9 reasons you should be talking about Eliot’s poetry

T.S Eliot was a pretty interesting and underestimated dude. For real though, the man could multitask, he was a playwright, poet, publisher, editor, and the list goes on! He didn’t do all of this for nothing though, as he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948 for his ‘profound effect on the direction of modern poetry’. Chances are, if you have read any of his work, you’re just about as confused as I am. I mean the man really knew how to mess with people’s minds by creating meaning out of nothing and nothing out of meaning. Example A: literally all of his poems, including that godforsaken 28 page long one titled ‘The Wasteland’. You have to be pretty mental to class that as a poem not a miniature novel…

Swiftly moving on, here is the top 9 list of why Eliot was such an influential poet on contemporary literature, the modernism movement, and why we should be talking about his work more often…

  1. How interesting his life was…

JG1First up, he decided he didn’t want to be known as Thomas Stearns Eliot, so he just changed it to T.S. edgy right? He was born in 1888, St. Louis, Missouri, into a well- connected family that was originally from Boston. Because his father was so successful in the business field, was able to attain a good education and got accepted into Harvard University! From there he decided to migrate to England where he spent his life from 1914 until his untimely death in 1965 due to emphysema (a lung condition that damages the alveoli and causes shortness of breath) *glad it wasn’t me*.

He married Vivian Haigh-Wood in his 20s, though she suffered from serious health problems which overtime contributed to Eliot’s depression. She was committed to an asylum after they both separated in 1933, and later died there from a heart attack. Eliot then remarried later in his life to Valerie Eliot and lived happily until his death in 1965. Looks like he had a thing with ‘V’ names though lol.

 

  1. He was on the front line of Modernism

Eliot’s work in poetry earnt him a place as ‘one of the most important modernist poets of all time’. The content of his poems as well as his use of linguistic conventions and specific style helped convey the problems of the modern man, Prufrock.
JG2
The actual definition of modernism is apparently ‘a rejection of traditional 19th century norms, whereby artists, architects, poets, and thinkers either altered or abandoned earlier conventions in an attempt to re-envision a society in flux’.

Now that’s a really complicated sentence so to sum it all up, what it’s basically saying is that they composed art and literature of new values and attitudes and new perspectives, in an attempt to create a new ‘norm’ and new societal expectations. Eliot rejected many traditional values in ‘The Love Poem Of J. Alfred Prufrock’ through the imagery and symbolism of mermaids in ‘sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown’. The mermaid here, is seen as a symbol for all women, embodying female perfection and is always described as being in the distance, and out of his reach. In the last line, it gets a bit sad when Eliot phrases it how the mermaids will live on unaffected by his death. Yikes, I mean at least he was against female oppression, right?

  1. He actually spent (how long?) composing a 28-page poem??

JG3‘The Wasteland’ is said to remain as ‘one of the finest reflections on mental illness ever written’. When Eliot had a breakdown in 1921, he was advised to take 3 months off of work to let him recover. Through this time period, he described himself as being “neurasthenic”, “tired and depressed” all of which are reflected in the tone of his poetry. Okay, so we don’t actually know EXACTLY how long he was writing this poem for, but the deep and thought provoking lines such as “what have we given?” and “for you only know a heap of broken images” lead us to believe this was one of his most thought-through and meaningful poems he ever wrote.

 

  1. The CATS musical was composed from a collection of HIS poetry

As we all know, recently the musical CATS was turned into a godawful film which everybody wishes never happened. Basically, everyone is saying the whole thing just contained big names and little thought or story line, but what if I told you that having no purpose was exactly the purpose? At its core, CATS is a musical about accepting each other despite the difference in people’s appearance.
JG4
People who dived straight into the world of T.S. Eliot by watching the film and not the musical or reading his poetry hold the point of view that the movie is terrible and pointless, but that is the BEAUTY of ‘Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats”. Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted Eliot’s poetry to fit the musical theater scene. To be able to express more meaning within the musical, when a character can no longer speak of their emotional state, they begin to sing. When they feel something so great, they dance to express it. This added layer of depth does Eliot proud and keeps his work alive in a contemporary style. Also, guys seriously, what actually is a Jellicle cat??

 

  1. He let WW1 influence his writing style

JG5It’s no secret that the first World War disrupted pretty much everyone’s lives throughout the 1910s and nobody was ever the same. It was a difficult time for everyone, but it remarkably left Eliot’s creative flow untouched.

Instead of letting his mental illness worsen, he was able to channel the emotions and feelings he had at the time into his work, allowing him to produce such a poem like ‘The Wasteland’. This was full of emotions and allusions and other symbols that embodied different aspects of the time period, allowing us to look back and examine how such events affected creative minds and look into how they were able to cope with everything at the time.

 

 

  1. He made a statement by breaking free of the traditional sonnet structure

It is extremely well known that Eliot wasn’t exactly the generic poet. He rarely, if ever JG6conformed to traditional structures and created more free verse. This is explored throughout ‘The Wasteland’ as it is comprised of 5 different subsections all containing many of their own stanzas. Also, instead of writing many other poems that each stand on their own like most poets do, he comprised series, each consisting of many individual poems that all fall under one idea or persona/ character. This was also one of the many reasons Eliot stood out as a poet because it definitely was not a popular stylistic choice among other poets of that era.

 

  1. He ENJOYED working ‘real’ jobs

Surprisingly, Eliot wasn’t actually a very successful poet during his years, I KNOW I’m JG7shocked too! Since he had to make money somehow, he supported himself by working as a teacher, banker, and editor. This meant he was only able to write poetry in his spare time but believe it or not he actually preferred it that way! In a 1959 interview with ‘The Paris Review’, he stated that his main jobs actually led him to be a better poet, since it gave him downtime to develop his ideas. He also mentioned that if he had given all his time to poetry, it would have been too much and his life would revolve around only that, making it harder and harder to think of new and creative ideas. The variety and flexibility gave him the fuel to create some of his best work. I know what you’re thinking, I also wish I had that same positive outlook on my lack of free time…

  1. His insane ways of getting over writer’s block

As we all know, writers block is the absolute worst right?! (In fact, I’ve had it like 7 times writing this post lol). That’s why Eliot put so much thought into ways he could achieve maximum creative thinking time and lessen the effects of writer’s block. To be able to do this, he put some pretty insane rules in place… JG8
He was strictly only allowed to write for 3 hours per day. Eliot wrote his poems and plays both on typewriters and the good ol’ fashioned paper and pencil, but no matter the method, he tried his very best to keep to a three-hour daily limit. He believed the work he did after three hours was never satisfactory and that even if he felt like going on longer, he would resist and stop to think about it overnight. This would keep his creative mind flowing and allowed him to think about things completely different. This could contribute to his large amount of seemingly random and spontaneous ideas.

  1. Who knew speaking French made you think more creatively?

JG9Yes, you heard me ladies and gents, the French language has other uses than attempting to seduce people. Turns out this was another way for Eliot to cure his writing block, crazy right? I mean it obviously worked because otherwise we wouldn’t be here studying and reading about him today.

After studying in Harvard, he spent a year in Paris where he learned to speak French. It was at this time he fantasized about writing in French rather than English, though he never made this into a reality. It was only until during some later years he had a bad case of writer’s block and nothing he did was helping. To slow down his brain so he could fully develop ideas, Eliot took the time to write down his ideas and parts of his poems in French. He stated that this actually helped his writing and that once he got back on track, he just lost the desire to write in French altogether. Yeah, I swear this guy is bipolar or something, he seems to go though a lot of different phases.

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Hey readers, thanks for making it to the end! I hope you all have a bit more appreciation for T.S. Eliot as a writer and a person by the end of this… That being said, he was still such a confusing man and I’m glad its not my whole job to get inside that messed up head of his…

Thanks guys, until next time 🙂

by J.G.

9 REASONS YOU SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT T.S. ELIOTS POETRY

 

T.S Eliot was a dude first fact BOOM. Born in 1888 and from St Louis, Missouri Thomas Stearns Eliot was an American-British poet, playwright, essayist, publisher, literary critique and editor. You probably haven’t heard his name before but unless you were forced to learn about him in year 12 literature there is a fair chance you don’t know much about him or his impact on poetry and literature even to this day. From his contribution to literary movements, creation of some crapy words and his indirect creation of Dantes 10th secret level of hell (aka Cats the musical) the man truly is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. So please sit back and enjoy these epic 9 reasons why YOU yes you should be talking about T.S Eliot’s poetry.

 

  1. Pioneer of Modernism and Streaming

Now if we’re going to discuss Eliot and the impact of his poetry it would be impossible to not mention his contribution to the modernism movement, which was characterised by ET1the breaking of literary tradition at the turn of the 20th century. Some of his most important work The Waste Lands and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in which many of the literary techniques such as train of thought that is now often viewed as a defining characteristic of the period of modernism was exhibited. The Love Song is read as one long continuous thought from the narrator J. Alfred Prufrock which allowed the reader to follow the mentality of the narrator and allows the reader to explore the inner self of the character. The following text is an extract from the poem:

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

(They will say: How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —

(They will say: But how his arms and legs are thin!”).”.

Just in this extract alone, we can see with our very smart eyes that the narration of this story is being conducted in this stream of thought through the lack of full stops indicating these are continuous thoughts and how the imagery from this in-depth look into the mentality of these man reveals a self-conscious, image orientated and neurotic man through the repetition of the phrases concerning how other perceive his physical image. This free-flowing and continuous form of poetry served as what began a movement of this sort of narration within early modernism literature as it established how to effectively communicate the human psyche, inner self and consciousness which was one of the major generic conventions of the modernism. Well since we’re talking about Prufrock we gotta talk about our next point.

