Samuel Johnson's great poem The Vanity of Human Wishes seems to hang over a lot of Eliot's poetry. In his essay "Samuel Johnson as Poet and Critic" he wrote admiringly of it. The title of Johnson's poem seems to be a continual concern of Eliot's (see, for example, The Waste Land and The Four Quartets, particularly the final section, Little Gidding). The difference is, I suppose, that Eliot would never have stated his case as explicitly as Johnson does:
Let Observation, with extensive view,
Survey mankind, from China to Peru.
- in itself a vain wish. Remember Eliot's remark that "it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult...The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect..."? ('The Metaphysical Poets', 1921)
Eliot's mind, which Christopher Ricks compared to an "echo-chamber" of influences - his method is something akin to collage - seems to have soaked up many phrases from Johnson's poem, which he then reuses for his own purposes. Take, for example, Johnson's splendid lines:
"The festal Blazes, the triumphal Show,
The ravish’d Standard, and the captive Foe,
The Senate’s Thanks, the Gazette’s pompous Tale,
With Force resistless o’er the Brave prevail.
Such Bribes the rapid Greek o’er Asia whirl’d,
For such the steady Romans shook the World;
For such in distant Lands the Britons shine..."
In itself this is great poetry (note how the last three lines are linked - by whirl'd/World, shook/shine - so as to reinforce Johnson's notion of the homogeneity of human experience) but I would like to draw particular attention to the rhyming of whirl'd/World. This quibble is used by Eliot in the fifth section of his 1927 poem 'Ash Wednesday':
"If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word."
Like another poet Eliot greatly admired, George Herbert, the propinquity of 'world' and 'whirled' is a serious pun. It manifests one of the great possibilities of poetry: it appeals to both the ear and the eye.
Johnson's diction also seems to surface in Little Gidding. Compare:
"remember'd Folly stings" (Johnson)
"Then fool's approval stings" (Eliot);
"Now lacerated Friendship claims a Tear" (Johnson)
"the laceration/Of laughter at what ceases to amuse" (Eliot)
I am not suggesting that "The Vanity of Human Wishes" was a direct influence on Eliot's poetry in the way that Jules Laforgue informs his first volume, Theophile Gautier his second, Ezra Pound his third (and so on); instead, I am drawing attention to the ways in which phrases from a poem we know Eliot admired surface several times in his own poetry - intentionally or not.