T.S. Eliot: Poems

Mind Versus Body: Contrasting Metaphysical and Modern Poetry in Eliot’s “Whispers of Immortality” College

T.S. Eliot’s “Whispers of Immortality” is a close examination of life and death. Penned during the war-torn years between 1915 and 1918, Eliot’s quatrain poem cites the writers John Donne and John Webster as examples of metaphysical poets whose work depicts an understanding of mortality and spirituality. Juxtaposed against the work of Donne and Webster is the portrait of Grishkin, a seductive Russian temptress who exists purely in a world of momentary pleasure. In “Whispers of Immortality,” Eliot contrasts the macabre interests of these seventeenth century writers with present-day sensual imagery to illustrate how metaphysical poetry’s intellect upsets modern poetry’s hedonistic ends.

Eliot’s piece is divided into two sections, each split into four quatrains with the last word in the second line assonant with the last word in the fourth line of each stanza. The first four stanzas are penned in the past tense and focus on describing themes within Donne and Webster’s individual work and thought processes. He begins: “Webster was much possessed by death / And saw the skull beneath the skin; / And breastless creatures under ground / leaned backward with a lipless grin” (L1-L4). Webster’s described fascination with death and the...

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