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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How ‘How Falling In Love is Like Owning a Dog’ is an Offence to Women.

Masculinism refers to the rights and needs of men, and their adherence to their opinions, values and attitudes, regardless of the perspective of the female inferiority. ‘How Falling In Love Is Like Owning A Dog’ by Taylor Mali, is a free-verse poem that applies the connotative power of language to reveal the similarities between owning a pet dog to being in an intimate relationship with a woman from the point of view of a man. In this poem, the author compares human women to the animal using various metaphors, dual meanings and allegories.

 

Throughout ‘How Falling In Love Is Like Owning A Dog’, Mali has portrayed his own sex (male) as dominant and ruling over women, who through the use of connotative language, are depicted as passive and easily controllable. This is at first evident in the opening stanza and the sixth line:

“…you have a leash on love”.

By stating that you have ‘love’ (or the woman you are in love with) on a leash, it provokes the idea that men are in charge in a relationship, and that women must follow where they lead them- as when walking a dog. Having a women on a leash also connotes that she is trapped by the man, and can be affiliated with abusive relationships. Another example is shown from line six of the fifth stanza:

“…swat love on the nose,

not so much to cause pain,

just to let love know Don’t you ever do that again!”

This clearly shows the disciplinary and authoritative role of a man over a woman, especially with use of exclamation marks, meaning the man is raising his voice and therefore making his commands more intense and purposeful.

A third representation of a man’s power over the female gender is in the last stanza, lines one and two:

Throw things away and love will bring them back,

again, and again, and again.”

This portrayal of male dominance suggests the idea of a woman devoted to her partner, as she will do anything for her husband, just like that of a dog- ‘a man’s best friend’. However, it may also imply that she is serving him, again perhaps out of fear or despair.

In ‘How Falling In Love Is Like Owning A Dog’, the connotative power of language is utilized to show the  similarities and difficulties between taming a pet dog and managing a woman in a relationship.

 

Mali uses connotative language to prove how women are dependent on a man and cannot look after themselves. He does this in an attempt to provoke a reaction from the audience to feel sympathetic or understanding for anyone undergoing the same circumstances in any relationship.

One example of this is found in the second stanza, line four:

Love wakes you up all hours of the night with its needs.”

This line is similar to the actions of a newborn baby, who must rely on the role of an authoritative person everything for them,or in this instance, an authoritative male, as the example indicates that women are also needy and incapable of taking care of or able to sustain themselves.

A second example includes lines one and two of the third stanza:

“Love doesn’t like being left alone for long.

But come home and love is always happy to see you.”

The quote suggests that women do not like being separated from their partner, and are only happy when the two of them are together.This indicates that when alone, women are glum and counterproductive as they spend their entire time waiting upon the arrival of their spouse, depending on only them to bring upon their contentment, happiness and liveliness. A last example of a woman’s dependence on a masculine role is in line three of the fifth stanza:

“Love needs lots of cleaning up after.”

This line, though short, conveys a strong message that women are careless and dirty by not bothering cleaning up after themselves, positioning readers to feel disgusted and disgraced by the female gender, and supportive for the males that are able to put up with them. Through use of these connotations, Taylor Mali has ably proven that women are careless and unable to fend for themselves, indeed resembling the animal they are named after in the poem.

 

In ‘How Falling In Love Is Like Owning A Dog’, Mali uses connotative language to portray how women can be seen as both irritating and demanding to men. This is apparent in many cases, but first of all in line one of the fifth stanza:

“Sometimes you just want to get love fixed.”

This quote refers to women behaving much like that of a male dog before it is ‘fixed’, also known as neutered- neutering a male dog reduces the supply of testosterone and dominative hormones such as territory claim and defence, general aggression and fear-induced aggression. The quote carries the dual meaning that sometimes men want to get women ‘fixed’, thus taking away their own hormone induced emotional outbursts to make them less irritating and demanding. Another occurrence of connotation for this case is in the sixth stanza from line three:

“Pull you in different directions

at once, or wind itself around and around you

until you’re all wound up and you cannot move.”

This quote explores the well known phrase ‘you’re driving me up the walls’, a figure of speech when describing extreme annoyance in another person, except in this occasion (mainly the first two lines) it is even more detailed and therefore even more severe. The last line focuses on the transformation from annoyance to rage, as a man loses his temper at his nuisance wife.

