TS Eliot Poems
Individual Resurrection from a Collective Death in The Wasteland
In his seminal poem “The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot vividly externalizes what he perceives to be a very internal death of pandemic proportions. Calling upon a vast catalogue of religion, classical writings, music and art, the work depicts an entire Western culture virtually dead spiritually in the wake of World War I. Some are aware of their death yet many are not, moving about numbly in a world without any true resonance or meaning. The grim diagnosis presented by Eliot is nevertheless countered by an underlying yet pervasive optimism that an internal rebirth is possible. However, that optimism, often buried deeply within the labyrinth-like text, is accompanied by the promise that any such resurrection will be predicated by a grueling emotional, intellectual, and spiritual journey. There is most definitely hope but before that hope can be fully realized, the most barren and arid landscapes of an individual’s spiritual death must be experienced and conquered.
Eliot chooses to preface his poem with a Latin quotation from Satyricon about the prophetess Sibyl who was blessed with eternal life but condemned to permanent old age. Translated, the brief passage reads, “For once I myself saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a cage, and when the boys said to her ‘Sibyl, what do you want?’ she replied, ‘I want to die.’” And thus begins the guided tour through spiritual death to an eventual resurrection. For Eliot, the promise of eternal life in misery is the greatest of condemnations to be endured and is an integral part of “The Wasteland’s” theme. There comes a time when the only way to escape from a situation is through death. There is no way to retreat or otherwise triumph. Spiritually, an individual’s connection to meaning and purpose has been severed and, unable to receive the necessary nourishment to enable spiritual life and progression, they simply must begin anew. This concept is further strengthened by Eliot’s allusions to the Fisher King and various rites of fertility and vegetation in the notes that accompany the poem. According to the Fisher King myth, the king is maimed and it is only through his eventual strengthening and physical healing that his land can return to prosperity. Similarly, it is only through sacrifice that one can attain an escape from the spiritual death. It is that death which occupies most of the first segment of ‘The Wasteland,” entitled “The Burial of the Dead.”
Spring traditionally brings feelings of happiness. Flowers are reborn from the soil and the climate begins to warm, all set to a score improvised by an orchestra of birds. However, the spring depicted by Eliot is anything by joyous.
April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. (Lines 1-4)
There is no life left. Spring still occurs as always yet the elation it normally elicits is tempered by the lack of vibrancy in post-World War I Europe. People want to be happy but it simply is not there. The grim and woeful depiction is immediately contrasted with happier memories of a countess, recalling sledding down hills when staying at the Archduke’s. The reference to an Archduke may be an allusion to Francis Ferdinand, whose assassination triggered the eruption of World War I. Such an allusion would thus create a firm connection between pre- and post-WWI Europe.
Having established the loss of happiness and energy, Eliot proceeds to delve deeper into his description of the spiritual death while also incorporating the first of many references to Christianity, which is a critical part of the poem. In addition to the reference to Ezekiel in line 8, there is a distinct Messiah reference, “There is a shadow under this red rock/Come in under the shadow of this red rock”(25-26). The lines can be referenced to Isaiah 32:1-2 which reads, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Again, we have the reference to a lack of water, to an arid, blistering world. Eliot utilizes very definite symbolism throughout “The Wasteland;” dryness is to be equated with death, water with birth. Such symbolism can be carried over to the dynamics of Christianity Eliot weaves into the poem’s narrative, providing what is to be a unifying thread throughout the work. In addition to the resurrection of Christ, there is also the concept of baptism in water, introducing yet another allusion to death and rebirth.
