4 Reasons To Stan T.S Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot,1888 – 1965, was one of the most influential poets from the 20th century. He is also widely regarded as one of, if not the most, important person from the modernist movement. Some of his most well-known works include ‘The Wasteland’, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’. Basically, Eliot is a baddie and he knows it. Now let’s delve into 4 big reasons that you should be a T.S Eliot stan.

 

  1. He’s the “Daddy of Modernism”

 

The modernist movement started late 19th century in Europe, and lasted until the mid 20th century. This movement was often characterised by individualism, experimentation, absurdity, symbolism and formalism. Eliot, being the smart lad that he was, soon became the front man of modernist literature, and is now often called the ‘Father of Modernism’. He invented the new forms, themes and rhythms in poetry. One of these themes is fragmentation, which is a very common feature of ‘The Wasteland’. For example; LB1

this excerpt, where the fragmentation is not a visible feature of the poem but an allusion to Europe post World War One. After the war, people were struggling to connect with one another, as they grappled with being poor and probably having a bunch of mental health issues. The people are humble but not out of the goodness of their hearts, only because they expect nothing from others because no one has anything left to give. This is only one example of fragmentation in one of Eliot’s works, but it is present in nearly all of them.

LB2Another common theme in modernist literature also used by Eliot is worldwide destruction. This is obvious when linked to the cultural fragmentation I mentioned earlier after WW1 where Europe was completely ravaged by war (war and destruction kind of go hand in hand) but also in relation to ‘The Wasteland’. When analysing just this small section of the poem many things become obvious. Firstly; the title itself is pretty self-explanatory. Secondly; the words “cracked” and “flat horizon” link back to this feeling of destruction as the world around us crumbles. Finally; the destruction theme also mingles with fragmentation in a literal sense as the poem itself has been fragmented along with what is being alluded to within it.

Eliot’s frequent use of fragmentation and worldwide destruction soon became a common occurrence for many texts such as William Faulkner’s novel, ‘The Sound and The Fury’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. These are only two examples of what Eliot contributed to this movement, but is pretty cool as it shows how he fostered the growth of the movement in his revered works and spread it to other influential authors and texts.

 

  1. He’s #Relatable

 

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ is one of Eliot’s most well-known poems, showing the thought process of a man as he chases after a woman in a romantic endeavour. The mind of this man (Prufrock) is slowly descending into madness as he longs for this woman (Weird that he’s thirsting after a woman when Eliot was supposedly gay (more about that later)). He is a very indecisive man, constantly backtracking on his decisions LB3and second-guessing himself. The repetition of the rhetorical question “Do I dare?” in the poem differs from the tone your mum uses when she tells you off, but is contemplative as he thinks about what he wants. Eventually he decides he’s too scared to go after whatever it is he’s chasing, and turns back around to go back downstairs. His indecisive nature resonates with me as someone who often struggles to choose a flavour of ice cream when at Baskin Robbins, and the creation of the character Prufrock has been regarded as an outlet for Eliot’s innermost thoughts and feelings show how he’s also just a normal guy (Celebrities! They’re just like us).

LB4Prufrock in his poem is often stilled by his indecision. The poem itself begins with him literally saying “Let us go then, you and I” followed by him waffling on about the “half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats”. The juxtaposition between the proposed action at the start at the book and the following description of “Streets that follow a tedious argument Of insidious intent” display yet another moment of indecision and inaction for Prufrock as he hopes to set out on a new journey with his beloved only to realise that he actually has no idea where he wants to go or what he wants to do, so instead he just talks about the possibilities instead of acting on them. As a teenager with access to social media this connects with me on a very personal level as I know there are so many things I could be doing with my life right now, and I see them being posted everywhere, but most of us have no idea where to even start our adventures so instead we stay paralysed by the fear of it when things get a ‘lil too real.

Eventually, Prufrock decides ‘Fuck it! I should have been a lobster not a stupid human’. LB5 This is yet another #RelatableMoment as I too, often wish I was an animal so I don’t have to deal with the suckiness of being a human in the 21st century (life is HARD).

 

  1. We have him to thank for the word ‘bullshit’ (& a great diss track)

 

In 1910, Eliot got a bit too upset about critics doing their job and evaluating his work, so he wrote ‘The Triumph of Bullshit’ as a big screw you to them. This poem is now known as the earliest publication of the word bullshit, so thank you Eliot for that. The poem itself was written as a 20th century disstrack to his haters, and there are multiple double entendres in there. For example;LB6

His “attentions” are supposed to be a reference to women who he has disappointed with his work, although it is often argued that his work is not all that he’s discussing here. The same can be said for the following line as he discusses the small size of his merits, also referencing his yanno.

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These ridiculous intentions could also be linked to intentions of a sexy kind. Although, he is probably talking about his poetry.

Honestly, this point isn’t all that impressive. I just wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t make sure more people knew this fact, but props to him for publishing this regardless of the way it may have tarnished his reputation.

 

  1. He was in a supposed homosexual relationship with Jean Verdenal

 

Homosexuality in the 20th century was an extremely controversial topic, although many men in literature from this time period are suspected to be ‘meat masseuses’, ‘bumhole engineers’ or a ‘butt pirate’ (thank you Wikipedia for these slang terms). Nowadays it honestly isn’t that big of a deal if someone’s gay – unless you have the misfortune of meeting a homophobe – but in 20th century England being gay was very much illegal. Obviously Eliot and Verdenal were not flaunting their relationship together as this is all yet to be proven true and we will likely never know the true nature of their relationship (I’m a #Verliot shipper through and through) . Eliot met Jean Verdenal in Paris, where their supposed homosexual affair began. After Eliot left Paris he went to other European countries, and eventually returned to Harvard where he continued his letters to him. Unfortunately, Verdenal later drowned in the Gallipoli campaign. This event is often referred to by Eliot in his works. He even has an entire section of ‘The Wasteland’ dedicated to his death.

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‘Death by Water’ is the fourth section of ‘The Wasteland’, one which is very clearly inspired by Eliot and his boyfie’s relationship. The most obvious allusion to Verdenal lies in the “Phlebas the Phoenician” character, as they both drowned, and their bodies are left to be carried away by “A current under sea”.

So clearly, Jean Verdenal and Eliot’s relationship had a massive effect on the man. He even dedicated his book of poems ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ to the guy, and in all French too – which everyone knows is the sexiest language.

