Small-group seminars are at the heart of the Summer School programme, allowing students to interact one-on-one with leading scholars in the field and to engage in closely focused discussions of Eliot’s work. Each student will choose one seminar to attend for the week; seminars will meet each afternoon, Monday through Friday, 1:00-2:30pm. Students will be notified by email of their seminar assignments. Seminar leaders may be in contact with students in the weeks before the Summer School regarding readings and texts. Unless otherwise notified, though, students should come prepared with a copy of Eliot’s poems. Readings from Eliot’s non-fiction prose that are assigned will be accessible in the newly finished The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, volumes 1-8, which will be made available gratis for 30-days (courtesy of Johns Hopkins Press) to Summer School participants.

2020 Seminars:

Early Poems and Criticism, Frances Dickey

What enabled Eliot to “modernize himself on his own,” as Ezra Pound memorably remarked? This seminar explores some literary and cultural influences on Eliot’s early writing that contributed to his poetic development. We will read from Inventions of the March Hare, Prufrock and Other Observations, and his early literary criticism, with reference to selected poems, stories, songs, paintings, philosophy, and other sources that may have influenced his writing. Broadening out, we will also explore historical factors that contributed to Eliot’s rapid and unique self-modernization, such as his childhood in St. Louis.

The Waste Land and its Contexts, Leonard Diepeveen

This seminar will be devoted to The Waste Land and how it can be understood through its contexts. Essentially, we will explore what the poem meant at the time, and how that initial context shapes our understanding today. Each day we will discuss the poem in relation to a different contextual frame: to Eliot’s essays (“Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” “Marie Lloyd,” “The Metaphysical Poets” “Tradition and the Individual Talent”), to contemporary ideas of lyric poetry and the canon at the time, to Hope Mirrlees’ experimental 1919 Paris: A Poem, to its initial reviews, and to its status/function as a prize poem.

Later Poems and Criticism, Patrick Query

Four Quartets represents a pivot point in Eliot’s career. This set of poems, especially the final one, “Little Gidding,” has been called Eliot’s farewell to poetry; after the completion of “Little Gidding,” he never wrote another major poem. But Four Quartets is also a beginning, pointing the way toward the dramatic and critical work that would occupy the final two decades of Eliot’s life. In Four Quartets and his late prose, Eliot reflected on the world that came to an end with the second world war and on the cultural, spiritual, and literary frameworks that could usher in a new one. In this seminar, we will look at the contexts out of which Four Quartets arose; discuss the poems’ inspiration, composition, and reception; and consider major essays like “The Idea of a Christian Society” and “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture.”

Global Eliot, Jahan Ramazani

In this seminar, we will explore the transnational range, dynamics, and subsequent influences of T. S. Eliot’s poetry. Although Eliot has often been considered either canonically English or quintessentially American, we will examine his poetry’s overflowing of national borders, its global horizons and reach. We will investigate how, why, and to what extent his poems traverse a variety of literary and cultural traditions, as well as multiple geographies, languages, and religions. We will ask about the meaning and significance of his engagement with Asian cultural materials in The Waste Land, Four Quartets, and elsewhere. We will consider the interrelations between the local and the foreign or even planetary in his work. We will also reconsider Eliot through the lens of poets he influenced in the global South, such as South Asian, Caribbean, and black British poets including Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Lorna Goodison, Agha Shahid Ali, and Daljit Nagra.

Eliot and the Arts, John Morgenstern

From the “Curtain Raiser” of his first notebook of poems through Four Quartets and on to his last play, Eliot engaged with nearly all the performance and visual arts, quoting songs and borrowing musical forms, referring to paintings, sculpture, dances and dancers, and mixing drama with poetry, to name but a few of his ways of conversing with other arts. His poetry often unfolds in the theater, in the museum, and in the cabaret, dance, and music halls of St. Louis, Boston, Paris, and London. What cultural attitudes or aesthetic sensibilities does Eliot’s many-sided engagement with the arts register in his poetry? How does an attentiveness to these other art forms enrich our reading of Eliot’s poetry? What makes poetry distinct from other art forms? To answer these questions we will read Eliot’s poetry in relation to paintings, songs, sculpture, and architecture.

Eliot and the Deed of Reading: Allusion, Anxiety, Metaphor, and Myth, Sarah Kennedy

As both poet and critic Eliot was profoundly aware of the incantatory power of the human voice, of rhythm as a form of encounter, and of the deep relations between speech, memory, and the body. This seminar draws on Geoffrey Hartman’s insight that “myth and metaphor are endued with the acts, the gesta, of speech; and if there is a mediator for our experiences of literature, it is something as simply with us as the human body, namely the human voice.” How might we, as readers, enter into a dialogue with those elements of Eliot’s poetics that speak back to and through a variety of utterances and echoes? Drawing on a variety of poetry and criticism from across Eliot’s oeuvre, we will attempt to trace the ways in which Eliot’s own moments of readerly attentiveness find their way into his poetry, as moments of peculiar energy, furtive allusion, and ethical commitment. This seminar is an opportunity to explore Eliot’s writing through the practise of close reading that gives due attention to the formative as well as formal aspects of both his poetry and criticism.


One-day creative writing workshop*,  Hannah Sullivan

A poetry workshop available by special enrolment. Students will be asked to submit up to four original poems, as well as some lines written in close imitation of an Eliot poem from any period (which should be attached for class discussion). This may be a 'serious' reappropriation of a recognisably Eliotic topic or bit of syntax for your own purposes, or something closer to pastiche or parody. For inspiration, you might listen to Dylan Thomas reading Henry Reed's 'Chard Whitlow', a parody that Eliot apparently enjoyed:

*This seminar is in addition to the regular weekly seminars above.