In Eliot’s description of the Hyacinth girl, “Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not/Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither/Living nor dead, and I knew nothing”(38-40), there is a distinct air of impropriety and utter disillusionment. Things are not the way they ought to be. Experiences that should be pure and life affirming are instead corrupt and dismal. That disillusionment is further enhanced by the episode regarding a visit to the clairvoyant Madam Sosostris. Upon an initial reading, the Sosostris section appears to be no more than a tarot card foretelling of the future, including death by water. The fear of death, however, is disconcerting. For the majority of the work, death is portrayed as a necessary step along the path to rebirth. Yet here Sosostris warns, “Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find/The Hanged Man. Fear death by water”(54-55. It is by a careful analysis of the passage that the true nature of Madame Sosostris may be revealed. Lines 43-45 read, “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante/Had a bad cold, nevertheless/Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe.” Why does Eliot mention she had a bad cold? Why might such a temporary condition have any bearing upon what one might presume to be her more permanent state as a psychic? The name Sosostris is in fact a play upon the name Madame Sesostris in Aldous Huxley’s novel Chrome Yellow. In chapter 27 of the novel, a fair is thrown and Mr. Scogen volunteers to pose as a clairvoyant, Madame Sesostris. He is masquerading as a woman and the character of Madame Sesostris is a fraud that perpetuates people’s worst fears in a doomsayer style:
He had a terrifying way of shaking his head, frowning and clicking with his tongue as he looked at the lines. Sometimes he would whisper, as though to himself, “Terrible, terrible!” or “God preserve us!” sketching out the sign of the cross as he uttered the words. The clients who came in laughing grew suddenly grave; they began to take the witch seriously. She was a formidable- looking woman; could it be, was it possible, that there was something in this sort of thing after all?(Chrome Yellow, chapter 27)
In light of the allusion it is logical to conclude the reason Madame Sosostris’s “bad cold” is mentioned is because it is not a cold at all—just the deep voice one would expect of a man dressed as a woman. Sosostris, like Sesostris, is a fraud and her predictions misleading. As such, her warning of death by water is meant as a sort of red herring—a diversion from the path one must follow to escape the spiritual death that consumes them and be reborn. The fact that she/he is nevertheless esteemed as “the wisest woman in Europe,” despite the utter deception, is a criticism of the collective atmosphere of deception and false paths Eliot saw as an all-encompassing threat to Western Culture.
The final, “Unreal City” segment of “The Burial of the Dead” provides some of the most striking, evocative imagery. We are presented the image of London beneath a dense brown fog. The tone is foreboding even before it is made known that what at first seems to be a very realistic scene is in fact a horrifying, nightmarish vision, the brown fog in fact a sea of dead people floating above:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over the London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled. (60-64)
The description is the externalization of the internal death. The final line quoted, regarding the “sighs, short and infrequent”, further addresses the response of the dead to their condition. According to Eliot’s notes, the line is a reference to Canto IV of Dante’s Inferno in which those who were good yet Pagan, and who died before Christ’s ministry, were sentenced to an eternity in Limbo. Comprised of many of the world’s greatest thinkers, the group is obliged to accept their fate, the only discontent expressed in their short, infrequent sighs. Similarly, Eliot is suggesting, those who are dead spiritually are accepting their fate as well—with only occasional sighs of dismay. Any hope of a rebirth or triumph is subdued by what has become a pervasive apathy. The alarming nature of the section is extended by the conversation which concludes “The Burial of the Dead;” “The corpse you planted last year in your garden/Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?/ Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?”(71-73). The lines are in reference to the fragility of the necessary death. With spring comes rebirth but it takes little to disturb the state required for one to rise again. Another reference is made to the risk of a dog digging the corpse up (74)—essentially awakening the dead before they are completely prepared for the promised rebirth. Finally, in the one of the poem’s most striking lines to this point, the protagonist essentially turns on the reader with the direct statement, “You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,– mon frere!”(76). Translated from French, the line reads “You! Hypocrite reader! My likeness, my brother!” Suddenly, the reader is transformed from a passive observer to active participant, forced to confront his own, personal spiritual death. The victims of the death are no longer only anonymous faces in a vast sea of people but instead, take on a much more personal, individual identity—that of the reader.
“What the Thunder Said,” the final segment of “The Waste Land,” brings to a close the arduous journey of the poem. The opening stanza is a clear allusion to the suffering of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and his crucifixion:
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead (322-28)
By opening this segment of the poem with such a direct allusion, the Christ imagery throughout the work is strongly affirmed. The individual’s own death and rebirth, Eliot argues, will in many ways parallel that of Christ. And just as Christ was resurrected, resurrection is the very heart of this particular segment; the rebirth and the subsequent steps needed to assure continued prosperity.
Following the allusions to Christ, Eliot etches an agonizing depiction of the most dry, lifeless state of being. As aforementioned, water is a symbol throughout “The Wasteland” of life while dryness represents death. In the second stanza of “What the Thunder Said,” the environment is so parched and barren that there is no question as to the degree of death. The imagery is distinctly desolate, “Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit/Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit”(339-40). At this phase of the journey, complete death is assured. There is no longer a risk of the corpse being disturbed by a sudden frost or the clawing of a dog. The death and burial of the previous identity, paralleling the burial of Christ, is nearly complete. The depiction reaches its pinnacle of suffering in lines 346 to 359 as Eliot’s style abruptly shifts, most lines comprised of two or three short words. Madness has been brought on by the dehydration, reflected by the onomatopoeia of line 358-59; “Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop/ But there is no water.” The tone has become more desperate, frantically reaching for anything. The protagonist is no longer able to communicate, completely overwhelmed by their condition.
