Dantean returns in the works of Thomas Stearns Eliot, Eugenio Montale, and Seamus Heaney
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This project analyzes Dante’s influence on the poetry of Thomas Stearns Eliot, Eugenio Montale, and Seamus Heaney. A comparative reading of the poetry and criticism of the four authors will display that Dante’s presence in these three modern poets’ works is of significant import, as through stylistic and thematic Dantean references, Eliot, Montale, and Heaney shape the meaning of their texts and evolve a new poetic craft. Moreover, detecting the numerous references to Dante’s work in their verses can shed light on the poetic message they want to transmit. An essential part of this project will be to establish interconnections between the works of the modern poets as well, as their decision to draw on Dante’s poetry is a major link between them and creates an affinity in their verses. This study will be divided into three sections. The first section will explore Dante’s world: his life and works, and the social, political and intellectual atmosphere he lived in. The second section deals with the stylistic influence that Dante had on Eliot, Montale and Heaney; while the third section concerns the cultural and thematic influence. The medieval master’s experiments with linguistic techniques mirror the poets’ preoccupation with language, and influence their poetic style. Eliot drew on the hellish dialectic and imagery found in Dante’s Inferno to display the lack of hope of modern civilization after the First World War. Montale’s use of the Dantean allegory, displays his tendency to describe the spiritual through the physical, and images of aridity and ruins become emblems of the human condition and of the lack of religious beliefs. Finally, Heaney is attracted to Dante’s plurilinguistic style, which allows him to transcend a mono-cultural way of making poetry, and to open to the confrontation with other traditions. The cultural influence is explored through the device of the journey towards salvation, which is the means by which artistic, social and religious issues are addressed. Common cultural experiences and affinities with Dante induce the modern authors to draw on his works. His Christian and Classical backgrounds are important features that they share with him. In addition, Dante lived in times of war and revolutions. His anxiety with the social strife in Medieval Tuscany mirrors Heaney’s concerns about the Troubles, and Eliot’s and Montale’s preoccupation with the aftermaths of World War I. However, through Dante they are able to transcend their cultural givens, as in him, they find a universal mode of making poetry that is in tune with the world they seek to attain in their lyrics. By using Dantean intertextual allusions, the poets obtain a different perspective on their own societies, and, their works, like Dante’s work, assume historical significance because they portray human life across all boundaries of time and place.
Intertextuality in literature