LB9This translates to “Now can you understand the quality of love that warms me towards you, so that I forget our vanity, and treat the shadows like the solid thing.”. So yeah, pretty gay of him to dedicate a book of poems called featuring a very lengthy LOVE-song to another man, especially when he was married to another woman (although that clearly just wasn’t doing it for him).

 

In conclusion… T.S Eliot was one some king-shit back in his day, and his impact on the modernist era still shines through nowadays.

 

by L.B.

How Eliot Encapsulated Modernism in Only His First Poem

If you have never ever read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, here is a helpful link that I have attached to help you out and I will encourage you to read the poem before reading this blog:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/44212/the-love-song-of-j-alfred-prufrock

A Little bit of Context

(Before I begin, if you are familiarised with Eliot’s personal context already, probably cause you’re in some form of English Literature class, feel free to skip to the next paragraph for the modernism information)

T.S Eliot, or if you are a bit fancier or somewhat rehearsed in the literature world, Thomas Sterns Eliot, is regarded as one of the most influential and innovative modernist poets of the 20th century and maybe in history. There isn’t much information of why Eliot shortened his name to just T.S but if I had to take a guess it would probably be the reason of the meme featured below this.  Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri (USA) in 1888 and was the youngest of seven siblings. In his later years of education, Eliot enrolled in Harvard in 1906 and later earnt a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature and a Masters in English Literature. After his degree, Eliot travelled to Paris and meant his “soulmate” Jean Verdenal who had an equal interest in literature and an understanding in it. It is widely thought that Verdenal and Eliot were in a homosexual relationship. In April 1915, Verdenal was killed in the war on the shores of Gallipoli, where it is said that he drowned and this devastated Eliot when he found out. In 1914, Eliot moved to London and was befriended by Ezra Pound, possibly the most influential modernist poet of his time (if you are unfamiliar with Pound, I suggested you research him. However, be careful to click on the poet and NOT the bar located in Northbridge, WA called Ezra Pound!). Pound often influenced and acted as an editor of sorts to Eliot’s poems and even orchestrated the publication events of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (I’m calling it just The Love Song from now on as I can’t be bothered constantly writing a long title over and over. I’m lazy what can I say, I’m sure you would do the same) in 1917. In Eliot’s later life he went on to famously win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Throughout Eliot’s life he married twice and had no children due to his eminent ehem… sexual disfunctions and problems. On a side note, a fun fact regarding Eliot’s second wife Viviane was that she was a massive 37 years younger than him! That’s enough for her to be potentially Eliot’s daughter or even granddaughter if he had children (a bit yuck I know!) Anyway, back to Eliot’s personal context, he died at the aged of 76 in 1965 at his London apartment.

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Modernism in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: A Brief Overview

If you skipped the personal context this section is the reason why (I’m assuming) you clicked on this blog so please keep reading so I can reveal to you how many consider Eliot to be one of the modernist writers of the century through only his first poem.

Modernism was essentially based upon a utopian vision of human life and society moving forward through creating new experiences and new forms of expression. Modernist ideals pervaded art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy and even science. The modernist era was a literary movement during the 1890’s to the late 1950’s. Eliot was predominantly a modernist poet and was seen to be largely influenced by the contextual periods he lived in and how the two world wars for example effected his oeuvre (a fancy word for “body of work”). The disillusionment that grew out of World War 1 contributed to the emergence of modernism, in which the genre broke with traditional ways of writing, discarded romantic views of nature and focused on the interior world of characters. The war resulted in many writers shifting their ideals of the world into a more modernist approach and introducing a form of grim brutality and cynical expression throughout their poems. Some modernist characteristics that Eliot merged into his oeuvre are the basic and most well-known elements.

A modernist characteristic that can be highlighted as a motif throughout Eliot’s poem of The Love Song is how the questioning of previously stable assumptions and traditional aspects of society. Eliot was part of the modernist movement after World War 1 and during this time, after the horrors of war, men started to come out of their shells and express more emotions and insecurity which is the exact opposite of the “tough” traditional man who were supposably seen by society to be “afraid of nothing”. By Eliot in liaising this “questioning” of the traditional masculine man, he is embracing the modernist movement and expanding through new forms of expression. This characteristic is most prevalent as the main persona is an insecure, emotional male who is the complete opposite of masculinity. Additionally, another characteristic of modernism is the stream of consciousness. It invites the reader into the mind of the persona in the poem and allows them to understand the associated leaps between the characters undiluted thoughts. Often poets would interpret a stream of consciousness into their poems to reflect their own personal emotions or to get a desired reaction from the audience, thus creating a connection. This is amplified in Eliot’s poem of The Love Song through the persona of Prufrock who had an overthinking, forlorn outlook on society and his decisions. Furthermore, an alternative element of modernism was the severe disassociation with the romantic era which was most predominant in the Edwardian Era of 1901-1914. This modernism element was again influenced by the war and the societal belief of not needing to be in love with a significant other to have… ehem… “a good time”, leading to hedonistic outlooks within the poem. In every modernist poem, a modernist poet will almost always include stylistic features such as fragmentation and irony and Eliot, the master of modernism did just that. Structural fragmentation was used by Eliot in modernist literature to resemble a cultural debris and detritus through the modern man wades. Eliot used structural fragmentation for the intention of giving the effects of, creating a sense of disconnection between the reader and poem as it doesn’t flow and how it forces the reader to find a layered significance in the different sections of Eliot’s poem The Love Song. Irony is the expression or contradiction of an expression to mean the exact opposite. This was favoured by Eliot as it highlighted the ideology he was trying to convey but in a pessimistic or contradicting way to what has been written, it also emphasised the importance of the ironic line for Eliot as it reflected society. Almost all of Eliot’s poems are considered to be high-brow forms of literature, which is an element of modernism and The Love Song is no exception. This means that without the proper knowledge of the intertextual references that Eliot includes in his oeuvre, they are difficult to understand. This is considered to be a modernist element as it creates a barrier between the reader and poem, as it is widely perceived by many that modernist poets created this barrier to allow readers to understand the loss of communication that the modernist’s experienced with society during the 1890’s to 1950’s. Another modernist characteristic is modernist ambiguity and this is expressed in The Love Song. Modernist ambiguity is the content of a text being open to different forms of expression and interpretation but can also have an affiliation with the modernist element and movement. It allows the reader to interact and interpret the poem to how they wish and this encourages them to move forward in their ways of thinking much like the ideals of the modernist movement which reinvigorated the people following to move forward.