After yet another reference to Christ (360-65), shelter is sought in a chapel with no windows. Death is once more alluded to, “Dry bones can harm no one”(391), this time making clear that the death has occurred much earlier. We are no longer dealing with a corpse buried but rather, dry bones completely stripped of any flesh or signs of life. Then, death having been thoroughly established and all remnants of the previous life completely eliminated, the cock crows “Co co rico co co rico /In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust/Bringing rain”(393-95). Finally, the long-promised water replenishes the miserable, arid landscape. The fulfillment of the promise is signaled by the cock’s crow, as was Peter’s denial of Christ for the third time. The resurrection has taken place.
A rebirth is futile if the reborn quickly dies once again. To evade such pervasive death, the thunder delivers what can be interpreted as advice to maintain spiritual virility. In a reference to Hindu legend, line 401 simply reads, “Da,” which has in fact three separate meanings; Datta (to give), Dayadhvam (sympathize), and Damyata (to control oneself). Eliot concludes by providing examples of each part of the thunder’s advice and then, in the final stanza of the poem, alludes once more to the Fisher King. This time, the king has returned to full health and is sitting along the shore (424-25). Full fertility has been restored and the poem’s journey has finally reached its destination. However, it is equally important Eliot notes that one eliminate all connections to the previous death lest be at risk of a relapse2E This is conveyed in line 427, “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down.” At once, Eliot is referring to the elimination of any linking connection to the past while also alluding to the pure innocence of a child by including the children’s nursery rhyme lyrics. The poem then bursts into a final flurry of allusions, including Dante, and is done.
Ultimately, the journey is a personal one. While an entire culture has perished together, it is only independently that such death can be overcome and only at great sacrifice and effort. The allusions to Christ throughout are distinct, as are those to Dante’s Inferno. In many ways, Dante’s journey through hell and final escape by first descending only to find that the directions have suddenly shifted and he is actually emerging from the twelfth circle is very similar to the journey to rebirth as depicted by Eliot. It is only through death itself that death can be overcome. Similarly, Eliot may be suggesting that it is only by broadening one’s mind sufficiently as to be able to fully comprehend his poem, complete with its myriad, esoteric allusions, that a person may be able to attain a level of enlightenment comprehensive enough to allow the undertaking of such a challenging journey. The journey to enlightenment and a reawakening is, as promised, to be a difficult one but nonetheless worthwhile. To Eliot, the greatest tragedy would be for us all to adopt the same defeated, hopeless sighs uttered by those in Limbo and floating along amidst the brown fog, our emotional numbness joined by apathy to our woeful state.
T.S. Eliot’s Impact on the Creative Development of Hart Crane
Poetry, as a genre of literature, is broadly defined as “The art or work of a poet”, or “Imaginative or creative literature in general” (Oxford English Dictionary). With a definition so broad in context, poets are able to conceive their own literature as poetry by studying poems and poets before them. Subsequently, poets are able to extend or manipulate the ideas, structure, and themes of poems that preceded theirs. For instance, Thomas Stearns Eliot was the precursor for Harold Hart Crane. Crane’s work suggests that he studied Eliot’s writing, such as the way in which Eliot created movement with words and montage of metronomes. Not only did Crane emulate particular elements of Eliot’s work, but also and transformed the despairing themes in Eliot’s work into hopeful propositions for the future through his epic poem, “The Bridge”.
Eliot’s poetic work contains the movement of space and time, a predominant feature of which Crane also uses in his poetry. For example, the speaker in Eliot’s epic poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, creates a back-and-forth movement with his diction of thoughts. The speaker in this poem anticipatorily leads audiences to “an overwhelming question”(10), then remarks to the audience “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ (11), shortly thereafter. Subsequently, Eliot’s poem creates movement through the narrator’s thoughts, which begins to lead to a question and then shifts in movement as the narrator’s tone interject with a halt. In addition, Eliot further incorporates movement into his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” through physical movement of people. When describing, “the women [who] come and go Talking of Michelangelo”(35-36) for instance, the speaker depicts physical back-and-forth movement. By doing so, audiences may visualize an east to west movement as women talk of Michelangelo, a man who the speaker believes he cannot compare to because of his “bald spot in the middle of [his] hair…[and] arms and legs that are thin” (40-44). In a similar fashion, Crane describes physical movement in his poem, “The Bridge”. Beginning in the proem, To Brooklyn Bridge, the speaker establishes the setting through the imagery of a seagull, whose “wings shall dip and pivot him…building high over the chained bay waters Liberty-then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes” (2-5). The words “dip”, “high” and “curve” all within short two stanzas in the beginning of the poem allow audiences to imagine spatial movement just as the movement in Eliot’s poems does. Crane further takes his audience through a spatial journey in Atlantis, of which the speaker eloquently describes, the bridge moving in a vertical direction “Through the bound cable strands, the arching path upward (1-2), while the bridge connects east to west. While Crane emulates Eliot’s writing style that depicts physical movement, he alters the tone of movement in time.