 

  1. Eliot Just Nailed the Mindset of the man of Modernism

Next reason you ya’ll gotta talk about my mans Eliot is that his poem The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock nailed the depiction of the man of modernism at the turn of the early 20th century through the poems main character and narrator Prufrock. He truly encapsulates the indecisiveness between passion and cowardliness as he takes his time, again and again, to propose due to his fear of rejection and facing love which is seen in the lines, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?” which demonstrates his nervousness by the repetition of questions focusing on superficial aspects of himself and his appearance as well and in the line, “No I am not Prince Hamlet” shows through the use of intertextuality how he is passionate and cowardly as unlike the titular prince he cannot confess his love, how #sad. Eliot further explores and examines the man of modernisms mindset by exploring Profrocks feelings towards the city through lines such as, “Streets that follow like tedious arguments of insidious intent”. By comparing the streets too long pointless argument through the use of the simile Eliot provokes the image of boredom towards the city demonstrating the man of modernisms distant for modern urban society. This also establishes one of the major generic conventions of modernism, that being writers looking forward to the future and instead of seeing what many viewed as innovation and progress, they only saw the decline of civilisation due to new machinery, technology and the rise of capitalism which alienated individuals and lead to loneliness as expressed through the poems monologues and reflection on individuals and their feelings towards the industrial world around them. Ok cool great now NEXT POINT.

 

  1. So Avant Garde Eliot wow

ET2So Eliot’s just continuing to show us how important his work was within the modernism movement through his Avant guard styles of writing which further enforced the idea of him being a pioneer of modernism. This new and experimental form of writing can be seen throughout Eliot’s work and an example of this would be his technique of setting the poem to be interpreted as either a real location or a mental state reflecting the subconscious of a person. This example can be seen in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock in the line, “women come and go talking of Micheal Angelo.”. While portraying the physical setting of the poem Eliot also depicts Prufrocks mental state as Micheal Angelo is the person Prufrock desires to become and the persona he will adapt in his upcoming social interactions. His experimentation in his work just further established the new and innovative ways of modernism as opposed to traditional text that was seen before the turn of the 20th century.

 

  1. Discussion of Mental Health-Gotta finish it

One of if not the most famous work of Eliot’s would be The Waste Lands which is regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th century and a central work of modernism poetry. The iconic poem is also extremely notable as it’s a rare work of media within the published time frame that discusses and makes both explicit and symbolic references to mental illness and more specifically T.S. Eliot’s own experience with his battle regarding mental illness. In 1921 a year before the published poem after both Eliot and his then-wife both suffered nervous breakdowns he spent time with Swiss psychiatrist Dr Roger Vittoz at Lake Leman in Switzerland and mentioned is mentioned in the third section of the iconic poem, The Fire Semon. The line, “By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept…”, is Eliot explicitly discussing his inner self and consciousness and his battles with mental illness. Symbolically this information about Eliot and his battle with mental illness is seen through the line at the beginning of the first section, The Burial of the Dead, “Breeding lilacs out of dead land”. This piece of juxtaposition serves as a metaphor of Eliot and his battle against mental illness as it demonstrates how he is trying to make something beautiful, like lilacs coming out of something so difficult to grow from like the dead land which is meant to represent himself. Eliot’s influence towards modernism and the generic conventions associated with the movement by encouraging a deeper look into the human consciousness and expressing the subjects that society traditionally viewed as taboo within art.

 

 

  1. Bye Bye Traditional Structure

So Eliot being a dude of modernism took a different approach to his poetry, mainly he broke a lot of tradition. The break from traditional poetic structures like sonnets and haikus and the movement into free verse that is seen throughout Eliot’s work along with other forms of experimentation was sighted by many to be a result of the aftermath from World War 1 as writers were said to of disrupting traditional writing patterns as to mimic the destruction they saw as a result of the war. This break of a traditional structure is seen in the poem The Waste Lands which unlike poems structured as a sonnet or a haiku it is divided into 5 subsections titled, “The Burial of the Dead”, “A Game of Chess”, “The Fire Sermon”, “Death by Water” and “What the Thunder Said”. This fragmentation of the poem stylistically played a role as the destruction then pulling back together of all three sections reflected the mindset of writers after the events of World War 1 that life while left in destruction and disarray would eventually be bought back together however it may look must different then it was before. Other forms of ET3experimentation seen throughout his work include his use of different languages including German as seen in the line in the first section of The Waste Lands, “Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.” And the use of multiple voices as seen through each section of The Waste Lands giving access to multiple voices as seen through narrators and voices such as, The Fisher King, The Great Prophet and at some point what appears to be Eliot standing in for all of humanity. These points further reinforce the changing time within literature and much like a reflection of real life, a break from tradition and the beginning and rearranging of new structures, culture and beliefs.

 

  1. Invented the Word Bullshit

Now, here’s a fun fact you can tell your friends, according to the Oxford Dictionary the first-ever recordation of the work bullshit comes from T.S Eliot’s The Triumph of Bullshit. Said to of been written around 1910 and was one of his earliest poems he certainly started with a bang by creating one of the most common expletives in the English language. If anyone reading is curious the poem is about him fighting back against his critics and in particular, his female critics who he refers to several times throughout the poem. Eliot’s frustration towards these women appears to him believing that these “tastemakers” are deeming his work to inappropriate for publication to which Eliot calls ‘bullshit’. Eliot demonstrates his frustration in his poem by describing the female taste-makers as, “Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous”, effectively demonstrating his destain for what he believes to be arrogant and self-conceded people who try to project this proper and careful image onto others without understanding and exploring the complexities and nuances to his work and then proceeds to tell them to, “Stick it up your ass.”, which I don’t think needs any further explanation. Eliot’s The Triumph of Bullshit serves as the first time the word bullshit has been recorded as well as what appears to be the blueprint of every celebrity twitter rant.

  1. Invented a Pretty Nifty Line

Well hey, here’s another piece of trivia imma give to you right now, from the inventor of the expletive ‘bullshit’ comes the iconic term, “April is the cruellest month.”. This iconic line was the first line in The Burial of the Dead which was the first section of Eliot’s, The Waste Land which on a surface level was about how spring sucks and brings up memories of bygone days and unfulfilled desires then are about the childhood of a girl named Marie then about some dead trees and FINALLY is about a clairvoyant who tells you your future, wow what a lot of stuff you talked about Eliot. So what does this quote mean?? Many have interpreted it to mean that due to colours and life of spring that once were viewed as beautiful and joyful now only reminds those with depression that even as the time of cold and bitterness (Winter) is passing and this new season that once stirred up these positive emotions now only act as a reminder of how these feelings can no longer be found and doesn’t speak to him. Now, why should you be talking about this specific line?? Well simple, it’s in a ton of places like song titles, documentaries, quotes ET4found in novels and is in episode titles in television including, Beverly Hills 91210, Sports Night and Small World. So next time you hear the line you can think back on this blog and think, “Oh yeah I know where that’s from!”, so you’re welcome.

 

  1. Was Technically Responsible for the Cinematic Abomination of 2019

Ok look if your one of those people who are like, “I think I know who Eliot is, I have heard his name before but I don’t remember what from???”, well get ready cause I am about to remind you ok cool ready, 3,2,1, Cats… his poems were what inspired and acted as the lyrics for the songs in Cat the Broadway musical and the monstrosity of a film that was based on it in 2019. No, I have not and will not forget about that thanks Eliot for being indirectly responsible for the stuff that caused me sleep paralysis for the next 3 months after seeing that trailer for the first time agh like what made them feel the need to make that movie seriously was there just such a demand for CGI demons and complete annihilation of one of Broadways longest-running and iconic properties… ok, what was I talking about… oh, right poetry. Based off of Eliot’s 1939 Old Possums Book of ET5Practical Cats which was a book of poetry originally made for his godchildren each poem were all unrelated plot-wise however they do have one thing in common that’s rights gals CATS. Some of the poems of the book that were incorporated into the play through turning them into songs or being the names of the characters such as, “The Naming of the cats”, “Old Deuteronomy” and “Gus the Theatre cat”. Eliot’s poetry being adapted into broadways longest-running play demonstrating his long-standing legacy within modern-day media and pop culture.

 

  1. He is Probably the Reason why we Have Hipsters

Eliot’s longest lasting impact on modern culture is not his influence on the modernism movement, not his creation of the word bullshit and not him being responsible for broadways longest-running play, it would be him creating the foundation for the h i p s t e r. Yes, it the case can, in fact, be made that his poems like The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock are what set the foundation for today’s hipsters through such aspects including cynicism, dry scepticism, a disdain for industrialism and an obsession with presentation and self-image. Are you confused? Yeah, understandable but let us look back at point two the mindset of the modern man as portrayed in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, dislike for modern society, obsessed with looks and sceptic, notice anything similar? Ok, let’s look at some examples, when Prufrock is preparing to go to the social gathering of the upper class he states when putting on his pants, “I shall wear the bottoms of my ET6trousers rolled,”, signifying his detached earnestness that is reflected in many of today’s hipsters who symbolise their rejection of modern consumerism by thrift-shopping and waring pieces of clothing outside the mainstream like trucker hats, alternative glasses and unbranded clothing. Also both hipsters Prufrock share the same associated setting that each of them lives in yet despise, the city as Prufrock describes has a skyline, “like a patient etherised upon a table,” further demonstrating the similarities shared between the fictional character and the modern subculture. So the next time you encounter a fedora-wearing, Starbucks drinking and indie band listening individual, maybe introduce them to our very good friend J.Alfred Prufrock.

 

 

Well… if you have made it this far then congratulations, here is your prize for reading the whole thing 🎁🎁

by E.T.

How T.S Eliot Redefined the Poetry Genre and Practically Invented Modernism

RB1T.S Eliot was a revolutionary poet around during the 20th century, with his poems captivating audiences, causing them all to ask, “what am I reading?” His confusing writing prompted the evolution of the poetic genre and the making of a new style, modernism. Most modernist art focuses on making fun of the works of the past for being too ‘simple’, ‘boring’ or not ‘hip’. Either that or it was just an excuse for poets to make their medium even more confusing and bonkers, and to give them free reign over references to the Shakespeares and Edgar Allan Poes of the past to point out how stupid they were! There are tons of things that can show how he was a modernist within his writing and this post will go through a couple in his two most recognisable poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or just “Love Song” (as the actual name is a bit of a mouthful) and The Wasteland known for being one of the longest poems ever written, clocking in at about 20 PAGES!?!? Most poems are barely one, but go off man.

