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

 

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

 

  1. Pioneer of Modernism and Streaming

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

And indeed there will be time

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

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

  1. So Avant Garde Eliot wow

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

 

  1. Discussion of Mental Health-Gotta finish it

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

 

 

  1. Bye Bye Traditional Structure

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

 

  1. Invented the Word Bullshit

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

  1. Invented a Pretty Nifty Line

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

 

  1. Was Technically Responsible for the Cinematic Abomination of 2019

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

 

  1. He is Probably the Reason why we Have Hipsters

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

 

 

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

by E.T.

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

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

 

Mocking the Past Formula

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

 

Making Reference to Past Characters

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

 

 

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

RB4

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

 

Jumping All Over The Place

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

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

RB8

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

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

by R.B.

 

 

 

 

 

Eliot’s Poetry: A Study of Sex and Depression

Leila

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leila1

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

Leila2
the face in this meme is so awkies I almost feel uncomfortable
kinda cute though, look at the wittle awkward smile 🙂

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

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

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

Leila

by L.H.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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~ HaHa, he never actually got a divorce~

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

by A.C.

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:

EH3

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.