Reading: ‘The Burial of the Dead’: T.S. Eliot’s Use of Poetic License


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‘The Burial of the Dead’: T.S. Eliot’s Use of Poetic License


R. A. P. K. Ranatunge ,

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C. Dilkushi Senaratne,

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E. A. G. Fonseka

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Poetry is a deviation from the ordinary form of language. Deviant expressions in poetry are referred to as expressions that are ‘foregrounded’ or ‘deautomatized’. As a genre, poetry differs from prose. It is a medium of exposition used by the poet to convey his/her ideas in an abstract form in terms of lines and stanzas composed in rhythmic and tonic patterns that help emphasize the meanings with symbolism and imagery. The Cambridge Dictionary of English defines a poem as “a piece of writing in which the words are arranged in separate lines often ending in rhyme, and are chosen for their sound and for the images and ideas they suggest”. While poetry takes such a stylized form, the composers of poetry enjoy, under poetic license, a freedom to effect “changes to the facts they present or the general rules of good writing to make the work more interesting or effective” (Cambridge Dictionary of English). Poetic license is also used as a strategy to enhance creativity in the composition and to establish a foregrounding effect on certain elements in the message.


“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,


“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again! (Lines 74-85)


The archaisms in the above lines in Eliot’s poem definitely make the reader feel that the register belongs to a different era. They have been in fact borrowed from John Webster’s The White Devil to create a collaged effect on the poem. The purpose of borrowing is twofold: to introduce a different register, de-automatizing the reader’s ordinary flow of reading; and to transport the meaning from one text to another. The present study attempts to critically analyse the use of poetic license for the purpose of foregrounding the chosen concepts in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Burial of the Dead’ with a focus on the impact it has on the poem in its entirety. The study adopts a library research method for its analysis and argumentation and the data is collected from a number of secondary sources, inclusive of original poems, critical studies, and other literary works.
How to Cite: Ranatunge, R.A.P.K., Senaratne, C.D. and Fonseka, E.A.G., 2019. ‘The Burial of the Dead’: T.S. Eliot’s Use of Poetic License. Sri Lanka Journal of Advanced Social Studies, 9(1), pp.61–71. DOI:
Published on 30 Dec 2019.
Peer Reviewed


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