 

Mocking the Past Formula

In typical poems of the past, poets would write in a specific layout, with one of the most common ones being a set of rhyming couplets or 2 groups of two lines. In Eliot’s “Love Song” he opens with a rhyming couplet, attempting to woo his date “Let us go then, you and I/When the evening is spread out against the sky.” It seems like a sweet sentiment where he wants them to go and make the most of the evening, but he then follows it up with talk of a “patient etherised upon a table” a much less romantic gesture that is sure to throw off the evening and ruin the ambience he was setting up. Nothing quite like a RB2third line to come out of nowhere, and slap the audience in the face like a stop sign during a storm. This is a direct nod to the typical rhyming couplet structure, that Eliot turns into a throuplet, cause he’s a modernist, and he wants to embrace these new ideas and show how the old ones were stupid. Attempting to get back on track, Prufrock begins a new couplet, talking about the beauty of the streets in which they reside, “Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets/The muttering retreats,” the atmosphere comes back, just ignore what he said before I’m sure it was nothing. He then subverts expectations again by bringing up talks of one night stands in hotels, which I’m sure really gets the ladies going, ayy Prufrock? The unromantic ruination of the romantic rhyming couplets informs the audience that this isn’t your typical “Love Song” oh no, this is a modernist’s take on it, and there sure isn’t much too romantic here…

 

Making Reference to Past Characters

Along with making fun of the structure of the past, Eliot also likes to point out the flaws and give his own take on the characters referenced in previous media. As a modernist, Eliot, subverting the typical roles of the original play of Hamlet, makes reference to an “attendant lord” referencing Hamlet’s good friend Horatio. Horatio, in the original, was Hamlet’s best friend, who only really existed in order to be a number 2 to Hamlet and to drive the plot forward. It’s weird that he would make reference to this seemingly unimportant character rather than the literal name the play is named after, but this may be a new take on these characters, I mean, I would rather be a kind hearted best friend that a murderous king who gets manipulated by his wife in order to gain power. This RB3modernist mention of Hamlet may have inspired director Gregory Doran to make a 2009 film adaptation, starring the ever popular David Tennant and his friend Horatio played by someone? Idk who.

 

 

Along with King Hamlet, Eliot in The Wasteland makes reference to another previous historical ruler, Cleopatra and her kind-of boyfriend Mark Antony. (She was also dating Julius Caesar at the time and I think it’s pretty obvious which one she pined for). Anyway, moving even further into the referential tendency of Modernist poetry, Eliot makes reference to Enobarbus, Mark Antony’s best friend’s description of Cleopatra, “The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne.” Mark and Cleo’s relationship is also hilariously highlighted in Horrible Histories where she skype calls both and reveals that she is cheating on both of them with each other, DRAMA!

RB4

References to historical figures and past characters, Eliot also made reference to biblical characters and events. In The Wasteland makes fun of the old, wise prophet Tiresias, that of which was transformed into a woman for 7 years, “I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives/Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see/At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives.” RB5The mention of seeing the “violet hour” refers to his ability to see in the future with “wrinkled female breasts,” referring to him being transformed into a woman (didn’t prophesied that did ya?). Eliot’s representation of the biblical figure seems to paint him as some old blind geezer with a lot of weird kinks, definitely different from the original, who prophesied Tiresias’s future, which he promptly ignored and then went off and did it anyway!

 

Jumping All Over The Place

Eliot has a habit of jumping around in terms of time and location within his poetry, in fact he was quoted as saying that when writing The Wasteland, he didn’t really focus on whether the poem made sense, but instead just wrote about what he wanted to write about and then published it! “In The Waste Land, I wasn’t even bothering whether I understood what I was saying,” (Kinda sounds like me when writing any Lit essay!) The question is, if the author doesn’t understand it, how are we supposed to? This confuses the audience and makes it harder for people to understand what it means, comparatively speaking, as older poems have an easier to follow story that consists mostly of description of the setting. Anyway, in part 1 of The Wasteland we start in some sort of war or battle, with Marie, “Marie, hold on tight. And down we went,” but then it suddenly starts talking about “Madame Sosostris, the wisest woman in Europe.” I don’t care about how wise she is, what happened to Marie? Is she OK? Then we’re told that “A crowd flowed over London Bridge.” I’m sorry we’re in London now? What about Madame Sosostris, and Marie, WHAT HAPPENED?!?! The audience is confused by the quick changing of scene, setting, story, source and this shows this brand spanking new modernist outlook. They don’t care about having a coherent story that flows well, oh no, they fly all over the place describing a bunch of different details leaving the audience confused, still trying to put together what it all means.

RB6

 

This strange method of storytelling is seen again in “Love Song.” People more smarter than I have said that the story exists outside of space and time, with the poem exploring all these concepts all at once in a vacuum with Prufrock. I don’t fully understand what that means, but it doesn’t matter because even with this explanation, the poem is still confusing as all hell. RB7In the small snippet on the right, we start in some sort of restaurant with Prufrock and his date, suddenly we’re outside with the “lonely men” and their “pipes.” Then we’re back inside with an awkward moment of silence and then Prufrock transforms into a crap scuttling along a lonely beach. WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW?!?!

RB8

It’s unclear how any of this lines up in a literal, understandable way, but if you embrace the chaos and enjoy it, you’re in for a good time.

PS – those last couple of pics come from https://julianpeterscomics.com/page-1-the-love-song-of-j-alfred-prufrock-by-t-s-eliot/

by R.B.

 

 

 

 

 

6 Times T.S. Eliot’s Imagery was Disturbing & Depressing (Yes, it’ll keep you up at night)

MB1T.S. Eliot: I keep other people awake at night

 

T.S. Eliot’s poetry is famous for many reasons: its beauty, its utter confusion and its tiresome length. I’m gonna be zooming into the poems The Waste Land Section 1- The Burial of the Dead and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

LET IT BE KNOWN that these poems are sooooooo long. The Waste Land has 5 sections, a total of… *proceeds to count the pages*, 3+4+5+1+4… 15 PAGES! And The Love Song is 5 pages long. They’re basically just really confusing short stories that sometimes rhyme.

 

Thanks T.S. Eliot for barely conforming to typical poetic conventions.

MB2

All of us in ATLIT_1: Bernard     T.S. Eliot: Dwight

 

However, Eliot implements heaps of imagery that is quite beautiful at face value, but actually has hidden undertones that are sort of disturbing and a little depressing.

 

The Waste Land- The Burial of the Dead:

 

  • WWI and Oppression

 

The Burial of the Dead opens with describing a “dead land” in which flowers are growing out of. The narrator stated the season in “April” was “winter”, also claiming that “winter kept us warm”. This imagery would totally confuse readers since it subverts normal expectations, as you’d normally feel freezing cold because of the low temperatures during winter. The narrator then continues, picturing the “Earth” as being covered by “forgetful snow”. It seems that nature, the “snow”, is covering up all of the pain and agony of what used to be of the “dead land”. This poem was published in 1922, a few years after WWI ended. T.S. Eliot had resided in England since 1914, so he must’ve endured all of the difficult and dark times throughout the war. So, much to no one’s surprise, Eliot alluded to WWI and the emotional turmoil that ensued. The casualties of WWI are being covered by “snow” as a way of oppressing all of the negative emotions that grief provides society post-war.

 

Alright well this is getting very deep very quickly, and we’re only one quote into this.

Five more to go!

 

 

  • More WWI (yay)

 

MB3The last stanza of The Burial of the Dead focuses on the streets of London. The narrator described a “crowd” as flowing “over London Bridge”. He then stated he “had not thought death had undone so many”. He seems to be referencing the society preceding WWI, and believes that the casualties have had an overwhelmingly negative influence on society and the individuals who lost relatives and partners. They were holding on by a thread during the war, trying to cope with the idea of possibly losing their friend, husband, relative, etc. But upon discovering the death of that special someone finally caused them to fall apart and become “undone”.

 

 

 

  • Life and Death

 

Nearing the end of The Burial of the Dead, the narrator recognises a man walking along the streets of this “Unreal City”, he asks his old friend if “that corpse [he] planted” had “begun to sprout” yet.

Yikes.

That imagery is VERY depressing. The narrator’s tone also feels a bit sarcastic. Like he basically said: “haha hey old friend I’m just gonna slide in a joke about all the casualties from WWI btw how’s that garden of yours? Jk don’t care just making small talk sksk and-i-oop byeee”.

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This idea that life and death are intertwined with one another is super odd to think about. It’s just so eerie, how much of the imagery in The Burial of the Dead contains philosophical and dark undertones. This quote just exemplifies the overall concept of death being a part of nature and life.

*ahem*

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  • “Sailor” Tarot Card (WoohoOoo)

 

MB6In the third stanza of The Waste Land, the readers are introduced to “Madame Sosostris”, a gypsy who reads the fortunes of other people through Tarot cards. The narrator’s card is revealed to be the “Phoenician Sailor”, who is described to have “pearls” for “his eyes”. OHHHHHH symbolic reading time! Pearls symbolise purity, integrity and generosity. Since there’s been heaps of allusions to WWI, we could take a fair guess into believing that these Tarot cards may also allude to the struggles and impacts of WWI. The generosity represented in the pearls could signify the soldiers’ devotion to serving in the war, and them giving everything up to serve. On this Tarot card, there is a little more visual imagery; this sailor is pictured to have “drowned”. This enhances the notion of soldiers being so generous that they agreed to potentially sacrifice themselves for their country.