A Quick Summary

Now, you may have noticed there are a lot of modernist elements in The Love Song in my basis analysis, but I did it for those few who may possibly be up at 1am on a Wednesday night with no time. If you’re looking for a more depicting and analytical explanation of modernist elements in The Love Song then I must insist you keep on scrolling. The poem of The Love Song highlights the relationship between Eliot and modernism and how he merged many modernist ideologies into his poem. This made him one of the most influential modernist poets to date in just only his first poem to be published. You might even allow yourself a little wow… (I’ll wait for you to “WOW” don’t worry).

How Eliot Encapsulates Elements of Modernism into The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, was published by Eliot with the considerable help of Pound in 1917 and is dedicated to his supposed late “boyfriend” Verdenal (it’s very sentimental and cute isn’t it? I thought so to…). The poem is told from the insecure, miserable, forlorn perspective of the anti-hero Prufrock about his failed life and in his quest to find love while worrying about aging.

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Questioning Stable Assumptions of Society

Questioning stable assumptions and traditional aspects that were previously established was quite popular in the modernist movement as it conformed to the aspect of moving forward and creating new expressions. Eliot the master of modernism did integrate this element of modernism into his literary poem of The Love Song. Modernist noted that the traditional ways of thinking of gender roles were incongruous and outdated within the emerging environment of the modern world. This was widely influenced through the aftermath of World War 1 as many men were distraught by the disarray, deaths and were emotionally damaged. However, it was looked down upon at the time of the 20th century for a man to express his emotions and insecurities as this didn’t conform to the masculine, traditional male role of society that was previously established. The epitome of masculinity was to be a tough, fearless, robust male, who had faith and confidence within himself. Eliot however, challenges and questions this previously stable assumption of how men should be in traditional society through his main anti-hero persona, Prufrock in The Love Song. Prufrock is seen to be an insecure and emotional male whose self-consciousness is apparent to his appearance creating an aspect of superficiality. His insecure nature is highlighted by him comparing himself as a motif throughout the poem to influential Renaissance Era figures such as “Michelangelo” and “Hamlet”. Prufrock exclaims that ‘No!’ he is ‘not Prince Hamlet’ and ‘nor was meant to be’, thus indicating that he is thinks of himself not to be like Shakespeare’s eponymous hero who is subsequently the main character in his play. Prufrock instead thinks of himself to be below, and rather a secondary character in his own story much like an ‘attendant lord’ to serve someone else. By Prufrock not having confidence within himself to be important and constantly comparing himself, it reveals an insecure man who is unafraid to express his emotions. This corresponds to the modernist movement as Eliot creates Prufrock to be explicit in exposing his insecure feelings and little confidence which is the complete opposite attributes to the traditional male thus forming a challenge and a question to the assumption of the tradition male figure. The motif of insecurity is also emphasised by Prufrock’s dramatic monologue as it divulges into his superficial consciousness. The traditional, stable assumption is that men shouldn’t worry about how pretty they could possibly be and should remain confident in their appearance. Prufrock is seen to be the exact opposite of this as he is insecure about the ‘bald spot in the middle of [his] hair’ and how he exclaims ‘I grow old…I grow old…’. The repetition about himself growing old and the worrying of his hair heightens the superficial side of Prufrock and exemplifies his insecure nature, further adapting to the modernist movement as Eliot is challenging the stable assumption of the traditional male role through Prufrock. By Eliot creating Prufrock to have a sense of insecurity to question the established traditional male expectation, he is causing the audience to be more accepting of different attributes of a male. This could possibility be a reflection his own desire to express his emotions after World War 1 which was a particularly tough time for him as it caused the death of his “soulmate” Verdenal. This may cause a late 1910s reader’s reaction to not oppress men’s emotions but instead embrace it and help them get through the traumas. By Eliot amalgamating the modernist element of questioning previously established traditional societal roles through The Love Song he is encapsulating the modernist movement of forming new ideas and forms of expressions into his poem thus reflecting his desire to move forward and accept new concepts as a modernist himself.

Stream of Consciousness

Creating the persona of Prufrock to have a stream of consciousness in a non-linear fashion is considered to be an element of modernism that Eliot has integrated into The Love Song. This is emulated by Eliot building in the unnecessary use of repetition and syntax into his poem. In the rhyming syntax and rhetorical questions of ‘there will be time/ To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’/ Time to turn back and descend the stairs’ emulates the associative leaps that Prufrock makes between his thoughts to the audience and makes them feel involved in Prufrock’s inner thoughts. Eliot creates Prufrock’s stream of consciousness to have a questioning and negative outlook. This is seen through Prufrock turning back from his task and go somewhere else after overthinking it and thus encourages the reader to pity Prufrock and wish he didn’t have such a bleak and pessimistic outlook on life. They would also want to him to move forward instead of questioning himself. Eliot fashioned this audience’s reaction to Prufrock to reflect the lack of encouragement many modernists were given during the movement. Most of the population in the 20th century thought modernists were trying to change society’s aspects and often thought the way the modernist were forming new expressions was in the wrong direction so there was many against the modernist movement. Many modernist writers may have questioned their integrity, possibly even Eliot and this was seen through Prufrock questioning and overthinking thus giving the audience a reaction for wanting him to move forward. Eliot may have wished the same reaction regarding the modernist movement thus inspiring him to create this stream of consciousness for Prufrock.

Disassociation with Romanticism

Another popular aspect of the modernist movement was the severe disassociation with the romanticism, which was quite popular during the Renaissance and Edwardian Eras. Modernists instead included a hedonistic aspect to their poem through allusions to acts that were often looked down upon during the era of when The Love Song was written. The traditional form of romanticism is about the experience of love and to be able to participate in sexual desire you must be married or be in love with a significant other. However, Eliot disassociates the poem with this assumption and instead approaches romanticism as a concept to freely love without a significant connection with someone. In The Love Song, Eliot alludes to a one-night stand in the lines of ‘Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels’. I’m sure you know what a one-night stand is and what it entails so I won’t go into delving detail about it. This allusion to the aspect of a one-night stand in a hotel room creates a disassociation with the overarching idea of romanticism as it contradicts the tradition form of what love should be. Instead the notion of a one-night stand creates a hedonistic side of life which doesn’t require you to fall in love to have sex, like what the romanticism alludes to (I know, sex is an awkward topic for some, especially Eliot). By Eliot creating the disassociation with romanticism he brings forward the new expression of being about to freely love and not be looked down about for essentially… doing the dirty with randoms. This new expression allows for the modernist effect of accepting forms of expression and moving forward by accepting others in society and disassociating from the traditional form of romanticism.