While Eliot’s poetry manipulates time in a melancholic tone, Crane manipulates the movement of time in a hopeful tone. In Death By Water of Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland”, the speaker narrates Phlebas rising and falling as “he passed the stages of his age and youth entering a whirlpool” (317-18) while drowning. The speaker presents this morbid event and proposes for his audience, in particular to those who “look to windward” (320), to “Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you” (321). Thus, the speaker urges audience members with a positive mind to look back on history for malicious recalls rather than for hopeful insight. Crane transforms Eliot’s disposition by moving time into the past to inform the present in a more hopeful way. In Van Winkle of “The Bridge” for example, the speaker recalls instances of his mother and father, then tells Van Winkle to learn from the past, remarking “Have you got your ‘Times’_?” (47). By advising Van Winkle to get the “Times” (47), a news source, the speaker suggests that Van Winkle collect knowledge to inform his future. Unlike Eliot, who recalls the past for morbid thinking, Crane suggests that there is still hope. After recalling instances of his mother and father when he was young and urging Van Winkle to get the Times, the speaker of Crane’s poem strongly urges, “hurry along, Van Winkle- it’s getting late!” (48). Although “it’s getting late!” (48) may suggest limited time and urgency, it also acknowledges that there is more time available to persevere than drown. Crane, like Eliot, manipulates time in his poetry. However, Crane extends his disposition in a more positive way.
Crane’s literary montage style of poetry further depicts himself as the disciple of T. S. Eliot. As articulated in The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Eliot’s poetry is “made of fragments, they are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that might be joined if certain spiritual conditions were met” (461). In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for example, the speaker describes fragments of a woman’s body rather than describe the woman as a whole by admitting, “I have known the arms already, known them all-arms that are braceleted and white and bare (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair)” (62-64). Further, in this poem by Eliot, the speaker fragments his own self by comparing himself to “a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (73-74). Both the ways in which the speaker sexualizes the woman by her arms and the speaker portrays himself as no worthier than claws of a small creature on the seafloor, fragment whole objects into smaller pieces. Likewise, Crane also uses fragments in his poetry. Crane uses stanzas with a varied form that take place in different geographical locations from Manhattan waters in The Harbor Dawn (618) “through Ohio and Indiana” in The River (621). Crane further provides montages through fragments of attributions to historical icons such as Pocahontas, Christopher Columbus. Crane even provides references to other poets such as Edgar Allan Poe, playing on Poe’s famous quote “Nevermore!” of his poem “The Raven” by stating, “O evermore!” (78), in VII. The Tunnel of “The Bridge”. Crane uses these fragments of geographical locations and people to rely upon a message beyond its small parts. In Ava Maria, a beginning section of “The Bridge”, Crane includes a reference to Christopher Columbus, an icon who made a journey for a larger purpose. This suggests that the poem, like Columbus, carries a message. Unlike the montages about pieces of wholes that Eliot writes about, Crane writes about montages that possibly hold a message for the future.
While the speaker in Eliot’s poetry depicts a personal cry for help, the speaker in Crane’s poetry suggests a nationalistic cry for help and reformation. In Eliot’s poems, the speaker describes a hopeless world. In The Fire Sermon of “The Wasteland” for example, the speaker struggles to make connections with those around him. The speaker struggles with communication with his partner, who verbally begs, “Stay with me. Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak. What are you thinking of? What thinking? What? I never know what you are thinking. Think.” (111-114). The partner in The Fire Sermon verbally begs for some type of connection with the speaker of the poem, presumably because of his lack of connectivity with the world around him. Similarly, the speaker of The Burial of The Dead in “The Wasteland” separates himself from the world around them as they observe “a crowd flowed over London Bridge…[and] had not thought death has undone so many” (62-63). Thus, the speaker separates himself from the crowd and watches in the distance but not as a part of the community. Eliot’s work further portrays hopelessness in the section of “The Wasteland” entitled What the Thunder Said, in which a bridge symbolizes hopelessness as “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down” (427). In comparison, Crane’s poetry suggests that there is something missing in American culture, yet he offers a solution. In Crane’s proem to “The Bridge”, the speaker ends the first series of stanzas by insisting that the bridge can help even the “lowliest sometime sweep” (43), as for it will “descend and of the curveship lend a myth to God” (44). Crane uses the bridge as a symbol of hope and restoration and describes the curved architecture of the bridge capable of divine-like power. Crane portrays the Brooklyn Bridge as a symbol of hope and restoration for Americans If people recall history, suggested by his historical references of the bridge and historical figures, people can restore the present and positively change the future. Unlike Eliot’s falling bridge, Crane’s Brooklyn Bridge is a symbol of hope for mankind. Elliot once claimed, “that when he started to write poetry no one writing in England or America could serve as a model (462). Luckily for Hart Crane, there had been influences to model poetic style, structure, theme and craft.