 

 

 

  • “Hanged Man” Tarot Card

 

Another Tarot card is mentioned in the same stanza, “The Hanged Man”. This is a card in most traditional Tarot decks, and it pictures a man being hanged upside down by his ankle. This card suggests that one will undergo ultimate surrender and sacrifice. The imagery and symbolism of this fortune telling card could be alluding to the soldiers in war who sacrificed themselves for the greatness of their country. Man, this seems to be a lot about war, huh? Dark and difficult times Eliot had to live in, for sure.

 

I feel like 2020 could be written as a T.S. Eliot poem: it makes no sense, everything is sad, and we don’t know what is going to happen next.

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

 

  • Insecurity & Anxiety

 

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We all have it and we all hate it. This poem has so many different insecurities that are presented within the persona, Prufrock’s, internal mind. Such as his appearance; “his hair is growing thin”, “his arms and legs are thin”, “long fingers”, and “slightly bald” head.

His perceived self-worth is just:

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Before the last stanza of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, there is one line that is separate from the rest.

 

Just like this.

 

Already we know it is going to be an important line since it’s singled out, all alone-some. And, funnily enough, its content is pretty much talking about being alone forever.

 

Prufrock hears “mermaids singing”, but then claims that he doesn’t “think that they will sing to [him]”. *inhales* – AWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

Firstly, auditory imagery is implemented in this, as he “heard” the angelic singing of the mermaids. These mermaids may be sirens, as they typically have a calling, usually “singing” (plus their beauty of course), which lure and entrance men; ultimately to their deaths. Our poor little Prufrock here doesn’t think he is even worth being lured to death; that’s how much self-esteem he’s got.

Again. Yikes.

Hoping that someday Prufrock will be blessed by this mermaid:

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Okay, okay. Back to my point.

J. Alfred Prufrock’s anxieties are highly prevalent throughout this poem. Now, this next piece of evidence I am labelling as the use of auditory imagery, because you can definitely hear it. The persona potentially sees “the eternal Footman hold [his] coat, and snicker”. “The eternal Footman” is a personification, or entity, representing Death. Prufrock is basically saying “yeah, even the embodiment of Death makes a mockery in the face of my abysmal life”. I honestly think that you can hear Death “snicker[ing]” at Prufrock and making fun of him.

 

It’s really sad: the way Prufrock sees himself, the fact that the embodiment of Death probably laughs at him, and how sirens won’t sing to him to kill him. The imagery of both relate to death too, which is just an overall depressing concept.

 

All in all, Eliot makes some really interesting choices when implementing imagery; at first glance its sunshine and rainbows, but at second glance it’s horribly disturbing and depressing. From discussing war, to life and death, to anxiety. All of that rolled up into merely two of his poems? Now that’s concerning.

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By: M.A.B.

4 Facts About T.S Eliot And His  Poetry That’ll Keep You Up Tonight 

Eliot had a ​very rocky marriage 

If you couldn’t already tell from Eliot’s several, *kinda depressing* poems, his love life  wasn’t all too happy, well really ever, but especially once he met Vivienne Haigh-Wood in  London, and married her on the 26th of June 1915, only a few months after meeting.  Maybe it had to do with Vivienne’s sedative addiction and sexual demands, or maybe it  was just Eliot’s overall un-desire for women!

Eliot was unreachable for Viv, he often sexually rejected her showing a dislike towards  women, emphasised in his 1917 poem ​‘Lune De Miel’​ in which he writes “une forte odeur  de chienne” which translates to “the strong stink of bitch”. Many believe this is  connected to his supposed homosexuality which would explain his obvious disgust of  women and their bodies. He had a handful of underlying mental health issues, which  probably didn’t help with his and Vivs problems any further. He also was celibate from  1928 (A coincidental and perfect excuse for Eliot to not touch Viv – pshhh like he would  anyways). 


Viv was annoying to Eliot, he couldn’t deal with her numerous issues such as mood  swings, constant fainting, irregular and heavy periods, and extreme migraines. Due to  her large amount of health issues, she got prescribed potassium bromide, a widely used  sedative in the 19th century, which she later became addicted to. This medication also  created a series of more issues such as anxiety, mild depression, severe panic attacks and  neuralgia (a nerve issue). This led to a diagnosis of Hysteria which is currently defined as  an old-fashioned term for a psychological disorder characterized by conversion of  psychological stress into physical symptoms. However, in the 19th century it was  basically used to oppress women and label them as being difficult when showing  like…feelings? It explained that it was women’s bodies that made them feel extreme  emotions instead of maybe the difficult and terrifying situations they were put in. But you know, women and their emotions. 


*Okay, feminist rant over*

These constant issues ended up driving Vivienne to an affair with Elliot’s teacher,  Bertrand Russell, who was often said to have paid for her clothes and dancing lessons. It  also may have been the fact he was a male who wasn’t, you know, grossed out by her  body. Anyways, their relationship lasted between 1915-1918, meeting at a dinner that  Eliot had organised himself, I know…awkward. In part III of Eliot’s ​‘The Waste Land’​ he  alluded to Viv and Bertrands affair ‘get away’, to Margate Beach with the quotes “On  Margate Sands. I can connect Nothing with nothing”. This represents Eliot trying to  connect the dots between his wife and teacher, and their numerous relations that lead to  an extremely unhappy marriage (I as well, am still confused as to why he cared so much  if he didn’t even like Viv but deal with it).
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I know you must be wondering, why did they stay together  when they were this toxic? But the truth is, Eliot couldn’t  divorce as he was a member of the Church of England!  However, after 18, I’m guessing miserable years, they did  separate *thankfully*.

 

 

Eliot was in a supposed homosexual relationship with his bestie 


Many believe that Eliot was either secretly in partnership or in love with his best friend  Jean Verdenal, who he met at a boarding house within the University of Paris in October  of 1910. Although the only evidence of this theory is second hand accounts and his  obvious obsession (platonic or non-platonic) for Jean, I still ship it.  


This supposition first emerged when people noticed Eliot’s, earlier stated, somewhat  undesire for the women he was surrounded by. However, my favourite piece of evidence  is Eliot writing to his cousin about going to ‘Verdenals room to look out on the garden.  Finding Verdenal out there, Eliot throws a lump of sugar at him’ (obvious flirting duh).  After Verdenals death in 1915, Eliot found himself writing  ​‘The Waste Land’​, containing  a fourth section named “Death by Water”, in which a speaker implies they have fallen in  love with a young man who soon after met his death, well, by water. This seems a perfect parallel to the death of his best friend, Jean, who was killed during the First World War  by the enemy in the Dardanelles, resulting in him drowning (Or at least this is how Eliot  believed it happened, however, it’s unclear if he got killed by the enemy or drowned  storming the beaches). Or how Eliot summarised it, in the poem  title ​‘Mort aux  Dardanelles’​ which translates to: “Died at the Dardanelles”. 

Within said poem (which is definitely about Verdenal), Eliot writes “Consider Phlebas,  who was once handsome and tall as you”. With ‘Phlebas’ alluding to Verdenal, and Eliot  blatantly naming him “handsome” ,it’s only natural I assume this is a love poem,  admiring his recently dead ‘soulmate’. The Phlebas allusion to Verdenal is further  reinforced through the line “Current under sea Picked his bones”. Creating a similar  scene to Verdenals post-death with the ocean washing him around after he had died.  Plus, Eliot coined the phrase “April is the cruelest month”, ​knowingly ​coincidently – the  month in which Verdenal died. This can be read alluding to the undeniable grief that  Eliot must have experienced after finding out his best friend,  if not boyfriend, had died. 

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Homosexually or not, I believe there’s just too much evidence  to deny that Eliot and Verdenal were soulmates…but they  definitely​ were gay. And to finish this off, here’s what  Verdenal said to Eliot during parting ways in Paris: “Space  more than time would separate us” 


Eliot is *sadly* at fault for the monstrosity of ​‘Cats’​. 

If you hadn’t heard of ‘Cats’ before 2019, well, you  definitely have now, and it’s all thanks to our  favourite poet, T.S Eliot. However, before it quickly  became a ​catastrophe ​ (sorry, I had to) starring  James Corden, it was better known as one of the  longest running broadway shows, an adaption of  Eliot’s 1939 poetry collection ​‘Old Possum’s Book of  Practical Cats’​. This family book was essentially full  of whimsical ‘nonsense’ poems, centred around a  group of delinquent felines who ran around  messing things up – like cats do. Still though, Eliot  had to come through with his dark, poetic ways, with the book mapping out the slow disintegration of Eliot’s life at the time.  

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As we all know, Eliot was one half of a dysfunctional marriage, and whilst writing the  poetic book in the early 1930’s, he and his former wife were during their separation. A  perfect collimate of this is Eliot writing of dogs being a somewhat violent gang,  suspiciously similar to Vivienne’s dog Polly, who often aggravated and attempted attack  on Eliot. This of course angered him and added to his dislike of dogs because, well, if you  couldn’t already tell from like the whole book about cats thing, he was a *very*​ ​dedicated  cat man. 


Although the ideas had been adjusted by musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber from  a children’s book to a glamorous theatre production, there are still many resemblances.  Not only were the characters names, for example, ‘Rum Tum Tugger’ and ‘Growltiger’,  kept the same, but most of the lyrics were just about copied and pasted straight from  Eliot’s works onto the script. And if the whole book itself wasn’t enough, several  unpublished verses by Eliot were used to create songs “Grizabella: The Glamour Cat” and  “The Journey To The Heaviside Layer” whilst the passage “The Dry Salvages” from Eliot’s  Four Quarters was used heavily as an inspiration for an additional song, “The Moments  of Happiness”. 


To round this one up, ‘Practical Cats’ has been adapted so many times, you could say it  has…nine lives.