Found in the seventh stanza, this final example expands on both the nuisance and demanding aspect Mali has portrayed of women:

“But love makes you meet people wherever you go.

People who have nothing in common but love

stop and talk to each other on the street.”

This quote positions the audience to understand the poem as it is something most people can relate to- when you’re out in public with a woman, and she coincidentally recognizes someone she knows, and even though the person is a stranger to you, she still demands you go over with her to greet them. Through the use of connotative language, Mali has represented how women are seen as irritating and demanding to men by comparing their actions to the everyday actions of a pet dog.

 

In ‘How Falling In Love Is Like Owning A Dog’, Taylor Mali effectively applies the connotative power of language to reveal the similarities between owning a pet dog to being in an intimate relationship with a woman from the point of view of a man. Mali has portrayed the male sex as dominant and ruling over women, proved how women are dependent on a man, and lastly, interpreted how they can be seen as both irritating and demanding to men. In doing so, Mali has possibly exposed his own masculinist beliefs.

 

An unedited essay written by a year 10 student in Secret Harbour, Western Australia (2013).

 

Matrimonial Misogyny & Cameo Cannibalism

Of past contemporary existential post-modernists, few have ever managed to capture and reflect Australia’s ever shifting cultural identity with such diversity as Gwen Harwood. Through her various works published between the early 1940’s and dawn of the new millennium, many largely unimpeded social issues common of the era were given original and often critical engagement that they may not have seen otherwise in the public limelight.

 
Choosing to appropriate her own style rather than adhere to pre-established connotations of form and genre, Harwood provokes peculiarity in an effort to promote change.
Below is the Petrarchan sonnet: ‘In The Park (1963)’ as extracted from Gwen Harwood: Selected Poems (2001);

 

She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.

Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.

A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt

Someone she loved once passed by – too late
to feign indifference to that casual nod.

“How nice” et cetera. “Time holds great surprises.”

From his neat head unquestionably rises

a small balloon…”but for the grace of God…”
They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing

the children’s names and birthdays. “It’s so sweet

to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive, ”

she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing

the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.

To the wind she says, “They have eaten me alive.”

 

In direct contrast to the romanticised traditions of infatuation typical to 16th century modernism,

 

Harwood shy’s away from the conventional ‘love song’ motif that sonnets pertain in favour of a heavier-hearted reality. The woman portrayed haggles indefinitely with her sanity and soul, sacrificing all who she once was for the “joys” of partnerless Motherhood. In a kind of ironic dichotomy, ‘In The Park’ is more or less empathetically satirising the anguishing fate of single parents in the late 20th century.

 

Despite Harwood’s contentment with fulfilling domestic roles in her own life as wife and mother however, her poetry suggests it’s almost not worth the sacrifices of time and effort to glean said satisfaction; antagonistically alluding to her inescapable longing for the ‘what if’. Asking herself what could of been had she not conformed to the patriarchal roles presented to her. In portraying the scene in such a way to say “Her clothes are out of date. Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt” it can be presumed that what little money is had has gone to the children rather than the mother. Arguably a small sacrifice for the perceived joys of procreation, it is sacrifice nonetheless and not one that is mutually endured by the father. Frequently placing emphasis on the roles of stifled women in society, this is yet another expression of the bias Harwood see’s life having towards men.

 

Facing fascism in the figurative sense, feminism is woven into not only her literature but into its publishing also. Having to employ the use of male pseudonyms for much of her early career due to prejudice, Harwood at one point published an acrostic poem under the guise of ‘Walter Lehmann’ which spelt “Fuck AlL eDiToRs” in retaliation to C. B. Christesen; the editor of Meanjin, whom had stolen one of her phrases after refusing it publishing. Although years prior, Harwood had since married linguist Bill Harwood and moved to Hobart with him. Spending much of her time at the University of Tasmania where her husband lectured, becoming fixated on the work of analytical philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

 

Renowned for his inventive albeit eccentric lexical disposition, he believed it was impossible to comprehend the meaning of any word without acknowledging the perpetual metaphysical connotations it may also pertain to. It is evident Harwood adopted this attitude too by the existential undertones intrinsic to much if not all of her works, consistently utilising metaphors and imagery coupled with the sonnet form as a vessel for the vocalisation of her disdain towards romantic discourse; the audience is asked to stray from linearity and look upon themselves for an expanded understanding of the text.
Below is the concluding vignette to “that dowdy housewife’s” tales: ‘Later Texts I (1995)’ as it appeared in Gwen Harwood: Selected Poems (2001);

 

She sits in the park, wishing she’d never written

about that dowdy housewife and her brood.

