The first thing that strikes one when looking at the chart is the red band of oppositions keeping the blue aspects, the Venus side of T S Eliot, well removed from the lower hemisphere, particularly the 3rd quadrant of Instinct in which there is not a single planet, only oppositions to his age point from those in the Being quadrant. This is a good reflection of Eliot who strove to reach higher levels of being rather than sensual pleasures – there is no earth in his temperament at all.
An Imperfect Balance
Lyndal Gordon called Eliot’s biography An Imperfect Life. In the context of Astrological Psychology, we could well speak of An Imperfect Balance. Although the Moon is his strongest ego planet, by nature he has a score of only 1 water in his temperament when those around him required 47! Add to this a staggering surplus of 76 air in his temperament and one can understand why his life was consistently a major emotional challenge.
With Saturn as the highest planet in his chart, Thomas Stearns Eliot’s mother was the greatest influence in his life. She wrote religious poetry, often didactic in nature as the Eliots were Unitarianists. Eliot’s grandfather was a Unitarian clergyman who graduated from Harvard’s Divinity School. He founded a Unitarian church in St. Louis, Missouri, where Eliot was born. At Harvard, Eliot studied English and Philosophy, but his favourite authors were Dante and Vergil with their philosophical quest for salvation and the English metaphysical poets John Donne and John Dryden.
A Leonine Saturn
Saturn is in Leo, the sign of, amongst others, the carnal pleasures of the 5th house, but Eliot wanted spiritual rather than sexual prowess. Perhaps one of his mother’s religious poems had influenced him: “Purge from thy heart all sensual desire, Let low ambitions perish in the fire, Of higher aims.” He found sex repulsive – although he did write some bawdy poems when his age point was traversing the second quadrant of Instinct in which there are no planetary energies. Perhaps it was his way of expressing his fleshless carnality. Gordon l writes: “Lust seemed to him the most corrupting of all sins and (…) he wished the flesh could be denied, burnt away by that refining fire he so often invoked.”
Saturn is in the 10th house and Eliot was most certainly an authority in his area: he was and still is considered the greatest poet not only of the new wave of Symbolists of the 1920s, but of the entire 20th century. He produced many poems, the most famous of which are The Waste Land and Four Quartets, several plays such as Murder in the Cathedral and The Cocktail Party and countless articles on literary criticism, notably The Sacred Wood.
Saturn is also at the apex of the Small Talent Triangle from where Eliot’s emotional ego – his Moon – and innovation in the world of creativity – Uranus in the 12th house of imagination – received ongoing support. It enabled Eliot to go on his quest to reach higher spirituality into which he had only momentary insights.
His Soul’s Journey
The square from the North Node in the 9th house to Mercury conjunct Venus gave his quest further impetus. It urged him to go beyond the mundane to higher realms in his thinking – Mercury – and his anima, his feminine soul – Venus. The North Node is near the MC, the highest point in a chart. It is in loving and caring Cancer and it has the blessings of Jupiter. Both in his poetry and his love life, he consistently aimed for higher levels.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
(One wonders what he would have thought of the Information Age we live in!) Despite his aspiration, he always questioned his ability to achieve it. He remained humble throughout his life.
The First Major Shift
In 1924, when his age point was in close, personal relationships, it opposed Mercury conjunct Venus and he was unhappier that ever with the woman he had married in 1915, literally overnight, during the time of the C1. Later in life he would write that his marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood caused the state of mind that led to The Waste Land. His adventure into the ‘real’ world plunged him into despair. It was the first major shift in his consciousness.
According to his biographer: “Eliot’s marriage was to be the grim underside of his life, the secret inferno to be traversed before he might be worthy of the genuine awakening only faith could supply.” Vivienne was his Mercury’s muse, only for as long as Eliot shared her hell. She suffered from mental illness and was institutionalised for much of their married life. She was so emotionally demanding that Eliot eventually hid out at unknown addresses.
Solitude and Silence
It was an inner life Eliot aspired to. With 3 planets including his Sun in a Libran 12th house, Eliot was inaccessible to people. Gracious in manner – Libra is also his rising sign – and gentle with a sad expression on his handsome face, no-one, not even Virginia Woolf, who was his publisher, got close to the man behind the mask. Eliot remained a solitary figure throughout his life although he had two wives and two close female friends, one of whom was his muse.
But then, he has 7 planets on the I-side of the chart. With four planets including his Sun in the twelfth house, his self was indeed ‘hidden’ from the world. When he was studying at Harvard, he found the Boston tea parties empty and the New England culture stagnant – his consciousness was experiencing the Saturn opposition, as well as the low point of the 4th house. “A society quite uncivilized” Eliot called it, “but refined beyond the point of civilization.”
He experienced extreme isolation, caused to a degree by the resentment of sensual women, the superficiality of society and the secret wish to know the Absolute. So much so that during the Saturn opposition (1910) and on a walk in Boston, he had an intense spiritual experience which he described in a poem called Silence – as if Saturn didn’t want him participating in idle chatter and superficial socialising. At the same time Uranus was blessing him with an insight into the unknown. After graduating from Harvard with an MA in Philosophy, he escaped to Paris that same year – he was greatly influenced by the French symbolists. (Not that the Parisian cafés were much different to the Boston teas.)
