T.S Eliot was a dude first fact BOOM. Born in 1888 and from St Louis, Missouri Thomas Stearns Eliot was an American-British poet, playwright, essayist, publisher, literary critique and editor. You probably haven’t heard his name before but unless you were forced to learn about him in year 12 literature there is a fair chance you don’t know much about him or his impact on poetry and literature even to this day. From his contribution to literary movements, creation of some crapy words and his indirect creation of Dantes 10th secret level of hell (aka Cats the musical) the man truly is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. So please sit back and enjoy these epic 9 reasons why YOU yes you should be talking about T.S Eliot’s poetry.
- Pioneer of Modernism and Streaming
Now if we’re going to discuss Eliot and the impact of his poetry it would be impossible to not mention his contribution to the modernism movement, which was characterised by the breaking of literary tradition at the turn of the 20th century. Some of his most important work The Waste Lands and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in which many of the literary techniques such as train of thought that is now often viewed as a defining characteristic of the period of modernism was exhibited. The Love Song is read as one long continuous thought from the narrator J. Alfred Prufrock which allowed the reader to follow the mentality of the narrator and allows the reader to explore the inner self of the character. The following text is an extract from the poem:
“And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”).”.
Just in this extract alone, we can see with our very smart eyes that the narration of this story is being conducted in this stream of thought through the lack of full stops indicating these are continuous thoughts and how the imagery from this in-depth look into the mentality of these man reveals a self-conscious, image orientated and neurotic man through the repetition of the phrases concerning how other perceive his physical image. This free-flowing and continuous form of poetry served as what began a movement of this sort of narration within early modernism literature as it established how to effectively communicate the human psyche, inner self and consciousness which was one of the major generic conventions of the modernism. Well since we’re talking about Prufrock we gotta talk about our next point.
- Eliot Just Nailed the Mindset of the man of Modernism
Next reason you ya’ll gotta talk about my mans Eliot is that his poem The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock nailed the depiction of the man of modernism at the turn of the early 20th century through the poems main character and narrator Prufrock. He truly encapsulates the indecisiveness between passion and cowardliness as he takes his time, again and again, to propose due to his fear of rejection and facing love which is seen in the lines, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?” which demonstrates his nervousness by the repetition of questions focusing on superficial aspects of himself and his appearance as well and in the line, “No I am not Prince Hamlet” shows through the use of intertextuality how he is passionate and cowardly as unlike the titular prince he cannot confess his love, how #sad. Eliot further explores and examines the man of modernisms mindset by exploring Profrocks feelings towards the city through lines such as, “Streets that follow like tedious arguments of insidious intent”. By comparing the streets too long pointless argument through the use of the simile Eliot provokes the image of boredom towards the city demonstrating the man of modernisms distant for modern urban society. This also establishes one of the major generic conventions of modernism, that being writers looking forward to the future and instead of seeing what many viewed as innovation and progress, they only saw the decline of civilisation due to new machinery, technology and the rise of capitalism which alienated individuals and lead to loneliness as expressed through the poems monologues and reflection on individuals and their feelings towards the industrial world around them. Ok cool great now NEXT POINT.
- So Avant Garde Eliot wow
So Eliot’s just continuing to show us how important his work was within the modernism movement through his Avant guard styles of writing which further enforced the idea of him being a pioneer of modernism. This new and experimental form of writing can be seen throughout Eliot’s work and an example of this would be his technique of setting the poem to be interpreted as either a real location or a mental state reflecting the subconscious of a person. This example can be seen in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock in the line, “women come and go talking of Micheal Angelo.”. While portraying the physical setting of the poem Eliot also depicts Prufrocks mental state as Micheal Angelo is the person Prufrock desires to become and the persona he will adapt in his upcoming social interactions. His experimentation in his work just further established the new and innovative ways of modernism as opposed to traditional text that was seen before the turn of the 20th century.
- Discussion of Mental Health-Gotta finish it
One of if not the most famous work of Eliot’s would be The Waste Lands which is regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th century and a central work of modernism poetry. The iconic poem is also extremely notable as it’s a rare work of media within the published time frame that discusses and makes both explicit and symbolic references to mental illness and more specifically T.S. Eliot’s own experience with his battle regarding mental illness. In 1921 a year before the published poem after both Eliot and his then-wife both suffered nervous breakdowns he spent time with Swiss psychiatrist Dr Roger Vittoz at Lake Leman in Switzerland and mentioned is mentioned in the third section of the iconic poem, The Fire Semon. The line, “By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept…”, is Eliot explicitly discussing his inner self and consciousness and his battles with mental illness. Symbolically this information about Eliot and his battle with mental illness is seen through the line at the beginning of the first section, The Burial of the Dead, “Breeding lilacs out of dead land”. This piece of juxtaposition serves as a metaphor of Eliot and his battle against mental illness as it demonstrates how he is trying to make something beautiful, like lilacs coming out of something so difficult to grow from like the dead land which is meant to represent himself. Eliot’s influence towards modernism and the generic conventions associated with the movement by encouraging a deeper look into the human consciousness and expressing the subjects that society traditionally viewed as taboo within art.