Better, the Memoirs of a Mad Sex-Kitten,

or a high-minded Ode to Motherhood

in common metre with a grand doxology.

“They have eaten me alive.” Did she write that?

The sonnet nestles in a new anthology

safe in its basket as a favoured cat.
She sits a while in flickering light rehearsing

the family’s birthdays. “Stop you bloody fool!”

A young house-father with a pram is cursing

a child who’s pushed another in the pool.

She helps him calm them. “Eating you alive?

Look at me. I’ve lived through it. You’ll survive.”

 

The line “She sits a while in flickering light rehearsing” references the passion or flame that had once inspired the woman’s romance and domesticity which has since dissipated. Holding on to an evanescent memory of a lost lover and entering that space once more, whether it be by witnessing another struggle similarly or encountering the person directly; a fleeting sense of turmoil and tranquility intertwine irreverently within. ‘In The Park’ serves as a prelude for ‘Later Texts I’, detailing a time of loneliness and despair unimpaired by hope. An obvious allusion to the reality of solo parenting and one that playfully captures these woes, it is both earnest and defeating. Like all people after time however, the woman has grown and learned to use her experiences constructively as a tool to further develop oneself; she rehearses the act of living in an attempt to hone her role in the play of life.

 

In stark contrast, the father depicted in ‘In The Park’ is portrayed as cowardly and lacking moral insight. “From his neat head unquestionably rises / a small balloon…“but for the grace of God…””

 

Ironically emphasising the childish thought process of the ex-lover, his consciousness is described as a cartoon-strip style thought balloon containing anything but remorse for the past. More a production of loathing than love, Harwood’s sonnets aim to shed light on the much more melancholy aspects of love. Intimacy can be observed as being mitigated through detachment in perspective, arguably an effort to capture the emotional schism since formed following their separation.

 

Below is my attempt at mirroring Gwen Harwood’s style and emulating this rift:
The sonnet is titled: Alone.

 

We pretend our lives don’t revolve around

despair, that fate is fair. Toiling in the rain,

my cigarette dances to the sombre candescence

of our drab street. The morning cool envelops
all, least my affection. And my heart lingers with

a sordid disposition. In the window,

I watch as she glances from behind the curtain.

Carried away, like spring leaves by the summer
breeze. I struggle to make sense of it all,

unable to make the transition to fall.

Two ‘overnight’ bags sit perched on the stairs,

a mother cradles her daughter. She moans:
“For fear that I might die, for fear that you might cry;

we can spend this morning, in mourning.”

 

Exploring the emotional consequence of separation and what it means for children caught in the crossfire, ‘Alone.’ focuses on similar concepts to that of Harwood’s vignettes; challenging conventional ideals about romance and the sonnet form, metaphor and simile are employed to actualise the opportunity for ulterior readings in both mine and Harwood’s work. Reflecting the pessimistic undertones of her style, a faint spark remains between the pair but not one which is able to keep them together for longer than a morning.
By T.P.

Gwen Harwood:

opener

So, you wanted to learn a few things about Gwen Harwood’s poems? Well, you’ve come to the right place! And you’re in for a treat because not only are we going to analyse some of her works, but we’re also going to be looking at the women and men of the 1950’s and 60’s and the media’s influence on society during this time.

A fairly large concept all of this involves is reality versus stereotype.

You’ve heard these words before, but what do they actually mean and how do they relate?

 

Reality: often a bit of a killjoy and not always a walk in the park.

This pretty much sums it up:

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Stereotype: on the one hand, this usually makes things easier to categorise (and sometimes gives you a licence to act a certain way) but they are also usually false. Sort of like the ‘Princess, Criminal, Brain, Basket Case and Athlete’ in that retro movie called the The Breakfast Club; the one with the fist pump song? As a side note, if you haven’t seen it yet, I definitely recommend it.

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The point is people are often predisposed to believe the stereotype, when in reality this is far from the truth.

