Let me preface this by saying, this isn’t your child’s typical blog post, or even your young adult blog post, this is a blog post written for the purpose of informing, as well as contributing to a wide array of knowledge on T.S Eliot. Obviously many of the points covered will be explained elsewhere assumingly better, but it doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to what actually turned out to be a pretty good poet, thanks Mr Barton. This is a blog of textual analysis and formal writing opposed to saying #relatable, “wow T.S Eliot what a lad”, “damn he a cuckold who knew??”, that’s a format that I cannot write in, it simply doesn’t work, im sorry. That being said, I hope you enjoy this hopefully deep look into Modernism and the world of T.S Eliot.
Modernism is the literary movement that marked the transition between the Romantics of the past, and the new form of literature with new values and ideas. Modernism, which started in the early 1900s, and through to the early 1940s was marked by its new style and form which broke the norm of poetry from the past. In a break from Romanticism which boasted sonnets and professions of love, Modernism was characterised by its free-verse structure, as well as its ‘stream of consciousness’ style of writing, opposed to the third-person limited structure of Romanticism. In the case of T.S Eliot, a pioneer of Modernism, his work was heavily influenced by his environmental factors at the time of writing. ‘World War 1’ for example held great contextual importance as the man described as his ‘soulmate’ Jean Verdenal, was killed, an event that is reflected in Eliot’s writing, as well as the dissolve of many European cultures at the close of the war. Modernism showed elements that were different from any forms prior; fragmentation, in form and structure as well as of culture, irony, allusiveness ,and the depiction of the modern man are some of the elements and themes of Modernism that Eliot described in his poetry. So here are 4 elements of Modernism, as shown through the gay, impotent loner; T.S Eliot.
Fragmentation is the thematic and formal breaking of writing. It breaks down the plot, characters, theme, images and form of writing. Cultural Fragmentation refers to the breakdown of period cultures for new ones. This was seen after World War 1, as many of the European cultures were dissolved after the war, The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Germany to name a few were struck by the war and some never recovered. This event is reflected in Modernist writing. In reference to Eliot, the literary culture that was prevalent before him was Romanticism, an appreciation of the beauty of the world and largely enveloped in love ballads and sonnets for other people. This is fragmented in Eliot writing, as he, a pioneer of Modernism, breaks conventions of Romanticism and portrays a fragmentation of the culture of romanticism by alluding to the era, but breaking it in his writing.
The title of the poem; “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” has connotations of the conventions of the Romantic Era, as “Love Song” refers to the love professions and writing to appreciate the beauty of the world that were common at the time. Eliot fragments this by juxtaposing his “love song” with the imagery of the dirty and polluted streets of London. The “yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes” and “sawdust restaurants”, reflecting the ‘pea soup fog’ of sulphur dioxide and soot that polluted all of London, as well as the “sawdust restaurants” having connotations of the 20th century restaurants that had sawdust flooring in their establishments which was a feature of lower-class eating. This portrays the dirty and subclass living that Prufrock sees when walking around London, in a contrast of the appreciation of beauty of the world found in Romanticism. The purpose of Eliot’s passage is to highlight the contrast between Romanticism and Modernism as the harsh juxtaposition between the “love song” and the dirty streets provides readers with a modernist world; as the Industrial Revolution provided London with a dirty and unsanitary place which contrasts against the appreciation of beauty in Romanticism.
Cultural fragmentation in Prufrock is prevalent in juxtaposition between descriptions of landscape and the content thereafter. In the opening of Love Song, Eliot conforms to the aspects of Romanticism in the appreciation of the beauty of the world and a ballad of love. When Prufrock asks to “go then you and I,/ When the evening is spread out against the sky” the diction of the passage portrays a romantic undertone of Prufrock asking a woman to explore the night with him, as well as appreciating the sky above him. Eliot uses simile to compare the sky to a “patient etherized upon a table”, providing a harsh juxtaposition to portray the night sky as an unconscious and having a lack of life. The purpose of which is to portray the nights of London, as well as the landscape as dead, and unattractive in a reflection of Europe at the time, which was polluted and dirty.
Fragmentation of both the form and content of The Waste Land is prevalent to explore the idea of alienation and the consequence of World War 1. “You know only a heap of broken images.” The content of the passage explores the ravages of World War 1. The “broken images” being both a mention of fragmentation but also the “images” that are broken reflect the countries that fought in the war. The “images” are the broken and destroyed cities left from years of combat and death. Again explored in The Hollow Men the “broken jaw of our lost kingdoms” refers to the broken head of the kingdoms and empires of Europe as a result of the War. The synecdoche of “broken jaw” alludes to the cutting off the head and dissolving of the empires of war-time europe. Empires like the Ottoman’s, the German and Russian all suffered “los[s] [of] kingdoms” during the war. The purpose is to portray the large-scale destruction of the world that occurred during World War 1, and show the change from the era prior to Eliot and the new modernist era.