Stylistic Features of Structural Fragmentation and Irony

Stylistic features are a fairly common aspect that amplified the modernist movement and this was often through the use of structural fragmentation and irony. Fragmentation is part of The Love Song’s structure as there are multiple rhyming couplets and sentences in stanzas that are visually spaced apart from the others. Eliot had created the fragmented stream of consciousness of Prufrock to reflect the complex and disrupted thought process of his character. The fragmentation of certain thoughts disrupts the flow of the poem and therefore allows it to have layered significance, which allows for certain lines to become more important to the audience over others. This is underlined with the fragmentation of the rhyming couplet of ‘In the room women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’. This separation of this rhyming couplet from other stanzas allows for Eliot to convey the importance of the motif of Prufrock being apprehensive and insecure about himself, as he is comparing himself to the “ladies man” if you would, of ‘Michelangelo’. Additionally, apart from providing the effect of layered significance to emphasise an idea, structural fragmentation was also used to create a feeling of disorientation and disconnection between the reader and The Love Song. This is known to be done by modernist literature poets, including Eliot, to mirror the cultural disconnection that modernist’s felt during the historical period as their ideas and forms of expression were widely looked down upon. Furthermore, in The Love Song, Eliot utilises the modernist element of irony throughout the whole poem by creating an ironic title. With the title of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ you would expect the poem to be full of love, hope and wistfulness, right? Wrong! The poem is in fact the complete opposite, establishing the irony as Prufrock’s stream of consciousness is instead bleak, pessimistic about finding love and instead superficial by worrying about his ‘hair’. Eliot uses the element of irony to express his thoughts of the world, as World War 1 was meant to “change the world for the better”, as some thought. However, during and after the war the real horrors and truth about the war was exposed. The irony is the wish for a better life before the war and in trying to achieve it many people died, making life worst for many families thus representing the modernist vision of decay. Eliot utilises structural fragmentation and irony to fashion the mimetic representation of the satirical, dysfunctional and disrupted world he lives in.

The Love Song is a High Brow Form of Literature

No, this paragraph will not be about how eyebrows and how they sit high above on your face, but rather about how Eliot’s poetry is difficult to understand. Many of Eliot’s poems were considered a high brow and esoteric form of literature and The Love Song is no excuse. There are multiple intertextual references including the opening dedication to Verdenal that is French. The poem even introduces itself with an epigraph of regarding Dante’s Inferno which is written in some language, Latin or French I can’t decide… (if you really want to know its Italian). So, unless you are multilingual and can interpret these extracts, you may struggle to find the relevance between the epigraphs and the rest of Prufrock. If you think the poem is already difficult to understand just wait until we reach the stanzas and the many intertextual references. An intertextual reference that allows the poem to become a high brow form of literature is in stanza four is ‘Indeed there will be time’ and this is reference to the books of Ecclesiatastes in the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible. It is a famous line from the passage of “A Time for Everything”. If you already have a good understanding of them two books and can interpret them into The Love Song without me telling you… I must applaud you. Eliot, the modernist he is, made his poems high-brow to reflect the society he lives in and how they fail to recognise the modernist movement and the expression it gave causing them to develop an undermining understanding of modernists. By Eliot including multiple intertextual references in The Love Song it forms the poem to become esoteric and allows for the difficult acceptance that modernist movement experience to be replicated.

Modernist Ambiguity

Obviously, this is another element of modernism and too be honest with you, my lovely audience, I’m running out of introductions for each modernist characteristic. Anyway, onwards we go into how Eliot depicted modernist ambiguity into The Love Song. In the second stanza the description of the “Pea Soup Fog” of London is shown to be ‘The yellow fog that rubs its back…/The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle/ licked its tongue into the corners/Lingered/Slipped by’. This creates the extended metaphor of the notorious “Pea Soup Fog” to be personified as a cat, a sly creature. It gives the modernist ambiguity effect as it in a literal reflection of what the “Pea Soup Fog” was like to Londoner’s as it often caused death but this wasn’t discovered till later, thus creating it to be sly and having the effect to slip by the human mind, almost how a cat does. Modernist ambiguity is again highlighted through the metaphor of the ‘Streets’ being ‘like a tedious argument’, which leads to the ambiguous rhetorical question of ‘What is it?’. This ambiguity allows for the reader to interact and take an active role in interpreting the meaning of this poem, further encouraging them to keep reading and keep moving forward, like the modernist movement encouraged. Modernist ambiguity is highlighted in The Love Song as it encourages the audience’s interpretation and contextual references to be pronounced.

Conclusion

Do I really need a conclusion? I think through this analysis of The Love Song you’ve found some key points for that last-minute essay. I hope I didn’t bore you with explaining the amount of modernist elements Eliot infused into his very first poem allowing him to become one of the masters of modernism and to win that Nobel Prize of his. If my blog helped you in anyway, your face will be surely similar to this man’s next time you read The Love Song:

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On a side note if you managed to scroll this far down a good reference if you are a student studying T.S Eliot’s poetry, I suggest you pick up the ATAR Notes Text Guide: Selected Poems by T.S Eliot by Lucy Koh. I deemed it to be very useful to help you understand modernism and how interpret Eliot’s high-brow literature.

 

by E.H.

T.S. Eliot Blog Post

Let me preface this by saying, this isn’t your child’s typical blog post, or even your young adult blog post, this is a blog post written for the purpose of informing, as well as contributing to a wide array of knowledge on T.S Eliot. Obviously many of the points covered will be explained elsewhere assumingly better, but it doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to what actually turned out to be a pretty good poet, thanks Mr Barton. This is a blog of textual analysis and formal writing opposed to saying #relatable, “wow T.S Eliot what a lad”, “damn he a cuckold who knew??”, that’s a format that I cannot write in, it simply doesn’t work, im sorry. That being said, I hope you enjoy this hopefully deep look into Modernism and the world of T.S Eliot.