 

In her poems Gwen Harwood focuses on the representation of females, particularly in their role of mothers, in her 1960’s poems ‘In The Park,’ ‘Suburban Sonnet’ and Suburban Sonnet; Boxing Day.” Now, if only there was a way for us to find out more information about these poems…oh wait, there is! Poetic techniques! Don’t worry if you’re not too flash with these my friend, we’ll work through those as well.

 

Think of this as the lowdown on all things poem, Gwen Harwood, vintage women’s roles, men (or at least one view of them) and what the media has to do with why most people believe the stereotype rather than reality. You’re welcome.

 

 

THE BASICS

 

Wait- poems? What are those again?

 

We’re not going to get very far if we can’t answer this question. So I’ll let you in on some structural knowledge; each of the poems we’ll be looking at are written in sonnet form. How do we know this? Well, here are a few hints:

 

  1. They’re all 14 lines with approximately 10 syllables in each.

 

  1. They all contain iambic pentameter (a rhythm of emphasised and understated vowels in each line.)

 

  1. They contain contemporary rhyming schemes.

 

  1. ‘In The Park’ consists of quatrains (4 line stanzas.)

 

  1. ‘Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day’ involves a volta (a turn in thought, between the 8th and 9th)

 

Okay, so what are these poems actually about?

 

Persona. It’s the word used to describe the main perspective presented to the audience within a text (usually the main character.) One of the things that makes these three poems so interesting is that they all have the same persona; a woman suffering from a loss of identity due to her role as a mother (Pretty deep, right?) There’s no real evidence to suggest it is the same woman in each poem but they do display similar traits; exhaustion, a child oriented lifestyle and the absence of a stereotypical family structure. Basically we can assume this woman is not happy with her life. At all. In order to find out why, we’ll have to take a closer look.

 

 

 

 

WOMEN IN THE 1950s/60s

 

These were the women rocking the ‘pin up’ style; wiggle dresses, elegant up-do’s, pearls and heels. After World War II these women really came into their own; they loved nothing more than caring for the children, doing all the domestic chores, following their husband’s every request and having almost no time to follow their own interests. Every. Single. Day.

Hold on- what? That doesn’t sound right!

Well, try telling that to the societies of the time. Following the end of the war it was considered women’s ‘patriotic duty’ to relinquish their positions to the ‘more capable’ men. Marriage and children became most women’s aims and they adopted the roles of housewives and mothers dutifully. They had everything they could possibly want; husbands with good jobs, healthy children, comfortable houses and large gardens. Who could possibly want more than that?

Flash forward a few years to the 60s and women were beginning to recognise the over-glorification of the roles they were restricted to, questioning their lack of identity and purpose (ABOUT TIME!!!) Sort of like Belle from Beauty and the Beast;

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This national crisis commenced the fight for a new feminist ideal.

 

Gwen Harwood’s poems display reference to some time between women’s social conformity and their fight for equality. We can see evidence of this through poetic techniques in the poem.

 

Symbolism (almost anything with deeper meaning beyond it’s literal sense)          represents varying female ideologies of the 1950’s:

  • Child orientation- “she hushes them” and “she comforts them” from ‘Suburban Sonnet’ conveys the support women were expected to provide to their offspring, to the extent of their own detriment.

 

  • Domestic obligations (they were all the fun things like cleaning, cooking and washing) are displayed through the line “woman with a broom” from “Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day.” Usually when describing someone you identify an obvious feature of their personality or appearance e.g. curly hair. ‘Woman with a broom’ therefore distinguishes this character as having little substance beyond the functional service she provides.

 

  • Inequality- seeing as women were subordinate in this patriarchal society, single parents of this gender were often shunned or frowned upon. How unfair is that? ‘In The Park’ compares “her clothes are out of date” to “his neat head.” Outdated clothes were almost unheard of amongst respectable women during the 1950’s; remember the heels and pearls I was talking about earlier? It’s fair to say the representation of the main character in this attire is therefore negative, especially when the male character contrasts with a ‘neat’ (attractive) appearance.

 

Metaphor (the comparison of two aspects through the suggestion that one is the other) represents the loss of identity women began to feel towards the end of the 50s and early 60s:

  • Exhaustion- despite the stereotypical perfection of the ‘housewife’ role, the repetitiveness of this lifestyle in reality was quite tiring. “Her veins ache” and “She’s too tired to move” from ‘Suburban Sonnet’ and ‘Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day’ consecutively, supports this fact through the emphasis of her fatigue.