As one may observe, Hart Crane’s poetry contains many similar poetic traits to that of T. S. Eliot, which suggests that T. S. Eliot is a precursor to Hart Crane’s poetic work. Crane adopted Eliot’s trait of montage, visual and physical movement, and theme, to name a few. What differs between these two modern poets is the tone in which they write in. While Hart Crane’s epic, “The Bridge”, ends in “One Song [and unity of] one Bridge of Fire!” (93) as people call out together, Eliot’s poetry, exemplified by “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” ends in a melancholy tone, as the speaker speaks in third person and claims we are in chambers “Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (131). It is undoubtedly that Crane carries Eliot’s poetic tactics into his own work. Crane exceeds mere emulation of Eliot’s poetry but instead extends Eliot’s poetry by adding his own tone to his work. While Eliot’s poetic work suggests an end, the end of Crane’s works suggests a new beginning for its audience. Works Cited Eliot, Thomas S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.
Works Cited Eliot, Thomas S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. The Norton Anthology of Modern And Contemporary Poetry, 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Ed. Richard Ellmann, Ed. Robert O’Clair. Norton, 1988. 460-466. Print. Eliot, Thomas S. “The Wasteland”. The Norton Anthology of Modern And Contemporary Poetry, 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Ed. Richard Ellmann, Ed. Robert O’Clair. Norton, 1988. 474-487. Print. Crane, Hart H. “The Bridge”. The Norton Anthology of Modern And Contemporary Poetry, 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Ed. Richard Ellmann, Ed. Robert O’Clair. Norton, 1988. 604-646. Print. “Poetry, n.” Home: Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.
How Society Compensates for Spirituality
Within T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” the influences of society and how it can affect the general personality of the public is reflected in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Countee Cullen’s “Yet Do I Marvel”. Eliot uses the contradiction of hollow and stuffed men to set up how men have been affected by their societies, the contrast making them devoid of emotion and numb. Their insubstantial filling being the logic and principles that society has provided. Societal influences have taken the place of spiritual transcendence resulting in a lack of understanding of the nature of God and a movement towards the material world. Fitzgerald expands on this by having his characters reflect traits from Eliot’s poem while Cullen’s poem makes a statement about his society by talking about the spiritual presence of God and using it to explain what seems to be his overall view of his fellow man. The overall statement that is made of society in “The Hollow Men” seems to be that it cannot take the place of God and this can be found in both Fitzgerald’s and Cullen’s pieces.
Eliot uses a children’s song to reflect the cyclical nature of society and the world. By saying “Here we go round the prickly pear” it is implied that events will inevitably repeat themselves (Eliot 252). This is supported by Fitzgerald by the nature of Nick Carraway. Nick went to war so that he could escape his past but now that he has returned he has returned to what he was trying to initially escape. He decides to get a job that reflects his past and states, “Everybody I knew was in the bond business, so I supposed it could support one more single man” (Fitzgerald 3). Nick returns from the war restless; and even though he is trying to settle down and gain a sense of the past that he tried to escape by going to war he is still trying to see the world in a military view. He even states that when he returned to the East that he wanted the world to be uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever which reflects a militaristic view (Fitzgerald 2).
Nick wants to establish a sense of stability in his society and bring his past back to the forefront of his future in this way. Another way in which Fitzgerald displays the cyclical nature of Eliot’s poem is with his character of Gatsby. Gatsby went to war to essentially create a new identity and this can be represented by the symbol of the light at the end of Daisy’s dock. The light is green as almost a representation of new life, growth, and the money that it took to turn Gatsby into a new man (Fitzgerald 21). When Gatsby returns from the war he spends all of his efforts with this new persona to win Daisy who is a love from his past (Fitzgerald). He can’t escape the dream of his past that perpetuated into his future and ultimately is killed because of it.