Eliot basically coined the term “bullshit” 

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That’s right, Eliot was not only a poet, but also a trendsetter.  It all began in the early 1910s when Eliot wrote the poem  ‘The Triumph Of Bullshit’​. Although the word was only in the  title, The Oxford Dictionary has now named it as the first  recording of “Bullshit”. The poem follows Eliot retaliating  against his female critics in which believed his work was too  controversial to be published,  to which Eliot  calls…“Bullshit”. Yep, even the meaning behind the word has stayed the same since the early 1900’s. 

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Believe it or not, this all ties back to modernism, a 20th century cultural wave initiated in  Europe which spread across the globe fast! During this time, not only was the world  collapsing due to the First World War, but so were traditional conventions in literature  and things like gender roles. In this time, poets came to a realisation that they didn’t have  to follow classical structure in their works, and began to break stanza structures, break  rhyme schemes and apply new poetic styles that poetry had never seen before. The fact  that Eliot created a new word in the title of his poem was bold however, common for the  time. And if you say that fact won’t keep you up tonight…I call bullshit.

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So there you have it, now you know an uncomfortable amount of things about T.S Eliot’s  personal life. Whether it be the in depth analysis of his trainwreck of a marriage, his  secret boyfriend, his god awful creation of ‘Cats’ or his trendy invention of calling  “bullshit”, I hope you are kept up tonight maybe wondering why he and Vivienne didn’t  just like, break up, what’s with that? 


P.S. – If you don’t like, comment, copy and paste and share to five friends, Eliot’s ghost will  be watching you in your sleep tonight.

 

by E.V.

 

 

 

Prufrock Has Feelings Too

Gender is a construct based on superficial societal standards that teach boys and girls how to grow into men and women. We form roles for our children based on their sex before they even know how to speak. Our boys are taught to be stoic, to make themselves untouchable, and that they need to be a pillar of strength and masculinity in order to be a man. But what if they’re not? Are they no longer a man? T.S. Eliot exposed the vulnerability of men in his poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. He dared to challenge the innately traumatising cultural expectations of men, characterising his persona as insecure, passive and incompetent, giving rise to a new perspective of men; The modern man. The traits associated with men have evolved since Eliot’s time. Although the idea that men should be masculine and stoic still exists, we as a society have become more aware and welcoming to the idea that men need intimacy just like everyone else. Eliot welcomed this idea long before society did, proving him to be prophetic of the progression to come.

 

The title, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is entirely ironic, considering that the poem is quite anti-romantic. It is the dejected ramblings of an insecure man, detailing the lack of purpose he feels there is to life. The reader’s expectations of the text to be a love poem are left unfulfilled within the first stanza as it reads, “Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky”. It begins as a proposal for a romantic night out, only for this expectation to be juxtaposed by the morbid use of the simile, “Like a patient etherized upon a table”. Eliot dismantles the romantic atmosphere created in the first two lines, as he describes a person left motionless, unable to do as they please. It’s easy to assume that Prufrock is the patient as he finds himself trapped in his own mind, full of hesitation and anxiety, introducing the theme of passivity in the text. This is the very first example of Eliot’s defiance of gender stereotypes, particularly those that claim that men must be assertive and all-knowing as Prufrock is characterised as a man who is trapped and without confidence due to his lack of substance. He becomes a representation of the modern man; a man who is not almighty but timid and indecisive. Like Prufrock, many boys nowadays are overeducated and therefore lack social skills. They’re introverted and passive, unlike their stereotype. Prufrock has demonstrated that there is variety among modern men, welcoming the idea that not all men are self-assured.

 

The realisation of male insecurity occurs throughout the text. It is first seen when women of a respectable class “come and go / Talking of Michelangelo”. The allusion to “Michelangelo” represents the class and culture that Prufrock finds to be unavailable to him. It highlights the inferiority and insecurity possessed by him as Michelangelo, a well renowned renaissance artist, created the famous sculpture, David. This sculpture is often perceived as the embodiment of male physical perfection, everything Prufrock feels he is not. Prufrock’s judgement of himself is ruled over by this ideal body type and his belief that masculinity is the standard of desirability. The statue of David exhibits a heroic view of a physically robust individual. Prufrock, on the other hand, grows more and more insecure as he worries that “They will say: How his hair is growing thin!” and “how his arms and legs are thin!”, questioning whether or not he is an adequate man. He exposes the deep insecurities possessed by the scrawny boys of today, and the men who barely have a remnant of their youth. These are feelings that have been forever possessed by men, but only now exposed to the world, as we learn to accept all body types and aging as an inevitable human experience.

 

The biggest aspect of a modern man exposed by Eliot is their inability to develop a romantic relationship with a woman. Socially unaware and consumed by his inadequacies, Prufrock is doubtful and frustrated as he pursues a woman. “Do I dare?” is a phrase consistently repeated in the poem to the point that the reader becomes frustrated by Prufrock’s indecisiveness over whether or not to approach the topic of love with the woman. Eventually he doesn’t go after what he wants, exemplifying the cowardice and insecurity possessed by him. Many modern men have thoughts of love as Prufrock does, but unfortunately their inaction prevents it from materialising into anything, leaving it as a thought. The poem is saturated with self-loathing through a modernist twist on narcissism, where one does not look at themselves in admiration, but disgust. Prufrock is in a constant state of self-pity as he stresses that he is growing “bald” and states that he “should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas”, reducing his self-importance to nothing. The visual imagery dehumanises him as he takes the form of a crab, a scavenger of the sea. His insecurities and self-pity take precedence over the appreciation of the object of his affection, the purpose of a “love song”. The poem exemplifies the doubt and insecurities that hold modern men back from pursuing a love interest. Prufrock isn’t shown to be a dominant risk taker as men are often forced to be, he is characterised as fearful and frustrated. Eliot embraces the fear that comes before a chance is taken on love. He recognises the difficulties most men have in establishing a romantic relationship and understands that it is okay for men to have insecurities, causing them to be afraid of rejection.

 

Eliot was the first person to attempt to make male vulnerability a comfortable subject. He gave rise to a new perspective of men, a perspective inclusive of all human qualities, not just those associated with masculinity. We all have depth and insecurities, regardless of gender. Feelings are human, not female.

by C.C.

Eliot’s Poetry: A Study of Sex and Depression

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Imagine being a sexually frustrated virgin your entire life and having very limited friends, but also have the ability to be quite the ladies’ man (despite your inability to get it on with any of them), and have so many mental illnesses you become a narcissist. Well, if you can imagine that easily, I’d say you’ve either seen your future or you’ve seen the life of Thomas Stearns Eliot- the ideal sad man- a lonely virgin with some dysfunctional issues, both physically and mentally, which could arguably be what led to his wild poetry. His personal issues- i.e. lacking in the intimacy department and his self-isolation from society- are very influential within his poetic works, seeming somewhat autobiographical when representing mental illness (which ultimately made him very paranoid of the world), and also expresses his disgusted views on sexual relationships. Poems within “Prufrock and other Observations” (1917), “Sweeney Erect (1920), “Mr Apollinax” (1917) and the five-part poem; “The Waste Land” (1922) all provide insight into the notion of free sex and mental illnesses- such as depression- are results from a faithless world.

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Let’s start this study of sex and depression within Eliot’s poetry by providing context; our guy Thomas had a very sad sex life- actually, it’d be more appropriate to say it was non-existent. This is perhaps why he was a fan of writing about being disgusted by modern life through sexual characterisation. As a traditional man himself (weddings, religion, chaste… you know how it be), he often criticised free sex through characters opposite to himself. Prufrock, for example, is a sexually passive character (meaning he lets anyone do whatever the hell they want to him) and therefore, treats romance with another “like a patient etherised upon a table”. This simile reflects how Eliot himself probably saw sex and provides this study with insight into how he viewed sexual romance- like a drugged patient, assumedly under surgery, which connotes to being open and at the hands of others (vulnerable and dangerous since you know… you usually don’t undergo surgery unless it’s necessary. But it’s still risky and not something you want to do which makes this an odd comparison). He also describes himself as being “pinned and wriggling on the wall”, which suggests he’s open for experimentation and is for everyone’s “formulated gaze” of judgement. Prufrock portrays perhaps, that sex is clinical and more like a science experiment than a romantic and free notion. It seems to be more like a forced choice- you do not undergo surgery unless necessary, and the notion that sex is necessary is suggested through the metaphor of being pinned by this expectation. Therefore, through Prufrock, Eliot suggests that sex is expected of people rather than done ceremoniously. In informal words; sex is yucky because it’s expected rather than done to add some spice into your married life.

We all know our guy Tom had a few sexual opposites- since he did not have any known sexual experiences anyway. He was bit of a narcissist this way I suppose- he did like to portray everyone as horrific compared to him and his good boy morals. However, the next dude really did need some good boy morals… or any morals at least. This famous character is Sweeney from Sweeney Erect. He is characterised as being sexually violent, portraying that sex is done for one’s gratification, not for ceremonial tradition or love anymore. The name itself is both a play on words (you know “erect” kinda be about a man during sexy times) and also an allusion to homo erectus- the first known human origins, aka. A caveman- therefore lads have that ‘I take what I want, when I want’ mentality. This immediately informs us that Mr Sweeney is less empathetic and less morally obliged than he should be, since cavemen probably did not have high moral standards and acted more on instinct. This helps this study by reinforcing that sex still isn’t romantic in this modern time, and (through a feminist eyeball) women are treated as disposable now because of the lack of religion and traditional values. Sweeney is a man that “knows the female temperament”, which is clearly why he regards her epileptic fit as a desire to get his attention, and justifies why he only sits “waiting until the shrieks [of the woman] subsides” instead of helping. This purely demonstrates narcissism and the lack of care he has for the woman of whom he’s had sex with, reinforcing the idea that sex without marriage is all purely satisfaction for one person, and usage of another. Perhaps this is in reference to Eliot not being able to ignore Vivian’s mental fits (opposite to Sweeney) while also feeling the need to have sex with Viv even though it won’t satisfy him, only her. It may also be in reference to Mr Russel using poor Viv (we may never know because Eliot is a confusing dude). Anyway, to portray that he is sexually violent would be the imagery of an “oval O cropped out with teeth” on the woman’s skin. Therefore, the sexually violent Mr Sweeney, reinforces the lack of romanticism within this new modernist era.