 

Modernism is the literary movement that marked the transition between the Romantics of the past, and the new form of literature with new values and ideas. Modernism, which started in the early 1900s, and through to the early 1940s was marked by its new style and form which broke the norm of poetry from the past. In a break from Romanticism which boasted sonnets and professions of love, Modernism was characterised by its free-verse structure, as well as its ‘stream of consciousness’ style of writing, opposed to the third-person limited structure of Romanticism. In the case of T.S Eliot, a pioneer of Modernism, his work was heavily influenced by his environmental factors at the time of writing. ‘World War 1’ for example held great contextual importance as the man described as his ‘soulmate’ Jean Verdenal, was killed, an event that is reflected in Eliot’s writing, as well as the dissolve of many European cultures at the close of the war. Modernism showed elements that were different from any forms prior; fragmentation, in form and structure as well as of culture, irony, allusiveness ,and the depiction of the modern man are some of the elements and themes of Modernism that Eliot described in his poetry. So here are 4 elements of Modernism, as shown through the gay, impotent loner; T.S Eliot.

 

Cultural Fragmentation:

Fragmentation is the thematic and formal breaking of writing. It breaks down the plot, characters, theme, images and form of writing. Cultural Fragmentation refers to the breakdown of period cultures for new ones. This was seen after World War 1, as many of the European cultures were dissolved after the war, The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Germany to name a few were struck by the war and some never recovered. This event is reflected in Modernist writing. In reference to Eliot, the literary culture that was prevalent before him was Romanticism, an appreciation of the beauty of the world and largely enveloped in love ballads and sonnets for other people. This is fragmented in Eliot writing, as he, a pioneer of Modernism, breaks conventions of Romanticism and portrays a fragmentation of the culture of romanticism by alluding to the era, but breaking it in his writing.

 

 

The title of the poem; “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” has connotations of the conventions of the Romantic Era, as “Love Song” refers to the love professions and writing to appreciate the beauty of the world that were common at the time. Eliot fragments this by juxtaposing his “love song” with the imagery of the dirty and polluted streets of London. The “yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes” and “sawdust restaurants”, reflecting the ‘pea soup fog’ of sulphur dioxide and soot that polluted all of London, as well as the “sawdust restaurants” having connotations of the 20th century restaurants that had sawdust flooring in their establishments which was a feature of lower-class eating. This portrays the dirty and subclass living that Prufrock sees when walking around London, in a contrast of the appreciation of beauty of the world found in Romanticism. The purpose of Eliot’s passage is to highlight the contrast between Romanticism and Modernism as the harsh juxtaposition between the “love song” and the dirty streets provides readers with a modernist world; as the Industrial Revolution provided London with a dirty and unsanitary place which contrasts against the appreciation of beauty in Romanticism.

 

Cultural fragmentation in Prufrock is prevalent in juxtaposition between descriptions of landscape and the content thereafter. In the opening of Love Song, Eliot conforms to the aspects of Romanticism in the appreciation of the beauty of the world and a ballad of love. When Prufrock asks to “go then you and I,/ When the evening is spread out against the sky” the diction of the passage portrays a romantic undertone of Prufrock asking a woman to explore the night with him, as well as appreciating the sky above him. Eliot uses simile to compare the sky to a “patient etherized upon a table”, providing a harsh juxtaposition to portray the night sky as an unconscious and having a lack of life. The purpose of which is to portray the nights of London, as well as the landscape as dead, and unattractive in a reflection of Europe at the time, which was polluted and dirty.

 

Fragmentation of both the form and content of The Waste Land is prevalent to explore the idea of alienation and the consequence of World War 1. “You know only a heap of broken images.” The content of the passage explores the ravages of World War 1. The “broken images” being both a mention of fragmentation but also the “images” that are broken reflect the countries that fought in the war. The “images” are the broken and destroyed cities left from years of combat and death. Again explored in The Hollow Men the “broken jaw of our lost kingdoms” refers to the broken head of the kingdoms and empires of Europe as a result of the War. The synecdoche of “broken jaw” alludes to the cutting off the head and dissolving of the empires of war-time europe. Empires like the Ottoman’s, the German and Russian all suffered “los[s] [of] kingdoms” during the war. The purpose is to portray the large-scale destruction of the world that occurred during World War 1, and show the change from the era prior to Eliot and the new modernist era.

 

The form of The Waste Land is manipulated by Eliot in order to portray Europe in shambles after the events of the war. The fragmentation of the different ‘sections’ of the poem, as well as multiple voices of varying cultures, and different time periods create a disjointed and messy poem as a reflection of Europe after the war as disjointed and fragmented. The title of the poem; “The Waste Land” has connotations of a bleak, and barren area of land. This can be read as an interpretation of Europe after the war, as many countries were left barren and dead as a result of the conflict on their soil, as well as portraying the static and dead state of Europe, as they lost empires and were recovering after the supreme losses in the war. The use of different voices in the sections, such as in The Burial of the Dead which includes the initial structural voice, changing to the voice of a German woman, ‘Countess Marie’ after “summer”, provides readers with a fragmented passage and creates a disjointed and disconnected structure. The purpose of the fragmentation in the section is to serve as a parallel of the society that the text was written in. The German section for example, provides a parallel for the events that Germany was facing at the time, after the end of the war, they were forced to pay reparations and their monarch fled the country, leaving their country in a disjointed and vulnerable state.

 

Irony:

Irony is the form of creating meaning by using language that signifies the opposite. Modernist literature used irony in a break from the Romantic Era of sincerity and writing for love. Irony is used in Eliot’s poetry to highlight the distinction between the romantic and modernist era in literature as well as to emphasise the themes of his poems.

 

In ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’ by Eliot, the title itself is ironic in nature. At face value it portrays the idea that the poem will contain a depiction and profession of love from Prufrock to his significant other. The Irony is found in the content of the poem juxtaposed with the title, Prufrock never actually speaks to any women in the text, and makes no “love” profession either. Repetition of “Do I dare? and, Do I dare?” reinforces this as the man who is supposedly supplying a “love song” is found considering “descending the stair[s]” and leaving. The purpose of the irony in the poem is to highlight the break from traditional conventions of Romanticism as well as reinforcing the theme of the poem; Insecurity. In contrast to the love ballads and sonnets, meaning little song, of Romanticism, Love Song breaks this to show the distinction of the new world of literature. The passage also reinforces the theme of Insecurity as neurotic Prufrock, considers leaving the party to avoid contact with the women attending, this complemented by his internal monologue of “(They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)” portray Prufrock as emotionally stilted and insecure, reinforcing the theme of the poem.