The form of The Waste Land is manipulated by Eliot in order to portray Europe in shambles after the events of the war. The fragmentation of the different ‘sections’ of the poem, as well as multiple voices of varying cultures, and different time periods create a disjointed and messy poem as a reflection of Europe after the war as disjointed and fragmented. The title of the poem; “The Waste Land” has connotations of a bleak, and barren area of land. This can be read as an interpretation of Europe after the war, as many countries were left barren and dead as a result of the conflict on their soil, as well as portraying the static and dead state of Europe, as they lost empires and were recovering after the supreme losses in the war. The use of different voices in the sections, such as in The Burial of the Dead which includes the initial structural voice, changing to the voice of a German woman, ‘Countess Marie’ after “summer”, provides readers with a fragmented passage and creates a disjointed and disconnected structure. The purpose of the fragmentation in the section is to serve as a parallel of the society that the text was written in. The German section for example, provides a parallel for the events that Germany was facing at the time, after the end of the war, they were forced to pay reparations and their monarch fled the country, leaving their country in a disjointed and vulnerable state.
Irony is the form of creating meaning by using language that signifies the opposite. Modernist literature used irony in a break from the Romantic Era of sincerity and writing for love. Irony is used in Eliot’s poetry to highlight the distinction between the romantic and modernist era in literature as well as to emphasise the themes of his poems.
In ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’ by Eliot, the title itself is ironic in nature. At face value it portrays the idea that the poem will contain a depiction and profession of love from Prufrock to his significant other. The Irony is found in the content of the poem juxtaposed with the title, Prufrock never actually speaks to any women in the text, and makes no “love” profession either. Repetition of “Do I dare? and, Do I dare?” reinforces this as the man who is supposedly supplying a “love song” is found considering “descending the stair[s]” and leaving. The purpose of the irony in the poem is to highlight the break from traditional conventions of Romanticism as well as reinforcing the theme of the poem; Insecurity. In contrast to the love ballads and sonnets, meaning little song, of Romanticism, Love Song breaks this to show the distinction of the new world of literature. The passage also reinforces the theme of Insecurity as neurotic Prufrock, considers leaving the party to avoid contact with the women attending, this complemented by his internal monologue of “(They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)” portray Prufrock as emotionally stilted and insecure, reinforcing the theme of the poem.
Irony in The Waste Land is used as a reflection of the distinction between modernism and romanticism as well as providing context for the author. The opening line of the poem, “April is the cruellest month,” is ironic as April itself is spring for Europe and Northern Countries, a season that is not cruel to live in. The use of irony in the opening line of the text provides the distinction between the Romantic era of the past and modernism of the present. In contrast, describing Spring-time as “cruel” portrays a clear distinction between modernism and romanticism, in romantic literature, spring would be worshipped, describing the new flowers blooming and animals coming out again. Ironically, The Waste Land describes April and Spring as “cruel” and the “dead land”, reinforcing the distinction from Romanticism of the past.
In terms of context, Irony of “April is the cruellest month” portrays the loss of Eliot’s soulmate ‘Jean Verdenal’ in the first world war in April of 1915. The theme of The Waste Land being loss and death is reinforced here as Eliot comments on the death of a loved one as a result of the war.
Irony in The Hollow Men is used to reinforce the theme of the poem, reflect cultural changes as well as providing what can be read as the context of the author. The use of the nursery rhyme, “Here we go ‘round the/ prickly pear,” being an alteration and parallel to the nursery rhyme of “here we go ‘round the mulberry bush”, which was derived from a fertility dance, is reversed in irony to reinforce the theme of The Hollow Men, the poem which describes “dry grass” and the “dead land”, is complemented by the irony of the nursery rhyme to portray the desolate and barren life of the “hollow men” in the text. The use of irony translating the mulberry bushes to cactus’, from fertility of fruitful bushes to sterility of a desert, portrays the cultural shift from Romanticism to Modernism. Within Romanticism, the subject matter pertained to the appreciation of nature, as well as love ballads and sexual professions to women. This is characterised in the mulberry bushes, contrasted against the “prickly pears” or cacti, in which characterise modernism, a break from the appreciation of nature and glamorization of women, to a modern depiction of the world, desolate, barren and dead, as a result of World War 1. When the nursery rhyme is read through the context of the author, an insight into his love life can be read. Although only trusted to Eliot’s close friend, Eliot had a hernia, and was unable to consummate with his wife. This is alluded to in the text as the impotent Eliot, can be read as a stand-in for the cacti in the nursery rhyme. The “prickly pears” as well as the diction of “dead land” and “cactus land” which have connotations of infertility of soil in the desert, can be read as a representation of Eliot’s love life, as he too, was infertile and impotent, similar to the “prickly pear[s].” The purpose of the allusion to the nursery rhyme and translation into the “prickly pears” is used to highlight the cultural shift of modernism, and portray the new world that was created at the close of the war.