The final character analysis is that of Mr Apollinax, opposite to Eliot by being sexually predatory. Like Mr Sweeney, with being compared to a caveman, and Prufrock who was compared to an insect, Mr Appolinax also has dehumanising and animalistic characteristics, such as his “pointed ears” and reminding the persona of a “centaur”. The pointed ears can be an allusion to the satyr in Greek mythology, a lustful being who is half man and half goat. This reinforces his predatory behaviour as he is half animal (a lustful one at that) and is portrayed as sitting in the “shrubbery, gaping at a young lady”. The mythological allusion, dehumanisation and imagery of the man gaping at the lady, all alludes to Eliot’s own context. As previously mentioned, Eliot was a bit sad that his wife banged Mr Russel in 1916 (and this was published in 1917) because he couldn’t sleep with her. Not so coincidentally, Professor Russel was a sexual predator and this provides evidence that Mr Apollinax is a representation of this homewrecker. Overall, the portrayal of this character suggests that this faithless society has allowed for cheating and predatory behaviour, further reinforcing Eliot’s disgusted views on sex.

Safe to say that Eliot uses sexual characterisation when portraying characters to represent personalities opposite to himself. This way we can see that he is against the sexual gains that have come from the modernist era- which these characters seem to be a part of, and provides us with a clear division between him and them when coming to sexual relationships. This would be to demonstrate how he believes that since people have moved from a religious and traditional society after ww1, that they have gotten sexually passive, aggressive and predatory, which isn’t romantic or sexy at all.

Here’s a meme because it’s well deserved.

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Now, this is a study of sex AND depression, so now we shall address them both and how free sex in Eliot’s eyes results from no faith/religious morality and contributes to different mental illnesses. However, also how lack of sex has also reinforced mental illnesses as one sinks into isolation. “The Wasteland” provides insight into both, after all, it was written at a time of Eliot’s nervous breakdown. Through binary opposition we can analyse through Eliot’s eyes, how modern sexual relations contrast to traditional relations, pre-world war 1. Part 2 of The Wasteland: “A Game of Chess”, lines 139 onwards, consists of a woman being told how to prepare for her husbands’ arrival from the war, being told by the persona that she has to “think of poor Albert” and how he’s been deprived from sex (not like she hasn’t either or anything) and will “want a good time.” After being gone four years, the concern for everybody is whether or not the men are given sexual satisfaction over a romantic or meaningful return to the love of your life. And if you think ‘well maybe the sex is the meaningful return’- think again, because it’s been warned that if “she don’t give it [to] him, there’s others [that] will”. This dialogue demonstrates the lack of faith in society that reinforces that sex is- for lack of better words; gross, because there is no proper romance in the modern world in contrast to the traditional world. To further demonstrate how free sex is due to lack of faith is the mental issues that come with it. With this sexual relationship, comes risk of pregnancy (duh)- leading to women wanting abortions “to bring it off” (which was still greatly frowned upon at the time) and judgement from others. “You are a proper fool”, “you ought to be ashamed for looking so ancient”, and “I can’t bear to look at you” are all mere comments that hold a lot of judgement towards a character within them. These comments clearly affect the character as she sits “pulling a long face”. This imagery is a small demonstration of mental health deterioration that came from feeling obliged to have sexual relationships.
Part 3 of The Wasteland: ‘The Fire Sermon’ is literally about the dangers of the new modernist society, that has free sex and lust and the mental anguish one gets when they give in to the lust. The feminist movement that sparked around this time and the growth of flappers (women who fought for free sex) was one of the many social aspects that perhaps made him critical of free sex and what it results in. Once again, a man is portrayed as predatory (‘rapey’, even), as he wants “to engage [a woman] in caresses” even though they are “unreproved, if undesired”. The lustful encounter is described as an “assault” on her (again with the lack of romance) and when he is done he “departs” and “her brain only allows for one half-framed thought to pass: ‘Well now that’s done: I’m glad it’s over.’” The inner thoughts along with the imagery of her “pacing about her room again, alone”, demonstrates self-isolation, anxiousness and the relief of no longer having to participate in a sexual interaction. This could be a self-reflection of Eliot’s own feelings in society- which is further reinforced through the imagery of her “looking a moment in the glass”- since Eliot himself felt pressured by society and his expectations as a man to be able to sexually satisfy and be sexually satisfied. However, even though he didn’t want to (or just couldn’t…) participate in sex, his abstinence made him feel alienated and self-isolated, much like this woman who was forced into this godless encounter. Overall, Eliot criticises the modern feminist movement which fought for free sex, by making clear that the very thing they fought for has been twisted to become a reinforcement of the patriarchy (since they wanted free sex for themselves, Eliot makes note that men have exploited that and made it the issue of ‘just because she said no, it doesn’t really mean no’). He then discusses how this free sex has resulted in mental deterioration of the people who do participate in it (willingly or not) and that of the traditionalists who do not want to (such as himself). The whole situation is depressing, men no longer restrain themselves, women no longer feel valued, no one is marrying for God, men are assaulting women then leaving them alone because they have no religion to hold onto anymore is all depressing. Eliot is basically saying’; ‘this is how the modern people are and it’s depressing compared to my traditional ideologies.’ And maybe he is right? Maybe he is not.

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the face in this meme is so awkies I almost feel uncomfortable
kinda cute though, look at the wittle awkward smile 🙂

Eliot’s emotional and mental conditions deteriorated with the constant demands from his first wife- Viv- and the isolation and cut off from his family because of his marriage only made it worse. This contributed to his nervous breakdown at the height of his career when he was diagnosed with aboulia (an absence of willpower or an inability to act decisively, a symptom of schizophrenia or other mental illness) and neurasthenia (extreme depression, irritability and weariness). Neurasthenia is the most notable within his poetic works and helps this study by providing context into the characterisation of the people and the structure of the personas world. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, follows a very paranoid/anxious man, representing Eliot’s own mental process. He is clearly worried by questions and yet contradicts that and continues to ask them. He tells the reader to not ask the “overwhelming question” of “what is it?”, which is a statement that demonstrates he’s too anxious to answer the simple question. Yet, he continues to ask rhetorical questions himself, since there is time “to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?’”. The repetition of “do I dare?” along with “how should I presume?” and “how should I begin”, provides this study with evidence for an anxious mind. It’s already been established in previous paragraphs that the nervousness portrayed within some of the poems stemmed from sexual incompatibility and judgement from either having too much or not enough. However, Prufrock can also supply reason for insecurities being from fear of judgement based on appearance. Demonstrating how the world is kind of depressing this way, as he normalises male insecurity and feelings of lack of masculinity. Eliot seems to internalise most of the insecurities, which reinforces how he demonstrates that males specifically repress these emotions. For example, the structure of the poem, the internalised thoughts based on appearance appear in brackets; lines 40-41; “with a bald spot un the middle of my hair- (they will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)”. The structure being this way reinforces his worry of what women will think about his appearance. Further reinforcement would be the structure and imagery of the following lines 43-44; “my necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin- (they will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’)”. This shows both his anxious thoughts of internalised judgement (highlighting especially his feelings of inferior masculinity since he is worried about looking thin) and the efforts he goes through to appear good looking. Structure within the same poem also is helpful when analysing his depression or mental states in life- especially through fragmentation. After going through stanzas of his anxious mind asking us rhetorical questions, there’s a line of dots to demonstrate a change in thought. Lines 70-74 are the most noticeable change, as it shifts to the imagery and metaphor of; “I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas’, before fragmentation occurs again to; “and the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep…tired…or it malingers”. These together provide analysis into depression, because the metaphor of the crab provides dehumanising qualities to himself as well as representing that he believes he should be dead. When his real life soulmate (lover or not… we’ll never know), Jean Verdenal, passed away by drowning, our guy Eliot didn’t respond very well. Therefore, this could also be alluding to the thoughts of believing he should be dead and among the ocean floors just like Jean. This is also reinforced in part 1 of the Wasteland, where a clairvoyant tells him to “fear death by water”. So, the metaphor followed by the sentences about the ending of days, and the ellipses within the words “asleep”, and “tired”, slows the readers down and demonstrates the mental state of a depressed person. A main symptom of depression is the constant need or want to be asleep. So, if we assume he is saying he wants to be dead in the ocean like Jean, then the following lines is evidence of the symptom of depression.
Furthermore, the Burial of the Dead, from the Wasteland provides insight into his mental state, representing the struggles of his neurasthenia. The poem consists of motifs of seasons, the environment, death and “dried” things- which can all be seen as metaphors for his mental state. He alludes to personal context to demonstrate causes of his sad boy mental state, stating that “April is the cruellest month” which is personification because how can a month be cruel? This personification alludes to personal context, it’s the month Jean died but also the month he met Vivian, and those are the two main causes of his emotional deterioration. He demonstrates through his motifs of the environment how he feels about life during this time of mental hardships, the environment which is supposed to represent beauty and growth is only a “dead land” with “dull roots” and “little life”. He describes how the “dead trees give no shelter” and that the “sound of crickets give no relief”. The constant motif of talking down about the environment is really depressing. In the romanticism era, nature was referred to as beautiful compared to the modernist growth, and as someone who refers to himself as a classicist- he ain’t really following the “nature is the only source of love and life” rule. Anyway, burial of the dead was a reinforcement of his mental state that was analysed above in Prufrock, however, this time it focused on death and depression over anxiety.