 

Irony in The Waste Land is used as a reflection of the distinction between modernism and romanticism as well as providing context for the author. The opening line of the poem, “April is the cruellest month,” is ironic as April itself is spring for Europe and Northern Countries, a season that is not cruel to live in. The use of irony in the opening line of the text provides the distinction between the Romantic era of the past and modernism of the present. In contrast, describing Spring-time as “cruel” portrays a clear distinction between modernism and romanticism, in romantic literature, spring would be worshipped, describing the new flowers blooming and animals coming out again. Ironically, The Waste Land describes April and Spring as “cruel” and the “dead land”, reinforcing the distinction from Romanticism of the past.

In terms of context, Irony of “April is the cruellest month” portrays the loss of Eliot’s soulmate ‘Jean Verdenal’ in the first world war in April of 1915. The theme of The Waste Land being loss and death is reinforced here as Eliot comments on the death of a loved one as a result of the war.

Irony in The Hollow Men is used to reinforce the theme of the poem, reflect cultural changes as well as providing what can be read as the context of the author. The use of the nursery rhyme, “Here we go ‘round the/ prickly pear,” being an alteration and parallel to the nursery rhyme of “here we go ‘round the mulberry bush”, which was derived from a fertility dance, is reversed in irony to reinforce the theme of The Hollow Men, the poem which describes “dry grass” and the “dead land”, is complemented by the irony of the nursery rhyme to portray the desolate and barren life of the “hollow men” in the text. The use of irony translating the mulberry bushes to cactus’, from fertility of fruitful bushes to sterility of a desert, portrays the cultural shift from Romanticism to Modernism. Within Romanticism, the subject matter pertained to the appreciation of nature, as well as love ballads and sexual professions to women. This is characterised in the mulberry bushes, contrasted against the “prickly pears” or cacti, in which characterise modernism, a break from the appreciation of nature and glamorization of women, to a modern depiction of the world, desolate, barren and dead, as a result of World War 1. When the nursery rhyme is read through the context of the author, an insight into his love life can be read. Although only trusted to Eliot’s close friend, Eliot had a hernia, and was unable to consummate with his wife. This is alluded to in the text as the impotent Eliot, can be read as a stand-in for the cacti in the nursery rhyme. The “prickly pears” as well as the diction of “dead land” and “cactus land” which have connotations of infertility of soil in the desert, can be read as a representation of Eliot’s love life, as he too, was infertile and impotent, similar to the “prickly pear[s].” The purpose of the allusion to the nursery rhyme and translation into the “prickly pears” is used to highlight the cultural shift of modernism, and portray the new world that was created at the close of the war.

 

Irony in the last stanza of The Hollow Men is used as an anti-climax to shock the viewers. The depiction of the end of the world, in the line of “This is the way the world ends” is highlighted due to the repetition of the phrase in the passage. The effect of the repetition builds the tension of the end of the world for the ‘hollow men’. The last line of “not with a bang but a whimper” subverts the audience expectations of the end of the world as not having a large impact providing irony when juxtaposed to the repetition prior. After the repeated phrase builds the tension, the anti-climax provides the ending of The Hollow Men as ironic, as what appears to have a large impact on the ‘hollow men’ in the text is reduced to a “whimper.” The purpose of ending the poem this way is to reflect the society that he lived in when writing his book. The diction of “whimper” has connotations of a weakened animal or injured human, this is reflected in the European society as they were still recovering from the losses of the war, they too were injured and were only a shell of their previous status, it can be interpreted that European society too was a “hollow” shell of its past self.

 

Allusiveness:

Allusion is an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; it is an indirect or passing reference. Eliot, is an incessant user of allusion, inspired by his environment and literary icons of the past; Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, to name a few, Eliot alludes to literature in all his poems, some to create meaning, others serve less purpose. Allusion is an element of Modernism that Eliot certainly conforms to, he alludes to his environmental impacts; poets and authors of past, and mythology to provide meaning to his poetry.

Allusions in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock are used to assist in the establishment of the tone of the poem, as well as the emotions within Prufrock the character. The opening stanza is an allusion to Dante’s Inferno. The use of the epigraph, relates to ‘Count Guido’ who lives in the eighth circle of hell. Allusion to this reflects Prufrock, as he is living a hellish life on Earth. The allusion provides a reflection of Prufrock as he, as well as Guido, speak without shame. Prufrock lays his insecurities and worries out in the poem through dramatic monologue, “(‘How his hair is growing thin’)”, and in the epigraph, Guido is said to speak with no shame. Prufrock’s insecurities of fear of rejection are displayed through allusion. “The women come and go/ talking of Michelangelo”, referencing the renowned Renaissance artist Michelangelo, Prufrock, can see the women are cultured, which intimidates him as he compares himself to the artist and believes that in contrast, he doesn’t compare to Michelangelo’s majesty.  The purpose of Eliot’s allusion is to reinforce the theme of insecurity of the poem of Love Song as Prufrock believes he isn’t quite as good as other men and sees himself as less.

 

Allusion to death further reinforces this. “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker.” The allusion to death is displayed in the diction of “eternal” as well as a “footman” having connotations of a servant waiting to help people across to the afterlife. This reflects the theme of insecurity of Love Song as Prufrock believes, even in death, that he would be mocked for his conduct of his life. When linked to the irony of the juxtaposition of “Love Song” and how Prufrock never actually speaks to any women the theme is reinforced, as his stagnation in life of never acting and being too insecure to confess his love, is an action to be mocked by death.

 

Biblical Allusion in Love Song is used to further portray Prufrock’s self deprecation. Comparing himself to John the Baptist and Lazarus portrays Prufrock’s insecurity and insignificance. The biblical allusion in the passage of, “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, / I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;” portrays the story of John The Baptist, a prophet who was beheaded, and his head was served as a prize. Unlike John the Baptist, Prufrock believes that even when his head is cut off “[he is] no prophet”, complemented by the monologue of “(grown slightly bald)”, Prufrock believes that even in death and decapitation, he isn’t a prize, that he is insignificant. This reinforces the theme of Love Song, of insecurity and self-doubt.

