T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)



The Dantean Rose and the Hindu-Buddhist Lotus in the Poetry of T.S.Eliot

From the unreal lead me to the real . . .

- Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad

In his life-long quest for the still point of the turning world, Eliot often attempts an East-West ideo-synthesis . Since Eliot’s admiration for Dante runs as deep as his fascination with Hindu-Buddhist thought , he combines Dante’s symbolism with that of Hindu-Buddhist thought in articulating his experience of the still point.

The single rose is essentially “a symbol of completion” and figures prominently in Western mystical literature as an image of unity. To Dante, the “white rose” represents the fulfillment of his quest for the eternal Being of God. The “multifoliate rose” as a symbol of the reality beyond illusory appearances is the Western equivalent to “the thousand-petalled lotus” (sahasrara) of Eastern mysticism.

Has Eliot fused Dante’s “white rose” (candida rosa) and “the thousand-petalled lotus” (sahasrara) or Hindu-Buddhist mysticism to create a particularly arresting symbol in the “multifoliate rose” which the hollow men dare not encounter? Probably, since he uses the occidental and the oriental symbols of the ultimate reality simultaneously in “Burnt Norton” to indicate a momentary experience of enlightenment: the lotus blooms in the rose garden.

Eliot’s collocation of Eastern and Western symbols endows his poetry with an enduring beauty and penetrating power. It also underscores his perception of the perennial and most ancient truth of humanity and invoked THAT which is universal and eternal, common to both the East and the West.

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