Overall, Eliot’s poetic works provide insight into his mental state specifically, but also allows a deeper understanding into the study of depression and other mental illnesses, as he provides insight into his life. Through his poems and the use of things like- well, language features, Eliot tells us that depression and anxiety do be kind of contradictory in one’s brain and hard to manage and not fun to one’s self… but I think we all could have known that anyway.

Leila3

This study of sex and depression within Eliot’s poetry has been a wild ride. Not only can we analyse the way his virginity frustrated him and caused him to self isolate from society- but we are also invited to see into his ideas of traditionalism and how it contrasts with modernism. Ideas such as free sex and worrying of appearences are represented through characters who are opposite to Eliot, but in some ways (most specifically Prufrock) represents himself as well. He criticises modernist society and the post war faithless world through these opposite representations of sexually violent and predatory characters and discusses how lack in faith has resulted in deteriorated moral standards, and deterioration of mental health. His poems within Prufrock and other Observations, the Waste land, Sweeney Erect and Mr Apollinax, all provide insight into his criticisms of the modernist era and how he wishes for a return to old life. The takeaway from this should be: one- eliot thinks sex is yucky and gross especially since it became… “free”, and two- depression and anxiety fill a man’s head and society’s without ever really being addressed or acknowledging where it comes from. Fair to say, this lad was a bit disappointed with the faithless human race.

Leila

by L.H.

 

4 Facts About T.S. Eliot And His Poetry That’ll Keep You Up At Night

T.S Eliot was said to be one of the most dominant figures in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world. He was predominantly a modernist writer; he experimented with literary form and expression, and “made it new”, as Ezra pound would have said. A major component in the modernist movement was self-reflexivity and individual freedom, and with that includes the representation of a writer’s personal context and historical context. Eliot’s poems are said to be some of the best of the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean they are easily understood. Some of the references Eliot made in his poems are indeed shocking and may indeed ‘keep you up at night’ when you understand their true meanings.

 

  1. He used his poetry as a medium to mourn his ~supposed~ boyfriend

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 Over many years, it has been suspected that T.S. Eliot was a closeted homosexual, which wasn’t a rare occurance for gay men in the early 20th century. His alienation from sexual desire with women was a mere catalyst for the rumors surrounding his sexuality. But apart from his no sex rule (he was celibate from 1928), it was his relationship with a certain frenchman that convinces most people of his love for men. Eliot met Jean Verdenal when studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910 after he graduated from harvard. They boarded at the same pension and quickly became companions; some even say they were ‘literary soulmates’. After that year he and Verdenal met, they never saw each other again. They exchanged some letters, but then Verdenal enlisted into the Army as a medical officer. He was killed in Gallipoli in 1915.

 

Eliot dedicated his first book of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, to Verdenal (mort aux Dardanelles – Death in Dardanelles) when it was published in 1917. Eliot seemed to have believed Verdenal had died by drowning (he did not), which he included in The Waste Land. Part IV of The Waste Land, Death by Water, named a “Phoenician” named “phlebas” who died by drowning, and can possibly be a reference to his close ‘friend’ Jean. He compared an unknown man to Phlebas as he suggested in the poem “Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you”; could he have been referring to his ‘male friend’ Jean Verdenal?

 

 

  1. His poems were jack-packed with death and destruction:)

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 One of Eliot’s most famous and influential poems in his repertoire is The Waste Land, and as well as following a theme of rebirth and resurrection, death is a heavily covered topic whether it be through imagery, symbolism, recurring motifs or common sense to anyone who reads it (parts I and IV of The Waste Land are literally called Burial of the Dead and Death by Water). During the period in which Eliot wrote The Waste Land, humanity had been shattered by the events of World War I; the war that was ‘supposed to be over by christmas’, that ended up being prolonged by 4 years. Both world wars and the devastation that followed were some of the pivotal points that introduced modernism in which loss was a common and repeated motif.

 

The epigraph of The Waste Land includes a Latin and Greek quote referring to Sybil, a woman with prophetic abilities, who looks into the future and states all she wants is to die; a great indication into what The Waste Land is going to entail. The title of the poem itself is a metaphor for the loss of life. A “Waste Land” depicts a region of land that is sterile and unable to grow vegetation. Some would describe wargrounds following a battle to be “Waste Land(s)” as the nature that was once there is lost and replaced with death by the lost soldiers. The image of dead nature is present in The Burial of the Dead and represents sterility and infertility. The description of “dull roots” and “dried tubers” just further reinforced the motif of a lack of life as they are being illustrated as already dead or dying. The fourth part of the poem titled Death by Water follows “Phlebas the Pheonician” a man who drowns, and that’s it. Nothing becomes of him, such as renewal or regeneration, only his decaying “bones”. By placing the section in the distant past, making Phlebas a Phoenician, he is further reinforcing the irrelevance that becomes of corpses after death.

 

  1. Ironically, his poems also contained a lot of sex and female representation

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Famously, one of Eliot’s biggest influences and inspiration was his relationship – or lack thereof – with women. I won’t go into too much detail about Eliot’s relationship history (don’t worry, just be patient), but his first marriage was indeed an unhappy one. Him and his then-wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, seemed to be sexually estranged, but he eventually undertook to normalize the abnormality. In 1927 he was confirmed into the Church of England, making divorce almost impossible, and by 1928 he took a vow of celibacy. Whether connoting to meaningless sex or using sex as a symbol of sorrow, Eliot wasn’t afraid to allude to the birds and the bees. His representation of women was also abnormal for the time period as he rejected many societal gender norms.

 

In one of his earliest works, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Eliot describes the persona’s experience in “one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster shells” to translate the experience of meaningless sex. “One-night cheap hotels” allude to the use of prostitutes that men would spend single nights with to receive sex they weren’t getting from their wives, which obviously as men they needed. The theme of sexual desire in the poem is further reinforced by “oyster shells”, as oysters are commonly known aphrodisiacs and provoke sex and lust. Violence and sorrow is created in the poem A Game of Chess (part II of The Waste Land) as mythology is used to allude to sexual themes. Eliot mentions “the change of Philomel” who was a figure in Greek mythology; the princess of Athens who was raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, King Tereus (hasn’t the treatment of women in society come such a long way?). She eventually is transformed into a nightingale, a bird renowned for its song. In the poem, she is said to have an “inviolable voice” as she “cried… dirty tears”. Eliot uses sex, in this instance, to illustrate the cruel ways of the world and the longing lasting effects that sex can cause.

 

 

  1. As reflected in his poetry, his first marriage was a bit of a nightmare

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~ HaHa, he never actually got a divorce~

 

T.S. Eliot was quite unlucky in love for most of his life, especially during the periods when he wrote his most notable poems. Eliot met his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, while living in London, and after only three months of knowing each other they were married (Eliot was 26-years-old and a frustrated virgin). Haigh-Wood had quite a few health problems; she was plagued with heavy and irregular periods and had severe premenstrual tension; these lead to mood swings, fainting spells, and migraines (plus the embarrassment that came with mega-periods). She was eventually prescribed potassium bromide to sedate her which probably meant she was diagnosed with “hysteria” (an old fashioned way of labelling women as being difficult). She later experienced neuralgia, panic attacks, and addiction to her medication, mainly ether. Eliot’s own medical and emotional condition wasn’t exactly the strongest, and he quickly became tired by the demands of caring for Vivienne. She was a troubled woman to say the least, some even believe she cheated on Eliot with Bertrand Russel (Pedofile?). They separated 18 years after their marriage but never divorced due to Eliot being anglican and a member of the Church of England.

 

His poor relationship with women as well as his first wife, fueled the construction of his most notable poems including The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Portrait of a Lady, and parts of The Waste Land through symbolism, allusion and syntax.. In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, his relationship with women and his portrayal of interactig with them is underdeveloped; he is in a constant state of nervousness which alludes to his own self-consciousness. In the poem “women come and go talking of Michelangelo”. “Michelangelo” symbolises the ‘renaissance man’; a person who is well versed in many different skills such as art, music, poetry etc. He believed he was not good enough and that women wouldn’t find him desirable.

 

His poem Portrait of a Lady reflects his troubling relationship with his first wife. The epilogue of the poem states “thou hast committed fornication: but that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.” Presumably, this is alluding to the extramarital affair between Haigh-Wood and Bertrand Russell, while also expressing his true feeling of his late wife.

 

In part II of The Waste Land, A Game of Chess, there is a conversation (?) between (assumingly) a male and a female persona in which one person (most likely the male) says “my nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me. Speak to me. What are you thinking of?… I never know what you are thinking. Think.” The enjambment and parataxis used in the one sided conversation reinforces a feeling of chaoticness and frustration felt by the male, similar to what Eliot may have been feeling in his relationship with Haigh-Wood.

 

by A.C.

