Marina by T. S. Eliot: Critical Analysis

Marina, the last of the four Aerial Poems, is the most touching personal poem by T.S. Eliot. This beautiful lyric was composed in September 1930 and leads the poet to faith in the Anglican Church. The poem is a monologue as it is spoken by Pericles at the instant of recognition. The context designated in the title is that of Pericles' reunion with his lost daughter Marina in Shakespeare's Pericles.

Thomas Sterne Eliot

Marina was a recapitulation of the theme of Ash Wednesday, although the unity between Marina and Pericles is more organic in character than between the Lady and the speaker in the earlier poem. Marina was born at sea, was thought to have been murdered, but reunited to her father in an unexpected manner. The epigraph from Seneca refers to the story of Hercules when he woke up Alter a fit, in which he had killed his own children, to realize the horror of the deed, wondering where he was, 'What place is this? What region, what quarter of the world?' The horror of death suggested by this is set against the new life which Marina's reunion with Pericles symbolizes.

Eliot's poem is about his own search for religious experience, and about a moment of discovery, when the lost innocence seems to be found again. The story of Pericles and Marina is used as a means of describing Eliot's own experience of illumination. But the poem's epigraph indicates that this is no poem of simple faith.

The child is not the Christian Savior, but a symbol of regeneration, a miraculous re-birth out of death, so miraculous indeed that it has all the obscurity and freshness of dream and fills the heart of the beholder with ecstasy. Marina, thus, is, in terms of Jungian psychology, 'the dream symbol of something newly born, and the scene is a recognition, a discovery of this magical creative regeneration, begotten in some mysterious way by the speaker himself".

Ironically enough, Eliot derived the epigraph of the poem from Seneca's Hercules Furens: 'What is this place, what country, what region of the world?' This is the exclamation of Hercules in the play, as he regains sanity from his fit of madness in which he has killed his wife and children. 'In 1930 Eliot wrote that he had used these two dramatic references to effect a ‘crisscross'. Their contrast is clear. Pericles is concerned with truth and revelation as miraculously wonderful experiences. But in Hercules Furens the hero, Hercules, has been driven mad as a punishment for his pride. He emerges from insanity to a discovery of horror'.

The point in common between the two contrasted situations is the peculiar state of mind characterizing the protagonists. They are both in the borderland between dream and reality, the reality being so incredible as to wear the aspect of a strange dream. The significance of the poem is wisely summed up by Grover Smith: 'The poem is a monologue, spoken precisely at the instant of recognition. Pericles is not sure whether he has crossed the boundaries of dream into reality. His experience belongs to a kind of halfway world, the atmosphere of which pervades his words. As in a dream, he is standing on the deck of a vessel approaching the land from whose granite shores are borne the scent of pine and the song of wood thrush — images rising out of some buried recollection and made vivid as he becomes conscious of his daughter's presence. The images objectify the emotion stirring in him. They avert the memory of those other images—those of men associated with the sins of envy, pride, sloth and concupiscence, and with the state of death consequent upon habitual sin. Such men are classified and defined in the brief passage, which begins with 'those' and repeats 'Death' at the end of each line.

Thus the old self and the old ship or the old self as the old ship which has been beaten and battered by the passage of time and the blows of circumstances, a self which was not deliberately committed to any discipline or regulated by any fixed goal, is now resigned to the child, with face and form, but as yet without the power of speech, like the divine Baby in the crib, 'Word within the Word, yet not able to speak a word'. The silent child is the symbol of life destined to survive in a world of time beyond the term of life granted to the speaker. Through this total surrender of the old, decayed self to the child, silent, awakened, with parted lips, yet containing within itself all the promises, the potentialities of the future, the life of the old man will be renewed; a new ship will emerge out of the old and rotten one and will sail towards new shores, following the note of the wood thrush through the fog. So the poem closes on a note of radiant affirmation and ecstasy; the voyager has found a new ship, discovered the right direction and can fare forward to an assured port.

It is an allegory of the soul's response to the Child Jesus or the Virgin Mary. As the source is Pericles, one of Shakespeare's final romances, all drenched in religious significance, the theme of Pericles is sin and repentance, alienation and final reconciliation, justice versus mercy, dream versus reality. Its theme is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection. The fifth Act of Pericles is climaxed by a vision of the goddess Diana, who guarded the chastity of Marina. It seems evident that Eliot intends the dream-joy of Pericles at meeting his daughter again, to be significant of the Christian's apprehension of God after a period of spiritual death, and in terms of Christian history, of the supervention of Easter Sunday over Good Friday, when the risen Christ confronted his disciples and friends (Mary Magdalene, etc.). Mary Magdalene and others did not at first recognize Christ: He was a dream to them, as Marina is to Pericles. Perhaps there is a personal experience behind the poem, as many commentators believe, but of its precise nature we know nothing.

But if Eliot is no doubt giving us an allegory of Christian joy, he is doing it in a mysterious way and with much irony. Intertwined with the Pericles theme are ideas and images taken from the Seneca's play, Hercules Furens. Hercules after the successful performance of his tasks is driven mad (as a result of the jealousy of the gods) and in his fit of madness kills his own children. When he wakes from his fit, he cannot recognize where he is. Then come his words quoted in the epigraph:

 Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga? ("What place is this, what land, what part of the world?")

Marina is a religious poem which records Eliot's own uncertainties. This poem is full of a nostalgia for an existence beyond Earth, where the lost daughter lives, and which is indicated by the shores, the whispers and the feet: images of the temporal world are in this poem symbols of the spiritual world and a direct expression of the poet's longing.

More about Marina

Summary of Marina

Biography of Thomas Sterne Eliot