Great Inner Tension
The oppositions lie on the Possession Axis. Both Jupiter and Mars are in adventurous Sagittarius in the 2nd house. Jupiter is opposed by Neptune, his creativity, and Pluto, his transformative, refining energy. Mars is opposed by Pluto and the Moon, his strongest ego planet, in communicative Gemini in the 8th house. Rather than putting his abundant energy into expanding his self-worth, he strove to pay his dues to the world in his prolific thought and writing. He wanted to produce writing that would serve a social function. With his philosophical background, his writing was antithetical to Romanticism and its emphasis on emotion over intellect. His emotional ego underwent constant refinement. Only in his sixties would the emotional energy he strove for be intensely experienced.
The above oppositions form the base of two Ambivalence Triangles so that the great inner tension in Eliot found release in his Sun, in the secret chambers of his formidable mind.
The Greatest English Poet
Eliot had written poems when he was at Harvard. On his first trip to Europe in 1910/11, he produced The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In 1914 after his Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto had been fired up – the planets involved in his self-worth and his dues to society – Eliot met Ezra Pound, who became the most influential literary influence in Eliot’s life. Pound helped establish Eliot’s literary reputation by getting the above poem published in Poetry, the review that subsequently got many of Eliot’s poems to the outside world.
Ten years later, Eliot had 23 further books in print: collections of poetry, books of literary criticism and dramatic works. Eliot’s high cardinal motivation ensured that during his most productive period, he was also a teacher, a bank employee and a member of the publishing house later known as Faber & Faber. By 1930, when his age point entered the 8th house and for the next thirty years, he was the most dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world.
The most influential of his writing was The Waste Land (1922), considered the first modern poem in English. It deals with the question of human alienation and estrangement in the post-World War I era. Underlying the series of closely related sections on man’s greed and lust, is the need and desire for redemption, the search for The Holy Grail. The poem was a commentary on a generation that had lost its social, religious and ethical direction to become a world of displaced, shadowy figures. There is no water in this land, no spiritual fertiliser. It only burns, burns, burns…
Religious identity was a continuing theme in Eliot’s poetry and drama, reflecting the personal religious conflicts he experienced. With her deep understanding of Eliot’s writing, Gordon l shows how all Eliot’s works, poems and plays, were autobiographical in nature, another reflection of the 7 planetary energies on the I-side of his chart.
From 1940 to 1956 when Eliot’s age point was traversing the 10th and 11th houses, he was in great demand and spoke at universities, school prize-givings and the London Library. When his consciousness was saturated with his Sun, he spoke to almost 14000 admirers – the largest crowd ever to hear literary criticism. And in 1948 when his age point was on the cusp of the 11th house’s like-minded people, he won the Nobel Prize.
Venus as Mercury’s Muse
In 1927, after much longing for the essence of his mental energy – his Sun – and a new awareness of transformation, Eliot converted to the Anglican Church and took a vow of celibacy. It was also the time of the low-point in personal relationships. Many of his poems of this period begin with a lady and end with God. When Saturn was fired up in 1929, his mother died and he went to America where he resumed his platonic relationship with Emily Hale, an actress and drama teacher he had known when he was at Harvard. She fulfilled his longing for Venus (1930) and Mercury (1931) to reach a fuller potential. She became his Muse, the one who inspired much of his writing.
In 1932, during his professorship at Harvard, which coincided with the Neptune conjunction, his consciousness was filled with a sense of Divine Love. But he didn’t marry Emily Hale – his Mercury conjunct Venus had not reached their distilled essence yet. On a walk with her through a rose-garden, Eliot felt an emotion that awakened in him, for a moment, “the heart of light.” But as he wrote in the first Quartet, love turns to “dust on a bowl of rose leaves.”
After the low point in higher being in 1940 and Emily Hale’s return to America due to the war, Eliot followed a fiercer discipline of asceticism. He experienced what St John of the Cross describes as “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The fame he had acquired is not what he wanted. Gordon l describes his journey as “…a conscious stripping of the self’s props, knowledge, emotions and, most risky, identity itself.
After Emily Hale, Eliot became close friends with Mary Trevelyan, another platonic relationship that would last for years. She described him as a moody, difficult man. But it was only in 1957, after his consciousness had experienced the essence of his inner Sun and Pluto had blessed his level of refinement, that he married Valerie Fletcher, his secretary at Faber & Faber. She was 30 years younger, but had a keen understanding and appreciation of Eliot’s work. In their nearly eight years together before Eliot’s death in 1965, she brought more light and joy into his life than he had ever experienced in adulthood. As Eliot said: “This last part of my life is the best, in excess of anything I could have deserved.”
Eliot once said it was abstract feeling he wanted, not abstract thought. He was constantly aware of the pitfalls of spiritual pride and felt that abstract feeling was “an occupation for a saint”, not for him. Yet Gordon l shows how Eliot had abstracted the turbulent feelings of his private life in the Four Quartets, by putting them into a sequential order “Illumination is followed by the darkness of humility, which is followed, in turn, by an almost reckless daring, and finally by a resolute calm.”