulation of modes of consciousness on various planes of insight and mystical awareness, its modern and Christian quests fused and dominated by a symbol drawn from ancient myth, the action ordered but not confined by the structure of the Aeschylean ritual drama.

In addition to the idea of ritual action, Eliot borrowed from classical drama the idea of ritual utterance. Remote enough from the modern drama to seem like a fresh form, the ritual utterance in choral and individual incantation becomes in Eliot's hand a secondary means of shaping his material as well as an interesting innovation in dramaturgy.

However, Eliot makes use of the chorus inside the play, instead of outside of it as in the classical drama. Members of the chorus can, while retaining individuality, pick up together a thread of the protagonist's thought and can develop it in terms of their own kind of perception. The running contradiction between the conscious utterances to each other and their subconscious feeling subtly affirms Harry's insistence that appearances lie.

The chorus also foreshadows the events to come, so that they do not break too suddenly upon us; and they also create the background of mystery and terror against which the action of the hero seems more heroic. When the pure chorus is broken up, and the actors speak their lines singly, in pairs, or in unison as they move about quite naturally, examining a book or pouring a drink, instead of "freezing" in the manner of Strange Interlude, the naturalistic surface of the play remains undisturbed by the ritualistic effect of their recitation.

The runic passages of Agatha arise from the shorter strophes of the chorus. In both form and content something similar to the trance-like incantations of Cassandra, they are mystical chants of curious coinage, inspired by the ancestral curse.

These ritualistic utterances of Agatha are fitted into the design of the play to coincide, like the appearances of the Eumenides (which touch them off), with the stages of Harry's liberation. The first is said just after Harry arrives; the second, spoken shortly after the second appearance of the Eumenides, is an exorcism of evil.

Immediately following their third appearance, Agatha steps into the place they had occupied and descants a final rune to indicate that the curse shall be ended. As the "crossed bones" are straightened and the "cloud of unknowing" is lifted, these passages of pagan incantation acquire an increasingly Christian tone.

This pattern of development is recapitulated in the concluding ritual between Mary and Agatha, wherein the primitive birthday observance and curse-cure, with its "follow, follow" procession, becomes a Christian communion and prayer. Thus, the main religious theme of transvaluation of curse into blessing is worked out like in the pattern of the runic passages.

Underlying these interlocking ideas is yet another design -what we might call the musical design of the play. Working from a hint that Eliot buried in an essay of this period, one need not be a musicologist in order to detect a pattern from the opera.

The extended recitations of Agatha, Mary, and Harry, with their embroidering of motifs, correspond to the aria; the lyrical exchanges between Mary and Harry, and Agatha and Harry, ·are developed in the form of duets; and the choral passages immediately bring to mind the corresponding recital in the opera. As in the well constructed opera, there is almost a classical balance of parts. The first scenes of each Part have balancing choruses of 27 and 28 lines each.

The chorus of Part II, scene iii, is balanced by one in Part I, scene iii, each of them rounded off with a runic utterance, while the rune of Part I, scene i, is balanced by a rune in Part II, scene i. Furthermore, the duet between Mary and Harry in Part I has its counterpart in the duet between Agatha and Harry in Part II, just as the exchange between Mary and Agatha in Part I may be paired with the one in Part II.

The arrival and departure of Harry, important moments dramatically, are heightened by long recitations. The only recitals of Downing are similarly balanced in the first and last scenes of the play, and the tenor coloration of Harry's arias, recounterpoised by the deep alto passages of Amy.

This experimentation with musical pattern within a dramatic context illustrates Eliot's definition of what he calls "underdesign": "a design of human action and words, such as to present at once the two aspects of dramatic and musical order." Scholars tell us that a certain form of music and movement now lost to us, was characteristic of the Greek drama. Whether so novel and unorthodox a technique has any place in the modern theater is a debatable question, but the additional qualities of architecture it gives the action results in a play with a unity of feeling and a design seldom achieved in the drama.