 

  • Dependence of children- due to the responsibility of women to care for their children, partnered with the little time women had for themselves, women of the 60’s came to recognise the negative effect their children’s absolute dependence was having on them. “They have eaten me alive” from ‘In The Park’ depicts this influence of children on the loss of women’s identity, suggesting the children are killing her, erasing her existence. (This is pretty deep; nice one Gwen.)

 

Motif (a recurring symbol or concept) and Enjambment (the continuation of a sentence over a line) displays the reality of the role of motherhood for these women:

  • ‘Children’ and ‘loss of love’ form motifs in the poems to display the child oriented nature of these suburban lifestyles and the reduction in women’s capacity to receive love due to their subordination.

 

  • Stress- enjambment in ‘Suburban Sonnet’; “A pot…boils over,” and “two children chatter…then scream and fight” conveys the demanding nature of this role of motherhood, contrasting to the stereotyped ‘perfection’ of this position.

 

Unlike the social stereotypes, it’s fairly obvious that the lifestyle of the 1950’s housewives was not all smiles and rainbows.

 

Check Point: Okay so we’ve looked at the structure of the poems, examples of some poetic techniques and the influence women of the 1950’s had on the persona of these poems. So how do the stereotypes of women at this time compare to the stereotypes of men? Lets find out…

 

 

MEN IN THE 1950s

 

With all the negative aspects of women’s lives compared to men, you could almost assume the men had it easy right? But this wasn’t necessarily the case.

The men who had fought in battlefields during the war had returned home only to be forced into the stereotype of the ‘perfect’ American man. Politically, this could be viewed as an attempt to fight threats of communism that existed at this time. This social expectation provided men with little ability to cope with the emotional effects of their war involvement.

So what did being a ‘perfect’ man in this patriarchal society involve? First and foremost it was essential they were not considered feminine in any way; it was all about strength and masculinity;

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Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly like this but you get the idea. Men were the sole providers for the family and were viewed to be good decision makers, capable, assertive and intelligent, particularly when compared to women. This hyper-masculine mould added to the devaluation of women in society.

On the flip side of the dominance men practiced, they experienced a lot of pressure to maintain the strength their role demanded of them, often ridiculed for any behaviour that could be considered feminine.

 

Similarly the conformist nature of this post war society could be considered a “Grey Flannel Trap.” For the white-collar men that the majority of the stereotypes were focussed on, their daily schedule consisted of commuting from their families to office-based work, to the point where they were not necessarily in control of their own existence. Social expectation left many men standardised and domesticated.

 

Gwen Harwood’s representation of stereotyped male expectations in the 50s can be interpreted through poetic techniques within her poems.

 

Conceit (an unusual comparison which usually can be viewed as a sort of metaphor) displays men’s influence on women’s subordination in the 1950s:

  • Dominance- “Once she played for Rubenstein, who yawned” in ‘Suburban Sonnet’ uses conceit to convey men’s dismissal of any female practices outside of their domestic roles. Fun fact: Arthur Rubenstein was an actual pianist who Harwood played in her youth. The concept of ‘yawning’ forms a metaphor to suggest this female character was not talented, which can be assumed then of all women in society in comparison to men (in reality this is obviously not true!)

 

Allusion (mythical/ religious/ historical/ literary/ social/ cultural symbolism) represents male ideologies of this era:

  • Stereotype- (i.e. caveman grunting, comparing of muscle tone and competition of who ate the most ‘Weet-Bix’ for breakfast)

“O where’s the demon lover” in ‘Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day’ displays the stereotypes of men during this time period (strength/ power/ dominance.) Generally demons are considered to be more powerful than ‘mere mortals’ and typically are portrayed as having the ability to seduce and control women, therefore conveying men’s stereotypical power through the suggestion that the main character’s male love interest is a ‘demon.’

 

Check Point: Okay so by looking at some more examples of poetic techniques we know now that although women had it worse (it was a patriarchy after all), life as a man in the 1950s wasn’t all that great either.

Major stereotypes of ‘perfection’ existed during this time period and we’ve found that these were really far from the truth. So how were these stereotypes created- what really caused them?