- Bye Bye Traditional Structure
So Eliot being a dude of modernism took a different approach to his poetry, mainly he broke a lot of tradition. The break from traditional poetic structures like sonnets and haikus and the movement into free verse that is seen throughout Eliot’s work along with other forms of experimentation was sighted by many to be a result of the aftermath from World War 1 as writers were said to of disrupting traditional writing patterns as to mimic the destruction they saw as a result of the war. This break of a traditional structure is seen in the poem The Waste Lands which unlike poems structured as a sonnet or a haiku it is divided into 5 subsections titled, “The Burial of the Dead”, “A Game of Chess”, “The Fire Sermon”, “Death by Water” and “What the Thunder Said”. This fragmentation of the poem stylistically played a role as the destruction then pulling back together of all three sections reflected the mindset of writers after the events of World War 1 that life while left in destruction and disarray would eventually be bought back together however it may look must different then it was before. Other forms of experimentation seen throughout his work include his use of different languages including German as seen in the line in the first section of The Waste Lands, “Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.” And the use of multiple voices as seen through each section of The Waste Lands giving access to multiple voices as seen through narrators and voices such as, The Fisher King, The Great Prophet and at some point what appears to be Eliot standing in for all of humanity. These points further reinforce the changing time within literature and much like a reflection of real life, a break from tradition and the beginning and rearranging of new structures, culture and beliefs.
- Invented the Word Bullshit
Now, here’s a fun fact you can tell your friends, according to the Oxford Dictionary the first-ever recordation of the work bullshit comes from T.S Eliot’s The Triumph of Bullshit. Said to of been written around 1910 and was one of his earliest poems he certainly started with a bang by creating one of the most common expletives in the English language. If anyone reading is curious the poem is about him fighting back against his critics and in particular, his female critics who he refers to several times throughout the poem. Eliot’s frustration towards these women appears to him believing that these “tastemakers” are deeming his work to inappropriate for publication to which Eliot calls ‘bullshit’. Eliot demonstrates his frustration in his poem by describing the female taste-makers as, “Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous”, effectively demonstrating his destain for what he believes to be arrogant and self-conceded people who try to project this proper and careful image onto others without understanding and exploring the complexities and nuances to his work and then proceeds to tell them to, “Stick it up your ass.”, which I don’t think needs any further explanation. Eliot’s The Triumph of Bullshit serves as the first time the word bullshit has been recorded as well as what appears to be the blueprint of every celebrity twitter rant.
- Invented a Pretty Nifty Line
Well hey, here’s another piece of trivia imma give to you right now, from the inventor of the expletive ‘bullshit’ comes the iconic term, “April is the cruellest month.”. This iconic line was the first line in The Burial of the Dead which was the first section of Eliot’s, The Waste Land which on a surface level was about how spring sucks and brings up memories of bygone days and unfulfilled desires then are about the childhood of a girl named Marie then about some dead trees and FINALLY is about a clairvoyant who tells you your future, wow what a lot of stuff you talked about Eliot. So what does this quote mean?? Many have interpreted it to mean that due to colours and life of spring that once were viewed as beautiful and joyful now only reminds those with depression that even as the time of cold and bitterness (Winter) is passing and this new season that once stirred up these positive emotions now only act as a reminder of how these feelings can no longer be found and doesn’t speak to him. Now, why should you be talking about this specific line?? Well simple, it’s in a ton of places like song titles, documentaries, quotes found in novels and is in episode titles in television including, Beverly Hills 91210, Sports Night and Small World. So next time you hear the line you can think back on this blog and think, “Oh yeah I know where that’s from!”, so you’re welcome.
- Was Technically Responsible for the Cinematic Abomination of 2019
Ok look if your one of those people who are like, “I think I know who Eliot is, I have heard his name before but I don’t remember what from???”, well get ready cause I am about to remind you ok cool ready, 3,2,1, Cats… his poems were what inspired and acted as the lyrics for the songs in Cat the Broadway musical and the monstrosity of a film that was based on it in 2019. No, I have not and will not forget about that thanks Eliot for being indirectly responsible for the stuff that caused me sleep paralysis for the next 3 months after seeing that trailer for the first time agh like what made them feel the need to make that movie seriously was there just such a demand for CGI demons and complete annihilation of one of Broadways longest-running and iconic properties… ok, what was I talking about… oh, right poetry. Based off of Eliot’s 1939 Old Possums Book of Practical Cats which was a book of poetry originally made for his godchildren each poem were all unrelated plot-wise however they do have one thing in common that’s rights gals CATS. Some of the poems of the book that were incorporated into the play through turning them into songs or being the names of the characters such as, “The Naming of the cats”, “Old Deuteronomy” and “Gus the Theatre cat”. Eliot’s poetry being adapted into broadways longest-running play demonstrating his long-standing legacy within modern-day media and pop culture.
- He is Probably the Reason why we Have Hipsters
Eliot’s longest lasting impact on modern culture is not his influence on the modernism movement, not his creation of the word bullshit and not him being responsible for broadways longest-running play, it would be him creating the foundation for the h i p s t e r. Yes, it the case can, in fact, be made that his poems like The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock are what set the foundation for today’s hipsters through such aspects including cynicism, dry scepticism, a disdain for industrialism and an obsession with presentation and self-image. Are you confused? Yeah, understandable but let us look back at point two the mindset of the modern man as portrayed in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, dislike for modern society, obsessed with looks and sceptic, notice anything similar? Ok, let’s look at some examples, when Prufrock is preparing to go to the social gathering of the upper class he states when putting on his pants, “I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled,”, signifying his detached earnestness that is reflected in many of today’s hipsters who symbolise their rejection of modern consumerism by thrift-shopping and waring pieces of clothing outside the mainstream like trucker hats, alternative glasses and unbranded clothing. Also both hipsters Prufrock share the same associated setting that each of them lives in yet despise, the city as Prufrock describes has a skyline, “like a patient etherised upon a table,” further demonstrating the similarities shared between the fictional character and the modern subculture. So the next time you encounter a fedora-wearing, Starbucks drinking and indie band listening individual, maybe introduce them to our very good friend J.Alfred Prufrock.
Well… if you have made it this far then congratulations, here is your prize for reading the whole thing 🎁🎁