Eliot: the Leader of the Modernist Movement

Be honest, you’ve searched for an article regarding T.S Eliot after you’ve read some of his poems, to gain a grasp on how you’re expected to arrive at a deeper meaning beyond the words written on the page. Eliot was quite isolated compared to the other poets of his time, as he would stray from the fading idea of realism and instead, would confront disturbing and absurd topics while utilising a variety of elements. These aspects include fragmentation, self-reflection, and symbolism, to make up the idea of modernism in literature. Eliot was not just considered a modernist poet, he was the most influential modernist writer of the 20th century, from the time he moved to England at the age of 25 in 1914 from his hometown, St. Louise, Missouri, up until the time he passed, in 1965. In today’s society, Eliot is still commonly referred to as the leader of the Modernist movement, utilising a variety of elements from the modernist period in his poetry. Through these elements, a reader is able to establish meanings and interpretations that are not always understood, because “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Fragmentation:

Viewing fragmentation from a literary essay standpoint, this characteristic is an extensive topic to discuss, as there are many different interpretations of the idea, that any explained change in form is accepted as fragmentation. The aspect of fragmentation was a part of literary Modernism, normally used to break down the characters, plot, setting, and any other element in writing. Eliot commonly used fragmentation in his poetry to disrupt any of the reader’s familiar context, which may have been a large reason for the many misinterpretations of Eliot’s writing. One of Eliot’s most well known pieces, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (Love Song), sees a lot of fragmentation throughout, beginning with the title. The term “Love Song” implies to the audience that it will be a supposed delicate poem featuring a common romantic story between two characters, but boy are you wrong. The poem starts off with, “Let us go then you and I, / When the evening lies stretched out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table.” The first line invites the idea that there are two characters with a type of connection, setting up the audience for an expected romantic fantasy between these two unintroduced characters. The second line applies a metaphor supported by personification, that says the “evening is stretched out against the sky” the importance of these techniques is to guide the audience into a state of assumption, and allow them to interpret the “evening” and the “sky” as metaphors of the characters and their physical connection between each other, therefore propelling a romantic feeling onto the audience. Then in the third line, Eliot applies the thought of a “patient etherised upon a table” for the audience, which manipulates and changes the tone and rhyme of the poem, from a classic romantic setting to a sudden surgical environment,  to break free from the audience’s expecting grasp. The lexical choice of “patient” implies a medical setting, while the word “etherised” suggests a dreamlike state, where Eliot is able to juxtapose the ‘classical poetic’ and ‘modern literal’ world in order to develop and set a new realm of literature. Through the opening three lines to ‘Love Song’, Eliot is able to correctly implement an element of modernism into his work to enhance the effect of the poem, and cause the audience to view the text without any preconceived ideas involving context or genre. Eliot’s five-part poem, The Waste Land is considered by some to be the epitome of the modernist era. Being published in 1922, only four years after the end of World War 1 (WW1), utilises the element of fragmentation to represent the now broken empire of Europe, and the uncertain society of England during this time period.  In Eliot’s first part, ‘The Burial of the Dead’,  the form of the poem is manipulated to deter the reader’s understanding by disrupting the setting and language to represent the feeling of division in post-WW1 Europe.

“Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,”

The multiple settings in this passage, support the interpretation that there are a number of speakers at once, all talking in a disruptive and uncooperative manner with each other, as a way for Eliot to represent the state of Europe after the devastation of WW1, and put the reader into a position of confusion, similar to the feeling of England after their loss. The repetition of “and” reinforces this understanding, as it is an attempt to connect each disjointed sentence into a fragmented reality, even going as far as to use the German language, (which in English says “I’m not a Russian, I’m from Lithuania, really German.”) to strongly separate and break the form of the poem. This statement can also be read as a representation of the newly fragmented world, as the Russian’s and German’s were enemies during WW1, and the disparity felt by both countries leaves a long-lasting impact, even after the ending of the first World War. Eliot was able to express the feelings and concerns of his country about a topic so wide-spread, through a type of writing that was never really seen before. He did this in order to communicate messages through not just the words, but the emotion that the form in relation to the text produces, and how that impacts the reader on a level that is deeper than a romantic metaphor. Through Eliot’s insightful understanding of fragmentation, the reader is provided a ‘blank canvas’ of sorts, in being given the ability to interpret Eliot’s work in a way that has never been seen before. This has been done by Eliot manipulating poetry to suit his own ideals of modernism, and disregarding the assumptions and ‘rules’ of poetry before him.

Self-Reflection

As a topic, discussing self-reflection in an essay relies on the knowledge of context that a reader can apply to a particular writer in relation to their work. As a poet, Eliot utilises self-reflection in his poetry, to express his personal feelings about an idea or state of society, by aligning the character’s personality with his own in a way that allows for a stronger representation of argument or opinion within writing. Importantly, a writer by the name of Dante Alighieri, commonly referred to as Dante, was an Italian poet during the late Middle Ages who died in 1321. Eliot seemed to have many views and opinions that corresponded with Dante as a poet, which led to Dante being Eliot’s most prominent influence in poetry. Dante’s positive impact is specifically noticeable within Eliot’s ‘Love Song’, as each text seems to have an interconnecting suggestion about their immediate societies and social constructs in which they lived.  At the opening of ‘Love Song’, Eliot includes an epigraph, which is an excerpt from Dante’s three-part poem, Commedia (Divine Comedy), in particular the first part, ‘Inferno’. This poem features a man, who has committed many wrong-doings throughout his life, and an ancient Roman poet is sent from Heaven named Virgil, to come to Earth and guide him on the right path. Virgil takes the man to Hell for a ‘tour’ of the 9 circles of Hell, in an attempt to scare him away from any further sins or treacherous actions. They find a soul at the eighth circle, and the man asks him what he did during his life to deserve to be that deep in Hell. The souls response was the excerpt that Eliot uses as the epigraph to ‘Love Song’, which was;

“S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse

A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo

Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,

Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.”

In English, this says “If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy.” This relates to Prufrock as a character, because he is also concerned about his appearance in the eyes of the public, as he continues to fret about how people view him, which is evident when he says to himself, “Time to turn back and descend the stair– / (They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’) / … (They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’)” This can relate to Eliot himself in less of a physical way, but more of an expression of emotion or idea about the world they live in. Therefore, it can be interpreted as a metaphor, explaining that both Eliot and Dante were in positions of criticism from the societies in which they both lived, as a result of particular viewpoints or actions that were negated in their time periods. The importance of prefacing ‘Love Song’ with this specific epigraph, can be a reinforcement of this metaphor, meaning that the audience is only able to read Prufrock’s ‘Love Song’ because they are trapped in a “gulf” from which they can never return, which in a literal sense, refers to the perceived reality that they are trapped in.  Eliot is able to orchestrate the idea of self-reflection in his poetry to strengthen connections between his writing and the real world, in order to express interpretable ideas that can be derived from societal actions during Eliot’s time.

Symbolism

One of the most commonly used elements of modernism in today’s style of literature, and one of the most frequent examples used in a variety of essays involving literature, is the aspect of symbolism. Eliot took this convention and moulded it into a specific style that suited the many associations for his writing, to support the vast interpretations of his poems. Eliot is well-known for his poem The Waste Land, but the third part in particular, ‘The Fire Sermon’, features symbolism that dates back to the Arthurian era of the 5th and 6th century. Eliot incorporates the story of the Fisher King, which involved the narrative of a King who was crippled from the waist down, rendering him unable to do anything except fish. The King was in charge of the Holy Grail, but as a result of his injury, the land around him was barren and void of prosperity. Eliot makes multiple references to this tale, with the persona in the text revealing that he is “Fishing, with the plain arid behind [him].” The action of “Fishing” in this particular sense, can be interpreted as a direct reference to the story of the Fisher King, to prepare the audience for the connection between the “plain arid” land behind him, and the King’s land that was also a deserted “Waste Land”, thus having a connection to the title of the poem, The Waste Land. Eliot’s reasoning behind the obscure connection to the Arthurian era and the Fisher King in ‘The Fire Sermon’, may be the result of Eliot’s perceived admiration towards Medieval culture. Eliot was known to appreciate the organic and spiritual community of the Medieval era, but in turn, also commonly expressed elitist and formalist outlooks in a variety of situations. This gained Eliot the label of a “Medieval Modernist” which was given to him by critics of his work. Another poem of Eliot’s that expresses extensive symbolic references which presumes a position within The Waste Land, is the second part, ‘A Game of Chess’. This text incorporates the story of Philomela, a tale dating back to Greek mythology, which involves two sisters who are separated after one of the sisters, Procne, marries a Thracian King, Tereus. Procne soon begins to loathe being away from her sister Philomela, so she asks Tereus if Philomela can live with them. Tereus agrees, and travels to Athens to retrieve Philomela, but during his expedition, Tereus falls into a deepened lust for Philomela. Once their voyage is over, Tereus takes Philomela to the woods, where he rapes her and then cuts out her tongue as a way to prevent her from revealing his atrocity to anyone. Now that Philomela is without speech, she weaves the story into a tapestry that she then sends to her sister Procne. Upon reading the message, Procne kills her son, Itys, and puts his dismembered body in Tereus’ dinner. When Tereus asks to see his son, Procne tells him that Itys is inside his stomach, and then Philomela appears, holding Itys’ dismembered head. In a heat of rage, Tereus attacks Philomela and Procne, who are turned into a nightingale and swallow respectively, and Tereus is turned into a hoopoe. Eliot’s ‘A Game of Chess’ openly references the story of Philomela, when he positions the audience by “a window… upon the sylvan scene / The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king / So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale / Filled all the desert with inviolable voice.” The term “sylvan” refers to the woods where Tereus violated Philomela, followed by the direct reference of the “change”, implying the loss of her virginity, by the “barbarous king” who can be interpreted as Tereus. Another direct symbolic reference follows in the next line, claiming that “there the nightingale / Filled the desert with [an] inviolable voice.” This can be interpreted as the juxtaposition between Philomela as a person, being speechless, and her reincarnation to a nightingale, who has an “inviolable voice” which also can be interpreted as irony of the story. The importance of Eliot making this symbolic connection between the story of Philomela and his writing, may reside with his perception on oppression and how difficult expressing traumatic events may be for certain victims, which is where the symbolic reference of Philomela’s inability to talk may be derived from. Since Eliot has been presumed as homosexual by many of his audience as a result of many hints in his work, a reader can realise where his disdainment of oppression may come from, and how he understands the difficulties of speaking up about specific traumatic events in a society that is against you. Through this adapted style of symbolism, a reader can interpret deep and meaningful associations between Eliot’s texts and historical events. From these examples, it is evident that Eliot was able to utilise symbolism as a feature of modernism, and create a new pathway for literature that was not readily available during the era of Realism.

Conclusion

Literature is an ever-changing subject of writing that accumulates aspects of different styles as time progresses. As a result of this, Eliot was able to incorporate inspiration from different era’s combined with his alienated views, to include certain elements such as the perception of a fragmented reality, the idea of self-reflection, and the involvement of deep symbolism. This was all in order to create a new style of writing and lead the literary world through a new poetic era of modernism. 

J.M