Thomas Stearns Eliot,1888 – 1965, was one of the most influential poets from the 20th century. He is also widely regarded as one of, if not the most, important person from the modernist movement. Some of his most well-known works include ‘The Wasteland’, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’. Basically, Eliot is a baddie and he knows it. Now let’s delve into 4 big reasons that you should be a T.S Eliot stan.
- He’s the “Daddy of Modernism”
The modernist movement started late 19th century in Europe, and lasted until the mid 20th century. This movement was often characterised by individualism, experimentation, absurdity, symbolism and formalism. Eliot, being the smart lad that he was, soon became the front man of modernist literature, and is now often called the ‘Father of Modernism’. He invented the new forms, themes and rhythms in poetry. One of these themes is fragmentation, which is a very common feature of ‘The Wasteland’. For example;
this excerpt, where the fragmentation is not a visible feature of the poem but an allusion to Europe post World War One. After the war, people were struggling to connect with one another, as they grappled with being poor and probably having a bunch of mental health issues. The people are humble but not out of the goodness of their hearts, only because they expect nothing from others because no one has anything left to give. This is only one example of fragmentation in one of Eliot’s works, but it is present in nearly all of them.
Another common theme in modernist literature also used by Eliot is worldwide destruction. This is obvious when linked to the cultural fragmentation I mentioned earlier after WW1 where Europe was completely ravaged by war (war and destruction kind of go hand in hand) but also in relation to ‘The Wasteland’. When analysing just this small section of the poem many things become obvious. Firstly; the title itself is pretty self-explanatory. Secondly; the words “cracked” and “flat horizon” link back to this feeling of destruction as the world around us crumbles. Finally; the destruction theme also mingles with fragmentation in a literal sense as the poem itself has been fragmented along with what is being alluded to within it.
Eliot’s frequent use of fragmentation and worldwide destruction soon became a common occurrence for many texts such as William Faulkner’s novel, ‘The Sound and The Fury’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. These are only two examples of what Eliot contributed to this movement, but is pretty cool as it shows how he fostered the growth of the movement in his revered works and spread it to other influential authors and texts.
- He’s #Relatable
‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ is one of Eliot’s most well-known poems, showing the thought process of a man as he chases after a woman in a romantic endeavour. The mind of this man (Prufrock) is slowly descending into madness as he longs for this woman (Weird that he’s thirsting after a woman when Eliot was supposedly gay (more about that later)). He is a very indecisive man, constantly backtracking on his decisions and second-guessing himself. The repetition of the rhetorical question “Do I dare?” in the poem differs from the tone your mum uses when she tells you off, but is contemplative as he thinks about what he wants. Eventually he decides he’s too scared to go after whatever it is he’s chasing, and turns back around to go back downstairs. His indecisive nature resonates with me as someone who often struggles to choose a flavour of ice cream when at Baskin Robbins, and the creation of the character Prufrock has been regarded as an outlet for Eliot’s innermost thoughts and feelings show how he’s also just a normal guy (Celebrities! They’re just like us).
Prufrock in his poem is often stilled by his indecision. The poem itself begins with him literally saying “Let us go then, you and I” followed by him waffling on about the “half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats”. The juxtaposition between the proposed action at the start at the book and the following description of “Streets that follow a tedious argument Of insidious intent” display yet another moment of indecision and inaction for Prufrock as he hopes to set out on a new journey with his beloved only to realise that he actually has no idea where he wants to go or what he wants to do, so instead he just talks about the possibilities instead of acting on them. As a teenager with access to social media this connects with me on a very personal level as I know there are so many things I could be doing with my life right now, and I see them being posted everywhere, but most of us have no idea where to even start our adventures so instead we stay paralysed by the fear of it when things get a ‘lil too real.
Eventually, Prufrock decides ‘Fuck it! I should have been a lobster not a stupid human’. This is yet another #RelatableMoment as I too, often wish I was an animal so I don’t have to deal with the suckiness of being a human in the 21st century (life is HARD).
- We have him to thank for the word ‘bullshit’ (& a great diss track)
In 1910, Eliot got a bit too upset about critics doing their job and evaluating his work, so he wrote ‘The Triumph of Bullshit’ as a big screw you to them. This poem is now known as the earliest publication of the word bullshit, so thank you Eliot for that. The poem itself was written as a 20th century disstrack to his haters, and there are multiple double entendres in there. For example;
His “attentions” are supposed to be a reference to women who he has disappointed with his work, although it is often argued that his work is not all that he’s discussing here. The same can be said for the following line as he discusses the small size of his merits, also referencing his yanno.
These ridiculous intentions could also be linked to intentions of a sexy kind. Although, he is probably talking about his poetry.
Honestly, this point isn’t all that impressive. I just wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t make sure more people knew this fact, but props to him for publishing this regardless of the way it may have tarnished his reputation.
- He was in a supposed homosexual relationship with Jean Verdenal
Homosexuality in the 20th century was an extremely controversial topic, although many men in literature from this time period are suspected to be ‘meat masseuses’, ‘bumhole engineers’ or a ‘butt pirate’ (thank you Wikipedia for these slang terms). Nowadays it honestly isn’t that big of a deal if someone’s gay – unless you have the misfortune of meeting a homophobe – but in 20th century England being gay was very much illegal. Obviously Eliot and Verdenal were not flaunting their relationship together as this is all yet to be proven true and we will likely never know the true nature of their relationship (I’m a #Verliot shipper through and through) . Eliot met Jean Verdenal in Paris, where their supposed homosexual affair began. After Eliot left Paris he went to other European countries, and eventually returned to Harvard where he continued his letters to him. Unfortunately, Verdenal later drowned in the Gallipoli campaign. This event is often referred to by Eliot in his works. He even has an entire section of ‘The Wasteland’ dedicated to his death.
‘Death by Water’ is the fourth section of ‘The Wasteland’, one which is very clearly inspired by Eliot and his boyfie’s relationship. The most obvious allusion to Verdenal lies in the “Phlebas the Phoenician” character, as they both drowned, and their bodies are left to be carried away by “A current under sea”.
So clearly, Jean Verdenal and Eliot’s relationship had a massive effect on the man. He even dedicated his book of poems ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ to the guy, and in all French too – which everyone knows is the sexiest language.
This translates to “Now can you understand the quality of love that warms me towards you, so that I forget our vanity, and treat the shadows like the solid thing.”. So yeah, pretty gay of him to dedicate a book of poems called featuring a very lengthy LOVE-song to another man, especially when he was married to another woman (although that clearly just wasn’t doing it for him).
In conclusion… T.S Eliot was one some king-shit back in his day, and his impact on the modernist era still shines through nowadays.