 

 

THE MEDIA’S INFLUENCE

 

A study conducted in 2015 found that Australians watch an average of 89 hours and 28 minutes of TV per month. Combined, that’s more than three full days of pure TV! Think about it; for a lot of people their daily routine consists of going to school or work, coming home and watching TV until bed. All those hours add up to influence us in different ways, largely through the use of stereotype.

And it’s not just television shows; movies, magazines, posters, adverts, even songs present major stereotypes that we have been exposed to since childhood and in some form are continued to be exposed to every single day.

 

A leading culprit in this indoctrination of stereotypes is the internationally loved Disney incorporation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much a fan of Disney now as I was when I first sang along to Cinderella telling me “if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true” but there’s no denying the romanticised illusion this creates.

 

We all loved the damsels in distress and dashing Prince Charmings’ as children, awed at the love at first sight and happily ever after. But what about what comes after that? After marriage, after children; is life as perfect? Does love require no work or is this an unrealistic expectation?

 

Similar to the women of the 1950’s, the adored princesses of these films present similar traits. We have grown with these stereotypic perceptions of behaviour and the role of females. Marriage and love is viewed as a main goal for Disney heroines such as Snow White and Ariel in their search for a fulfilled life, the desired attributes of women displayed through females such as Cinderella; grace, beauty, charm as well as domestic abilities and submissiveness. Cinderella also displays the stereotyped improvement of life upon finding Prince Charming and marrying him (talk about a transformation!);

cin

But it’s not only Disney. Many movies often display men as dominant figure compared to women, such as Grease (1978) and more recently, dare I say it; Twilight (2008.)

 

In the 1950’s, many adverts were printed as posters and incorporated in magazines to display the stereotyped ideologies of families. (This is where the rest of the media comes in.) This involved the ‘ideal’ family, seen through traditional family structure; two biological parents and their children. Parents ought to be wise and supportive with little serious conflict (yeah, that’s so realistic) and conforming behaviour. Stereotyped sibling relationships emphasised their efforts to resolve conflict and maintain positive emotional ties. (I’m not sure if that’s before or after the hair pulling, endless battles and screaming. Seriously these editors must have either been only children or seriously in denial.)

 

The most commonly referred to stereotype of this era, particularly in America, but also present in Australian society, was “The American Dream” that was born after the war. This consisted of marrying your perfect other half, purchasing a nice home in the suburbs surrounded by a white picket fence, raising a few children and maybe buying a dog. Male superiority and female subordination was impressed, with women expected caring mothers and serving housewives.

 

Here are some examples of the adverts depicting expected roles of women in society during this era;

ads

Wow; don’t you just love a bit of sexism?

I don’t know about you but this really rattles my feminist bones. Phew!

It wasn’t just women though, television shows of the time conveyed men’s standardised expectation to provide financial support. They typically represented as working men who left in the morning and came home in the evening for dinner. Examples of these include; I Love Lucy (1951 – 1957) and Father Knows Best (1954 – 1960.)

Anyway- how does all of this tie in with Gwen Harwood’s poems? The easiest way to find out is with; you guessed it, more poetic techniques!

 

Title connotations (sort of like symbolism in the title) represent stereotypes created by the media at this time:

  • The American Dream- suburban living and it’s relevant ideologies are displayed through the titles of Harwood’s poems; ‘Suburban Sonnet’ (that’s fairly straightforward), ‘Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day’ (again fairly obvious, this time with the added bonus of a family holiday) and ‘In The Park’ a location often considered a part of suburbia; a place to walk the dog or play with the children with a general sense of community.

 

Satire (Making fun of something with the purpose to criticise) presents Harwood’s criticism of female representation in advertisements during this patriarchal era:

  • Magazines- As I mentioned before, advertisements played a large role in the cultivation of female stereotypes. Satire of “A glossy magazine…lies open: How to keep your husband’s love” in ‘Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day’ depicts criticism of the messages these advertisements enforced, suggesting women need assistance to maintain the love of their husbands, perhaps with the subtle purpose of suggesting their husband’s devotions may be wandering to another.