The fact that Fitzgerald’s characters are continuously trying to regain a sense of their past suggests how they can’t seek to delve further into their society without the understanding of who they are in the past. Also since the past may repeat itself if the characters lack an understanding of their past it shows that the same mistakes can be made. Nick himself can’t seem to handle his own families transgressions in the past and seeks to not repeat them. Trying to solve them is part of why he goes to war since his Uncle has gotten out of the war by sending someone in his stead (Fitzgerald 3). Even Gatsby though he is essentially pursuing a part of his past, is also trying to escape a part of his past, and in the end it is proven that he cannot escape his past as one of the few people that attend his funeral is his father (Fitzgerald).
“The Hollow Men” uses the images of eyes that are not there, the multifoliate rose, prayers to broken stone, a broken column, stone images, and a fading star to paint a view of the broken spirituality in his society (Eliot). The column represents a structure that has fallen and the fading star can symbolize the north star but by saying that it is fading it implies that the spirituality is fading from the world. Fitzgerald expands on this with Nicks view of the parties that he attends. The parties can represent the spirituality that the characters are unable to achieve. They let loose during these gaudy displays however Nick is unable to fully appreciate the parties. He essentially has to get drunk to have any enjoyment at all and then claims that it was his second time ever getting drunk. The fact that Nick doesn’t really enjoy the parties, describing them by saying “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” suggests that he cannot achieve a level of transcendentalism because he is held back by his society (Fitzgerald 35). His focus is completely on the material of the party when he is with the lower class. His first party with Gatsby he seems to get a feel for the atmosphere by stating, “I had taken two finger-bowels of champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound” (Fitzgerald 47). Again it is implied that to truly let loose and appreciate the feel of the party rather than the look of it Nick has to drink.
Another way in which Fitzgerald displays the spirituality from Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” is by directly pulling T.S. Eliot into his novel as the character of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg by having his eyes represent those of Gods. At one point the character of Wilson states “God sees everything,” while looking at the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg which directly applies the name of God to the eyes of the billboard (Firzgerald 160). In “The Hollow Men” the eyes are no longer there which implies that though they see they are no longer comprehending, they are detached from God perhaps because they have fully embraced society. Fitzgerald brings in these eyes and has them overlook The Valley of Ashes which references just how detached his society is.
Though the eyes are present in Fitzgerald’s novel they aren’t really overlooking anything, just ashes and they’ve dimmed. So as the character of Wilson says, God sees everything but at this point the people are so detached from God that there is nothing to see. The Valley of Ashes itself can also represent the dead cactus land that Eliot discusses in his poem (251). This would imply that the characters that live there, such as Wilson, are the scarecrows that Eliot describes. Wilson’s personality is described like that of the hollow men as well, he is shown by Fitzgerald as a spiritless man and when he first meets Nick, Nick states that a damp gleam of hope sprang into his eyes (25). This can reflect the poem where it states,“The hope only/ Of empty men” (Eliot 251). Wilson is the empty man that is still daring to hope but even his hope is devoid and lacking in emotion. Wilson’s character is trapped by his society as well. He doesn’t make enough money at his job to fully pursue his dreams but he still has a hope that he will be able to make something of himself.
Society in Fitzgerald’s novel directly influences the actions of the characters as well. Just as society seems to have left the hollow men devoid; and they seem to be merely going through the motions as hinted by the line “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river” (251). In Fitzgerald’s novel society has basically stripped the characters of their free will. In Eliot’s poem they seem to be dictated by their own flaws where society is dictating Fitzgerald’s characters. Though Tom is secretly having an affair with Myrtle it is obvious that he will not leave Daisy for her partly because of her lower class. Even though Nick doesn’t think well of Tom because of his affair it is shown that Nick has had a similar situation that he is running away from (Fitzgerald). The descriptions that Nick gives the houses in East Egg verses West Egg directly shows the differences in class. He describes his own home as a small eyesore (Fitzgerald 5). The descriptions of Daisy and Myrtle reflect a difference in their classes as well. Where Daisy is waif like and elegant, Myrtle is energetic and fleshy (Fitzgerald). Nick despite wishing to be a different person seems to not want to disappoint his society, even though he doesn’t agree with Tom’s affair he doesn’t say anything to Daisy about it. Then later he even helps Daisy to have her own affair. He wants to be socially accepted and it appears that he portrays himself to his reader in a certain way to achieve this.