Through this kind of unity, Eliot approached the intensity of form which he felt was seriously lacking in modern drama. In the pursuit of greater and greater naturalism, it had lost not only this intensity, he believed, but it had also departed from the intensity of language so vital to the poetic projection of the permanent human struggles and conflicts. As a result, the modern drama had characters so extremely lifelike that they did "not even talk prose, but merely made human noises."

Therefore, it was imperative to take the opposite direction, by not letting the listener forget he was hearing verse. But the customary medium of dramatic poetry-blank verse-when it did not sound like bad prose, was likely to sound like bad Shakespeare. Seeking a form that would sound like neither, Eliot ranged from the music-hall to the cathedral after a medium that would permit dramatic characters to "express the purest poetry without highfalutin and convey the most commonplace message without absurdity."

The restrictions under which he wrote were too confining, in one way or another, to allow any real progress. While he was successful in avoiding the worn forms of his predecessors, he arrived at no idiom that promised to solve the problem so neatly wrapped up in one of his own queries: "How would people today speak if they could speak in poetry?" For The Family Reunion, Eliot attuned his ear to modern cultivated speech and developed out of it a verse form that was to become the groundwork for subsequent experiments.

Like the mature Yeats, casting out energetic rhythms as of a man running, he created a fluid poetry out of everyday speech. With only slightest heightening, he shaped a loose and flowing structure different from prose mainly in its subtle rhythms and its stress patterns. The dialogue line has four main stresses, with no definite syllable count.

The rhythm is generally trochaic, varied by dactyls at the head of the line and by occasional anapests. Though there is no rhyme, the end of the line frequently gains significance by end-stops and key words. It is almost as though the cadences of Sweeney were lightened to meet the conditions of natural conversation. In this mode, people can chatter about wine-cellars or auto accidents without sounding tedious or rhetorical.

However, says Eliot, "conversational style may and does itself become rhetoric, in becoming a fixed convention applied to any matter, not invariably issuing out of the matter treated but imposed upon it." Therefore, as the mood shifts from the conversational to one of more intense consciousness, the verse stirs and adjusts itself to the requirements of the situation. Just as imperceptibly, the verse may shift back to the relatively prosaic.

This kind of transition between passages of greater and lesser intensity the author has called the "rhythm of fluctuating emotion." By suiting the word and rhythm to the plane of perception, Eliot re-enforces the unity of the play. The use of this technique to explore various levels of consciousness is nowhere better illustrated than in the choral passages. When the members discuss the trivial and ordinary, the verse is flattened and subdued, with a grey, edgy tone. As they plumb the subterranean depths of the psyche, the rhythm becomes more pronounced, the lines lengthen and acquire additional stress.

When the chorus expresses common subconscious fear, or when it expresses thoughts censored by decorum, the long flowing lines contract into three-stress measures and the rhythm becomes tense and staccato. To indicate that the chorus is returning to the surface, the rhythm relaxes and goes forward to meet conversational cadences. Like Agatha's runic recitations, the duets descend from the three-stress choral passages rather than from the dialogue, as juxtaposition of the two will show.

This verse is not merely an example of Eliot's lyric virtuosity; it is a truly dramatic vehicle adaptable to the requirements of characterization as well as of mood. For example, the "dactylic flutter" of Ivy and the "massed cohort of strong stresses" of Violet (these phrases are Martin Browne's) reveal something of their contrasting natures, just as the facile flow of Charles' speech and the clipped, caesura-laden lines of Gerald bring out their particular personalities.

The speech of Downing is monosyllabic and swift, suggesting the efficient if uneducated attendant, while the pronounced cadences of Amy reflect her forceful nature. In following the lines of Agatha, Mary, and Harry, we feel that they are living at once on the plane we know and on some other plane of reality from which we are shut out. Although critics have remarked that the poetry frequently sinks out of sight altogether, the only prose of the play is contained in the newspaper clippings which are read aloud.

By what I have said in the foregoing pages I do not mean to imply that the play is without the imperfections of stagecraft and characterization which have been pointed out with only too great enthusiasm by Eliot's detractors. Despite its faults, Eliot has provided a memorable experience in the drama. If art is the expression of meanings, Eliot has expressed the whole complex experience that was his meaning in a form exactly suited to it. "


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