 

Check Point: Okay so we’ve looked at men and women of the 1950s/ 60s and the influence of the media at this time through an analysis of Gwen Harwood’s texts. How did we do this? Through those super handy things called poetic techniques! Just before I wrap up, here’s my own attempt at Gwen Harwood’s poetry:

 

Once Upon A Reality

 

She removes her apron, pearls clasped round

her neck. Two children dance about her feet,

giggling. He arrives home, suit sharp, neat.

Her welcoming is a gentle sound.

Eyes shining, she returns to dinner.

She ignores her aching feet, no time to

wait or rest. Crying children fill her view

beside her, as the doorbell calls to her.

She runs to answer. Suit straight he enters

the hall, empty smiles, nothing is spoken.

He walks on. She cries internally.

Perfect and devoid of love; two centres

of life called ‘home.’ These two are in fact one,

two views; only one the reality.

 

 

What does any of that mean? Well, I used Harwood’s rhyme scheme from ‘Suburban Sonnet’ (abba,cddc,efg,efg) as well as the same location; a kitchen with children and a mother figure. I however displayed this from two perspectives of the same family; the first the stereotype of mothers and families during the 1950’s, the second a perspective of what the reality may have been. Now it’s your turn; what poetic techniques can you find in this poem? Maybe there are some that we looked at earlier or others you can see. Can you relate any of this to the 1950’s?

Have fun!

end

by S.M-R.

 

Where Gender Roles Are Headed In The Next Five Years

Gender roles. Sticky topic aye? All that patriarchy nonsense with men on top, women on bottom (not in the fun way either). If you don’t understand it, don’t fret. You’re not alone, you are also probably apart of the 41% of people supporting Donald Trump. Clearly you do not know any better, but it’s okay I am here to help. Today I am going to explain this concept by illustrating where gender roles were at in the 1960’s and 1990’s through the analysis and comparison of two Gwen Harwood poetry; “In The Park” and “Later Texts: I”. But let me guess, you’re not exactly Shakespeare when it comes to thinking about poetic techniques (fun fact: when shakespeare was 18 he married a 26 year old woman who was three months pregnant! Scandalous.) Well buddy old pal, in reference to poetic techniques I have your back. I’ll break it down nice and simple just for you, it will be like biting into a nicely baked sexist, patriarchal red velvet cupcake (clearly Trumps favourite flavour), Yum! After that I am even going to explain where gender roles are at now and where it is headed in the next five years, Yay! That means thinking is optional for you, not that you Trump supporters make most of that option anyway.

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How many times have you told your female friends to “Go make me a sandwich”? Whilst it’s a funny joke when you’re about 12 or you say it ironically it’s a big part of the stereotyping of women. It was long thought that a woman’s primary role in life was to stay home and provide for her husband, be that in the means of yes, making him many, many sandwiches and providing him with babies (although I dare you to tell the next woman you see to “Go make me a baby”) and later on caring for these babies. Gwen Harwood is an Australian writer who criticised these traditional ideologies and reflected on advancements in feminism during the 60’s in her sonnet “In The Park” under the pseudonym Walter Lehman. We can assume she uses this pseudonym to protect her identity from anti­feminist groups and even for her to get her work published as it was very difficult for a woman to get her work published during this time period. ‘Glitter is like…my favourite colour’, I have taken this wonderfully worded answer from Miss Carolina herself to open up your mind to the exploitation and dehumanisation of women in which Harwood references “Her clothes are out of date”. I am of course talking about beauty pageants, if you’re a little slow just like our good friend Carolina. These are over dramatised parades which feature half naked women strutting their dolled up bodies like Barbie after a hit of ecstasy (and a two year long anorexia battle) and are about as controversial as the ‘Growing Up Skipper Barbie’ (if you twisted her arm her boobs got bigger, was meant to teach the kids about puberty or something). By suggesting that the protagonists clothes are out of date Harwood is challenging the stereotyped view of women being useless and dumb by suggesting that this attitude is out of date.