The character of Gatsby represents how society can change a person. Nick as he writes the story already knows all the details but still keeps the mystery of Gatsby until closer to the end of the novel. In part the mystery that Gatsby is shrouded in shows just how society can define someone. Everywhere Nick goes he hears speculation of who Gatsby is, even before he’s met Gatsby. He hears that Gatsby is the nephew of the Kaiser, that he is a bootlegger and multiple other scenarios. The only real view that is given of Gatsby is the view that Nick has of him and besides his interpretations the only other views we get are from others comments of Gatsby. This paints Gatsby’s character as almost an entirely societal figure.
The fact that no one knows Gatsby’s history or where he came from suggests that while reinventing himself he became exactly what he expected society to want him to be. Though it is later found that the parties are being thrown as a lure for Daisy it can be interpreted at first that his outlandish parties are thrown with the sole purpose of pleasing his society. Also the fact that a lot of Gatsby seems to be almost fake at first, his mansion is this faux castle and even his accent doesn’t seem authentic to Nick. Nick also describes that the history Gatsby originally gives him seems unbelievable. It can be discerned that in order to fit in with society one must take away their individuality and with that conformity will come acceptance. In the beginning of the novel the Gatsby that is given doesn’t appear to have any substance which could represent that by becoming such an integral part of society he has ceased to have individual traits. This can directly relate to the hollow men that are leaning together, these men no longer seem to have separate facets of a personality, that are essentially all one entity (Eliot 249). Later the view given of Gatsby is filled with depth but even then the mystery of how his society views him overshadows the man that he really was.
In Countee Cullen’s poem society is not directly implied in the poem but by his descriptions of God he seem’s to be poking at his society’s perceptions. The poem contrasts “The Hollow Men” as the sole purpose is the wonder of a black man singing and in “The Hollow Men” a conflict with these men is that their jaws are broken (Eliot 251). Eliot’s men can no longer utter prayers or even really speak since all they are able to do is utter which could mean what they are able to say is insubstantial. Cullen’s men on the other hand are able to sing but it is implied that they are scorned for this ability.
The fact that Cullen states that this ability for a black man to sing is the only thing that he seems to question about God’s will. He seems to imply that if it isn’t a sort of mistake it is some sort of punishment for the black man. He demonstrates this by discussing what almost seems to be the Greek Gods by talking about Tantalus and Sisyphus’s punishments. The fact that the myths have an explanation for why these two characters are punished seems to suggest that Cullen’s God has no reason for why a black man is bid to sing.
If there is a reason for it then perhaps he will never know it. He directly says this by stating “Inscrutable His ways are, and immune/ To catechism by a mind too strewn” which means that God’s reasons are impossible to interpret by the societal standards and principles of religion. So even though Cullen’s black man still has his voice he is just as devoid as the hollow men with the broken jaws. Just because he is able to sing doesn’t make the songs any different then illegible utterings. This seems to hint that he is persecuted either way. The hollow men may not know why they are unable to utter prayers just as the black man does not understand why God would bid him sing. Both could be in a state of distance due to the affects there society may have on them. Despite the fact that a black man can sing it is inferred that people are not receptive of his singing which why the singing itself could be a form of punishment. His society does not wish to accept him and his question in the poem seems ask why his society would punish him when he has the same abilities as them.
Countee Cullen also seems to be referencing more of a Puritanical God, the fact that the God he discusses lacks transcendental values which reflects Eliot’s Hollow men. Eliot makes references to the underworld and perhaps to corrupt clergy with his lines “ Headpiece filled with straw” and all of the references to God in his poem seem to be broken images or unuttered prayers. Cullen sets up his God to reflect these images by starting with almost a compliment to his poem. He states that he has no doubt about God’s good attributes but then essentially states that if God deigned to explain these things then he is sure he’d have perfectly good excuses and reasons even if the logic may make no sense to Cullen’s society (Cullen).
Society ends up becoming a sort of substitution for spirituality in these texts just as the characters in The Great Gatsby have substitutions, for instance Nick substitutes Gatsby for an ideal that he wants to be. While in “Yet Do I Marvel” the substitution is in a Puritanical God verses a sort of Greek deity. These texts relate how a society can change and influence the actions of individuals and though one may try to use it as a substitution for spirituality it is insubstantial as portrayed by the vapid natures of the hollow men in Eliot’s poem. The act of trying to force an ideal of spirituality into a societal mold doesn’t seem to work and only seems to result in a lack of understanding on the part of the society. Such is the example in Countee Cullen’s poem. His ability to sing may have come from God but it didn’t fit what his community was used to and so resulted in persecution. Inevitably society cannot replace spirituality without losing a portion of it’s soul and resulting in men that are devoid of life.