Irony in the last stanza of The Hollow Men is used as an anti-climax to shock the viewers. The depiction of the end of the world, in the line of “This is the way the world ends” is highlighted due to the repetition of the phrase in the passage. The effect of the repetition builds the tension of the end of the world for the ‘hollow men’. The last line of “not with a bang but a whimper” subverts the audience expectations of the end of the world as not having a large impact providing irony when juxtaposed to the repetition prior. After the repeated phrase builds the tension, the anti-climax provides the ending of The Hollow Men as ironic, as what appears to have a large impact on the ‘hollow men’ in the text is reduced to a “whimper.” The purpose of ending the poem this way is to reflect the society that he lived in when writing his book. The diction of “whimper” has connotations of a weakened animal or injured human, this is reflected in the European society as they were still recovering from the losses of the war, they too were injured and were only a shell of their previous status, it can be interpreted that European society too was a “hollow” shell of its past self.
Allusion is an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; it is an indirect or passing reference. Eliot, is an incessant user of allusion, inspired by his environment and literary icons of the past; Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, to name a few, Eliot alludes to literature in all his poems, some to create meaning, others serve less purpose. Allusion is an element of Modernism that Eliot certainly conforms to, he alludes to his environmental impacts; poets and authors of past, and mythology to provide meaning to his poetry.
Allusions in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock are used to assist in the establishment of the tone of the poem, as well as the emotions within Prufrock the character. The opening stanza is an allusion to Dante’s Inferno. The use of the epigraph, relates to ‘Count Guido’ who lives in the eighth circle of hell. Allusion to this reflects Prufrock, as he is living a hellish life on Earth. The allusion provides a reflection of Prufrock as he, as well as Guido, speak without shame. Prufrock lays his insecurities and worries out in the poem through dramatic monologue, “(‘How his hair is growing thin’)”, and in the epigraph, Guido is said to speak with no shame. Prufrock’s insecurities of fear of rejection are displayed through allusion. “The women come and go/ talking of Michelangelo”, referencing the renowned Renaissance artist Michelangelo, Prufrock, can see the women are cultured, which intimidates him as he compares himself to the artist and believes that in contrast, he doesn’t compare to Michelangelo’s majesty. The purpose of Eliot’s allusion is to reinforce the theme of insecurity of the poem of Love Song as Prufrock believes he isn’t quite as good as other men and sees himself as less.
Allusion to death further reinforces this. “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker.” The allusion to death is displayed in the diction of “eternal” as well as a “footman” having connotations of a servant waiting to help people across to the afterlife. This reflects the theme of insecurity of Love Song as Prufrock believes, even in death, that he would be mocked for his conduct of his life. When linked to the irony of the juxtaposition of “Love Song” and how Prufrock never actually speaks to any women the theme is reinforced, as his stagnation in life of never acting and being too insecure to confess his love, is an action to be mocked by death.
Biblical Allusion in Love Song is used to further portray Prufrock’s self deprecation. Comparing himself to John the Baptist and Lazarus portrays Prufrock’s insecurity and insignificance. The biblical allusion in the passage of, “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, / I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;” portrays the story of John The Baptist, a prophet who was beheaded, and his head was served as a prize. Unlike John the Baptist, Prufrock believes that even when his head is cut off “[he is] no prophet”, complemented by the monologue of “(grown slightly bald)”, Prufrock believes that even in death and decapitation, he isn’t a prize, that he is insignificant. This reinforces the theme of Love Song, of insecurity and self-doubt.
Allusion to Lazarus portrays Prufrock’s stagnation and creates a parallel to the established setting of the poem. In the passage, “To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,” Eliot uses metaphor to akin Prufrock to Lazarus, a figure from the bible who came back to life after dying. By portraying Prufrock as ‘being’ Lazarus, Eliot portrays Prufrock as lifeless and reinforces the theme of Prufrock’s insecurity as he wonders whether or not being lifely is worth it. Complemented by Prufrock “measuring his life out in coffee spoons”, it can be read that Prufrock feels insignificant about how he used his life, and whether or not parties of “tea, cakes and ices” are worth it.
Allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet is used to further reinforce the theme of insecurity in Love Song and portray Prufrock as inferior.
The allusion in the passage of, “No I am not Prince Hamlet/ Am an attendant lord/ at times the fool.” refers to characters in the Shakespeare play, Hamlet. He claims that he is not “Hamlet”, that he is not the main character even in his own story, rather he is more like ‘Polonius’, an attendant lord, inferior to Hamlet that uses fancy words to make himself seem smart. Prufrock also claims that he can at times be the fool, a court jester that is inferior to “Prince Hamlet” and is a spectacle to laugh at. The purpose of the allusion in Love Song is to reinforce the theme of insecurity that Prufrock feels, he believes he is the side character in his own life and a “fool” for people to laugh at.
The Depiction of the Modern Man:
The modern man reflected the cultural shift of what was once the expectation of men from times before the war and the times after. To explain a pivotal reason that men after the war was different than prior was the trauma and loss they endured on the battlefield. Many came back with post-traumatic stress symptoms, and the expectations of a manly man started becoming obsolete. The modern man, as depicted in Modernism as well as the culture they lived in, was an emotionally stilted, awkward and neurotic, self conscious and paranoid person. Eliot portrays the ‘Modern Man’ in his poetry, most prominent is The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock in which the character of Prufrock exemplifies the traits of a modern man scarred and damaged from the society of the time.
Love Song, portrays the character of Prufrock as emotionally ill equipped and paranoid about his own physical inferiority. Repetition and allusion in the text explaining that Prufrock sees “the women come and go/ talking of Michelangelo” conveys Prufrock’s interior monologue and self comparison to the Renaissance artist of Michelangelo. Prufrock believes that the evidently cultured women speak of the artist in comparison to Prufrock. It is Prufrock’s assumption that he cannot compare to the artist. This is reinforced by the inner monologue of “(But how his arms and legs are thin!)” portray Prufrock’s neurotic thinking, as well as his paranoia that he is inferior to Michelangelo, and thus he will never be able to speak to the women. The purpose of portraying Prufrock as this is to exemplify the Modern man as he is self-conscious about his appearance and believes himself inferior to other men.
Allusion to Prufrock’s physical features portray the persona’s neurotic tendencies, as he claims that when he descends down the stairs women above will see the “bald spot in the middle of my hair” as well as commenting on “(how his hair is growing thin!)” The internal monologue used portrays Prufrock’s internal thoughts and insecurities as he thinks he is aging beyond attractiveness, and no woman will want to be with him. This reinforces the idea of the modern man, as he is self-conscious about his balding, as well as believing that as a result of his aging he won’t be able to find a wife. The purpose of Eliot portraying Prufrock this way is again to reinforce the idea of a modern man, and show the distinction between the men of the past, an example being the Romantic era of love ballads for women and sonnets to woo, and contrast them to the Modernist depiction of a man, who refuses to speak to the women he wants to as he believes his inferior and getting too old.
Diction and Zoomorphism in Love Song portray the idea of a modern man. The passage exclaiming Prufrock’s clothing portrays his own beliefs about his status and place in the society of the text. His “necktie rich and modest” held on by a “simple pin” portrays his believed social status and own attractiveness. The diction used of “modest” and “simple”, have connotations of a person of inferior class as well as someone less eloquent. Linking to the idea of a modern man as paranoid and neurotic, Prufrock’s belief that he is a lower-class and inferior to the other characters in the text portrays his neuroticism and self-consciousness over himself, it also portrays the belief that he isn’t sophisticated enough to get the cultured women who speak of “Michelangelo” as he is “simple” and “modest.” Zoomorphic allusion to insects portrays Prufrock as subhuman and less than the people around him. Prufrock is described to be “sprawling on a pin/ wriggling on the wall” and “fixed in formulated phrase.” The use of zoomorphism in the passage compares Prufrock to an insect stuck on the wall. This portrays Prufrock as insignificant as he is figuratively smaller than the other characters in the text, and they are the “eyes” that fix him there and make him feel insignificant. The purpose of portraying Prufrock as insignificant and less sophisticated than the other characters in the text is to display the neuroticism and paranoia of the modern man, as well as perhaps being an insight into Eliot himself, who was an attendee of parties in London, as Prufrock may be a stand-in for Eliot’s insecurities about himself.
If you made it this far, I’m sorry, I understand that it is long, but I aimed for close textual analysis, and the length of the blog reflects this. Again, sorry.