bykdaurccaatpia This of course links on to the 1968 Miss America protest, enacted by New York Radical Women aimed at liberation for women and brought widespread media coverage bigger than Kanye’s ego. Now the point of this blog is to discuss gender roles so now I have outlined the attitude of men and how women are presented as being dumb we can move on to their roles in family. Harwood mentions the protagonist to have three children, no mention of a male figure until the end of stanza one leading into stanza two “Too late to feign indifference to that casual nod” this enchantment captured the reader’s attention up until the man speaks (ugh, men) “But for the grace of God..”, he is essentially denying any responsibility he has for these children by praising God that he did not have a family with this woman. Ruuuuudddeee. Furthermore “flickering lights” create an ironic romantic image to a scene that for all other considerations is very unromantic because the man is literally abandoning her, but this of course is all part of a woman’s job during these times. She resides submissive to the male figure and focuses on the job of a woman, motherhood, “it’s so sweet to hear the chatter, watch them grow”, “rehearsing the children’s names”, and yet Harwood criticizes this by outlining how draining the chore is for the protagonist “They have eaten me alive”. Her children have sucked the life out from her, stripped her of her identity and dehumanised her much like how the beauty pageants do.

Coincidence? I think not.

Next item on the agenda is “Later Texts: I” and this solely focuses on the shift in values from the aforementioned in the 60’s to the 90’s, again I’m going to be referencing some literary devices SO DO NOT FALL ASLEEP, I promise to make this interesting for you. It starts off with a familiar line “She sits in the park”, OMG it’s almost like Harwood is using intertextuality to link this one as a kind of sequel?!?! However it’s apparent that the protagonist (we can assume it’s the same woman from context of the poem) regrets writing the previous text and “Better the memoirs of a mad sex kitten” during the 90’s this ideal sex life the protagonist wishes for reflects on the accessibility of oral contraception and abortion clinics became more widespread. The removal of a pseudonym allows Harwood to accept the credibility of her name and work, “The sonnet nestles in a new anthology” poetry and writing are Harwoods life and this is reflected as the protagonist discusses this profession rather than being a mother. In 1990 the Riot Grrrl movement in Olympia sought to give women power and control of their artistic expression which gave empowerment to women seeking not only careers but artistic ones such as the protagonist of “In The Park” outlines and in which Gwen Harwood experiences. “Later Texts: I” is further linked to “In The Park” as the intertextuality “…flickering lights…” are mentioned, however in this instance the male character that appears “Stop You bloody fool! A young house father” is there and takes ownership and responsibility of his child which symbolises the actions men take that they are to account for, “Cursing a child who’s pushed another in the pool…” in 1991 the TailHook Scandal occurred and involved US Navy and Marine Corps who engaged in ‘indecent’ behaviour (that woohoo option on sims after you’ve spent 20 mins using cheats to get flirty enough) and were made accountable. This time around the father is also presented as being an important figurehead in children’s life, an understanding that Vice President Dan Quayle brought to attention when he criticised the decision of Murphy brown in 1992, a fictional TV character portrayed by Candice Bergen for mocking the importance of a father bearing a child alone, and calling it just another life choice. This movement of gender roles within the household is portrayed in “Later Texts: 1” as a positive progression from the oppression of women in the 60’s to the 90’s.

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Almost* over. Almost* done. I know what you are thinking dear friend, why has this crazy woman been droning on for approx 1235 words analysing pointless poetry by Gwen Harwood for no good reason now? Maybe you have found this interesting, to tell you the truth I have tried to make it bearable for you. Maybe I’m desperately trying to finish this at 8:46 pm, these are just things we will never know. Just like we don’t completely know where the concept of gender roles are headed in the next five years from now but using the analysis from Gwen Harwood we can have an idea. For myself, in the next five years I see development in equality happening at a much faster rate than previous decades due to the increasing number of children being raised in families who are pro equality and pro choice, I do not however see a near time period in which women will not be shamed for sexual encounters or where sexist jokes will not be considered funny. Furthermore I have used similar poetic techniques that Harwood has encaptured in her poems exploring gender roles in the 1960’s and then again in the 1990’s to present with you an idea of where gender roles are currently at in present day society. Enjoy!

 

“Train Station”

She sits on the bench. Tugging at her short skirt

The train rushes by, ejaculated

Quick Up the rails that ascend from the dirt

Disciples catch her attention, sated

but hungry from the events of last night

The memory consumes her, eats her alive

“God look at her now, she can’t be too tight”

The mocking, the taunting. Will she survive

Through the events they have caused, yes they were

there. They must have forgotten for she cops

all the shame. Train lights flicker, then comes to

A halt. Once last glance, and fixes her slur-

ring though, a single grind and then it stops

Holds her head high, Choo­Choo.

 

By T.C.