 

Allusion to Lazarus portrays Prufrock’s stagnation and creates a parallel to the established setting of the poem. In the passage, “To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,” Eliot uses metaphor to akin Prufrock to Lazarus, a figure from the bible who came back to life after dying. By portraying Prufrock as ‘being’ Lazarus, Eliot portrays Prufrock as lifeless and reinforces the theme of Prufrock’s insecurity as he wonders whether or not being lifely is worth it. Complemented by Prufrock “measuring his life out in coffee spoons”, it can be read that Prufrock feels insignificant about how he used his life, and whether or not parties of “tea, cakes and ices” are worth it.

 

 

 

Allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet is used to further reinforce the theme of insecurity in Love Song and portray Prufrock as inferior.

The allusion in the passage of, “No I am not Prince Hamlet/ Am an attendant lord/ at times the fool.” refers to characters in the Shakespeare play, Hamlet. He claims that he is not “Hamlet”, that he is not the main character even in his own story, rather he is more like ‘Polonius’, an attendant lord, inferior to Hamlet that uses fancy words to make himself seem smart. Prufrock also claims that he can at times be the fool, a court jester that is inferior to “Prince Hamlet” and is a spectacle to laugh at. The purpose of the allusion in Love Song is to reinforce the theme of insecurity that Prufrock feels, he believes he is the side character in his own life and a “fool” for people to laugh at.

 

The Depiction of the Modern Man:

The modern man reflected the cultural shift of what was once the expectation of men from times before the war and the times after. To explain a pivotal reason that men after the war was different than prior was the trauma and loss they endured on the battlefield. Many came back with post-traumatic stress symptoms, and the expectations of a manly man started becoming obsolete. The modern man, as depicted in Modernism as well as the culture they lived in, was an emotionally stilted, awkward and neurotic, self conscious and paranoid person. Eliot portrays the ‘Modern Man’ in his poetry, most prominent is The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock in which the character of Prufrock exemplifies the traits of a modern man scarred and damaged from the society of the time.

 

Love Song, portrays the character of Prufrock as emotionally ill equipped and paranoid about his own physical inferiority. Repetition and allusion in the text explaining that Prufrock sees “the women come and go/ talking of Michelangelo” conveys Prufrock’s interior monologue and self comparison to the Renaissance artist of Michelangelo. Prufrock believes that the evidently cultured women speak of the artist in comparison to Prufrock. It is Prufrock’s assumption that he cannot compare to the artist. This is reinforced by the inner monologue of “(But how his arms and legs are thin!)” portray Prufrock’s neurotic thinking, as well as his paranoia that he is inferior to Michelangelo, and thus he will never be able to speak to the women. The purpose of portraying Prufrock as this is to exemplify the Modern man as he is self-conscious about his appearance and believes himself inferior to other men.

 

Allusion to Prufrock’s physical features portray the persona’s neurotic tendencies, as he claims that when he descends down the stairs women above will see the “bald spot in the middle of my hair” as well as commenting on “(how his hair is growing thin!)” The internal monologue used portrays Prufrock’s internal thoughts and insecurities as he thinks he is aging beyond attractiveness, and no woman will want to be with him. This reinforces the idea of the modern man, as he is self-conscious about his balding, as well as believing that as a result of his aging he won’t be able to find a wife. The purpose of Eliot portraying Prufrock this way is again to reinforce the idea of a modern man, and show the distinction between the men of the past, an example being the Romantic era of love ballads for women and sonnets to woo, and contrast them to the Modernist depiction of a man, who refuses to speak to the women he wants to as he believes his inferior and getting too old.

Diction and Zoomorphism in Love Song portray the idea of a modern man. The passage exclaiming Prufrock’s clothing portrays his own beliefs about his status and place in the society of the text. His “necktie rich and modest” held on by a “simple pin” portrays his believed social status and own attractiveness. The diction used of “modest” and “simple”, have connotations of a person of inferior class as well as someone less eloquent. Linking to the idea of a modern man as paranoid and neurotic, Prufrock’s belief that he is a lower-class and inferior to the other characters in the text portrays his neuroticism and self-consciousness over himself, it also portrays the belief that he isn’t sophisticated enough to get the cultured women who speak of “Michelangelo” as he is “simple” and “modest.” Zoomorphic allusion to insects portrays Prufrock as subhuman and less than the people around him. Prufrock is described to be “sprawling on a pin/ wriggling on the wall” and “fixed in formulated phrase.” The use of zoomorphism in the passage compares Prufrock to an insect stuck on the wall. This portrays Prufrock as insignificant as he is figuratively smaller than the other characters in the text, and they are the “eyes” that fix him there and make him feel insignificant. The purpose of portraying Prufrock as insignificant and less sophisticated than the other characters in the text is to display the neuroticism and paranoia of the modern man, as well as perhaps being an insight into Eliot himself, who was an attendee of parties in London, as Prufrock may be a stand-in for Eliot’s insecurities about himself.

 

If you made it this far, I’m sorry, I understand that it is long, but I aimed for close textual analysis, and the length of the blog reflects this. Again, sorry.

K.M.

 

 

 

 

 

T.S. Eliot: A Discussion of Mental Illness

T.S. Eliot’s poetry is quite intimidating when it comes to analyzing, but there’s common motifs he explores in most of his work – the poems in particular that we’ll discuss today are ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘The Waste Land’. The common motif we’ll explore today are the human experiences of mental illness; most specifically, anxiety and depression, and how Eliot portrays these in his poems. If you’re an ATAR student, then hopefully this will be of some help to you!

So… Who is T.S. Eliot?

Born in 1888 in St Louis, Missouri; T.S. Eliot was an American-British poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor. Eliot was a leading role of the Modernist movement in literature – more specifically, poetry – producing works such as ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915) and ‘The Waste Land’ (1922).

Most of his works explore aspects of religion, Greek mythology, mental illness, levels of love, and death-rebirth. Eliot wanted his poetry to express the fragile psychological state of humanity in the twentieth century, which is reflected in both ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘The Waste Land’.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is known to be an examination of the tortured psyche of the modern man – eloquent, neurotic, overeducated and emotionally stilted. The poem seems to follow the character of Prufrock, giving us a small glimpse into the life of a socially awkward, impotent and insecure middle-aged man who fears intimacy.

Prufrock is labelled as one of the most influential texts of the modern era – This is because it envelops the transition from the structure of classical literature to the much less restrictive structure of what we now know as modernist literature!

Prufrock: Anxiety and Insecurity

As an inner monologue, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ showcases ones thought patterns and self-perception to be neurotic and in adequate. These two characteristics of Prufrock contribute to the insecurity and anxiety he’s represented to feel.

The poems momentum and rhythm are continuously interrupted by Prufrock’s digressions. Digressions are the speaker’s thoughts trailing off in unrelated paths and are caused by the speaker’s own sense of inadequacy. These digressions usually bring to light Prufrock’s anxiety and struggle with indecision.

With Eliot bringing emphasis to the speaker’s struggles, he suggests that obsessive feeling, some experience, with doing the right thing – whether it be expressing yourself, forming relationships, or simply deciding what to wear – could stop the person from seeking adventure or doing much of anything at all. The constant indecisive digressions produce a sense of habitual procrastination with Prufrock’s character. His procrastination seems to be centralised in social anxiety, as he admits he has time for (lines 32-33):

“a hundred indecisions / and for a hundred visions and revisions”.

Prufrock is constructed imagining (line 39):

“descending the stair”

and greeting people, however, in reality, he is too timid and insecure to do so as he imagines that people will laugh and scrutinise his appearance. This prominent insecure nature that Prufrock has is further reinforced as he observes the women illustrated in the poem (lines 35-36):

“women come and go talking of Michelangelo”

Michelangelo is an extremely influential figure (a sculpturist and painter) in which Prufrock is constantly comparing himself to, symbolising Prufrock’s sense of inadequacy. With the women ‘talking of Michelangelo’, the notion of women in the twentieth century only caring about wealth and status becomes prominent – this knowledge further strengthens Prufrock’s insecurities as he sees himself as inferior to the figure of Michelangelo, therefor feeling undeserving of another person’s attention and care.

Prufrock pities his appearance through his habitual ways of thinking how others perceive him (line 41):

“(They will say: ‘how his hair is growing thin!’)”

Another habitual way Prufrock sees himself is evident through zoomorphism and metaphor (line 58):

“When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,”

The act of pinning an insect is alluded to in this line. Prufrock states this in reference to himself, comparing himself as a middle-aged human male to a small insect being pinned on a wall for closer inspection. This reflects how Prufrock feels when people look at him – like they’re inspecting every little aspect of his appearance and judging his exterior. He again compares himself to a small animal, this time he’s a crab (lines 73-74):

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

 These self comparisons Prufrock makes to small animals symbolize how inferior he feels and how insignificantly he views himself. He dehumanizes himself while viewing everyone around him to be of high value – the zoomorphism alone is a representation of the insecurity Prufrock struggles with. Prufrock’s indecisive nature seen once again, brings forth his neurotic ways as he constantly questions his actions before he does anything. (lines 45-46)

“Do I dare? Do I dare disturb the universe?”

His significant worry and concern for the size and kind of effect his actions would have on the universe – that he still needs to venture into – is reflective of his overly cautious habits as he limits himself from experiencing anything that would pose a threat to him, be it physically or emotionally. ”

The Waste Land

‘The Waste Land’ is one of Eliot’s longest poems with five different sections;

I. The Burial of the Dead

II. A Game of Chess

III. The Fire Sermon

IV. Death by Water

V. What the Thunder said

The five different sections are joined together by a wide variety of voices; sometimes in monologue, dialogue, or with more than two characters speaking. The poem is notable for its disjointed structure, jumps from one voice or image to another without clearly delineating these shifts for the reader. He also includes phrases from multiple languages; Latin, Greek, Italian, German, and French!

I. The Burial of the Dead

The first section, as its title indicates, is about death. The section begins with the words:

“April is the cruelest month.”

Eliot’s dark words inform the reader that the poem will be dark and heavy (line 1). There is a reinforcement of a juxtaposition between something that’s alive growing/stemming from something that’s lifeless:

“breeding / Lilacs out of the dead ground”

“Dull roots with spring rain.”

“feeding / A little life with dried tubers”

These few instances of juxtaposition between life and death (lines 1-7) can be reflective of the persona’s view on life – to be something so difficult like trying to grow (themselves or nature) from the base of something so lifeless. It gives a sense of hopelessness to the reader as these are too difficult to do, typically leading someone to give up and just stay with the ‘dead ground…dull roots…dried tubers…’ The German phrase (lines 12-13) leads into a conversation from a sledding episode in the childhood of a girl named Marie. The season has changed again, to winter. Marie notes:

“In the mountains, there you feel free,”

implying that when she is not in the mountains, or sledding adventure, she does not feel free. Marie feels trapped, just as humanity feels trapped in its own waste land.

Eliot starts to give some visual cues about the waste land of modern society (line 19):

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?” ‘

The poet tells the reader that he or she “cannot say, or guess” what the roots of this waste land are, because the reader knows only (lines 21-23):

“A heap of broken images” where “the dead tree gives no shelter.”

These and other images depict a barren, dead land. The lexical chain of ‘broken, dead, rubbish’ help reinforce that notion of difficulty to grow – that sense of hopelessness in which the personae in ‘The Waste Land’ seem to experience. Eliot notes there is (line 68):

“a dead sound on the final stroke of nine,”

which refers to the start of the typical workday. These people trudge along in a sort of living death, going to work, which has become an end in itself. The repetitive lifestyle pattern has bored the people, bringing forth emotions of sadness and feelings of hopelessness.

IV. Death by Water

The shortest of the five, starts off with a reference to “Phlebas the Phoenician,” the dead sailor who was first mentioned in the second section. Eliot is again focusing on death, and in this section, he gives a thorough description of the sailor’s body being torn apart by the sea:

“A current under sea / Picked his bones in whispers.”

The word choice of ‘picked’ emphasizes the slow and constant deterioration of one’s mental health. The metaphor alludes to the whispers being intrusive negative thoughts that are ‘picking’ apart their mental state, making them feel closer to death – or feeling numb – rather than feeling happy.

The section ends with an address and warning to the reader to:

“Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall / as you.”

V. What the Thunder said

The poem’s final section builds on the images of death but attempts to offer hope that this can be overcome. The section begins with a long discussion of Jesus Christ,

“He who was living is now dead,”

The biblical reference can be a metaphor for how one feels dead emotionally, with all the trauma and intrusive thoughts they’ve experienced, feeling alive has become foreign to them now. This motif of depression is constantly appearing through the poem with this being the final emphasis.

by S.H.