- Cullen, Countee. “Yet Do I Marvel” The Pearson Custom Library of American Literature. Eds. John Bryan, et al. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2007. 265.
- Eliot, T.S. “The Hollow Men” The Pearson Custom Library of American Literature. Eds. John Bryan, et al. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2007. 249- 253.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
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Modernism in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot and Christopher Okigbo
Christopher Okigbo’s poetry has often been compared to that of T. S. Eliot, partly because Okigbo uses Eliot’s signature linguistic devices such as exploiting metaphor to create a densely symbolic dimension to his poetry. In addition, he also appears at times to be consciously invoking comparisons with Eliot through such means as similarity of titles, as in the correspondence between his own Four Canzones and Eliot’s Four Quartets. Also like Eliot, Okigbo’s poetry forces a critical assessment that moves beyond the content of the works themselves to enlarge the discussion about broader topics such as the meaning of poetry and the purpose of the poet in modern society. Christopher Okigbo’s poetry reveals a man who was not merely aware of the work of Eliot, but who effectively drew upon him as a model for bringing to African poetry a modernist perspective. This may be due in part because he saw in Eliot’s bifurcated identity as an American who is best known as a British poet an accurate reflection of his own sense of himself as an outsider; an African poet infusing his work with the sensibilities of Anglo modernism. Finally, both Okigbo and Eliot have each suffered the slings of criticism that their poetry, for all its technical virtuosity, too often gives in to pessimism and thus deprives the reader of the joy that is assumed to be a vital component for all great verse.
Of course, the most striking contrast between these two poets is that Eliot’s name is known by even those unfamiliar with his work, while Okigbo remains a relatively obscure figure outside African and poetry circles. T.S. Eliot is deserving of his esteemed position in 20th century literature as one of the greatest poets of the century. Even those who don’t place him atop the heap recognise his tremendous importance in revolutionising poetry. Eliot was one of the most successful experimenters of poetry of all time, forever challenging the method by which readers should address all aspects of a poem. Eliot’s greatest accomplishment, perhaps, is that he forced subsequent poets to intellectualise the traditional emotional and aesthetic elements of poetry.
Eliot’s ability to appeal to readers on various levels at once clearly influenced Christopher Okigbo. Just as Eliot’s poetry intellectualises the emotional void of a modern western world confronted by social and technological upheavals of the turn of the century, Okigbo sets out to address in an intellectual manner the emotional upheaval of colonialism upon African natives. Exploration of ritual can be found within the poets of both men as they use symbolist techniques such as allusion to force an understanding of how traditional guides contemporary thought and future destiny. Eliot engages in ancient myth to underscore contemporary themes; Okigbo differentiates himself from previous African poets by introducing colonialist ideas in order to provide a thematic framework that reflects the amalgamation of native and European cultures and values to create the sense of confusion of identity that marks African peoples.
The urge to piece together the fractured and fragmented identity for both Eliot and Okigbo contains a certain undeniable element of the search for spiritual satisfaction. At the heart of this concern for both is the image of the wasteland and the annihilation of tradition and universal truths that have been exposed as ill-equipped to handle the psychic needs of modern society. The sense of underlying pessimism that distresses certain critics can therefore be viewed from the alternative perspective as necessary modernist conceit of no longer having the will to accept the falsity of disproved beliefs and shaky theoretical constructs of morality. In essence, the best poetry of both Eliot and Okigbo can easily be interpreted as the reaction to an acknowledgement of the disconnect engendered by the wasteland and the subsequent purification ritual aimed toward a kind of spiritual reconnect.
Comparing the poetry of Christopher Okigbo to that T.S. Eliot is significant in part due to thematic and linguistic similarities, but also because it is impossible to ignore the abundance of direct and conscious evocation of Eliot by Okigbo. In “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, T.S. Eliot urged the poets of the 20th century compose with a sense of history and “a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence” (Brooker, 1994, p. 13). Okigbo succeeds in this, but appears to have traded Homer for Eliot as his guidepost. That is not to say that Okigbo copies or plagiarises Eliot. Okigbo’s invocation of specific elements of Eliot’s poems is perhaps a bit more obvious than Eliot’s usage of ancient precursors in his own poetry, but this can clearly be interpreted as an attempt by Okigbo to introduce into African literature a precursor he finds to be as significant as Eliot finds Homer. Eliot’s knowledge of literary history cannot be argued and he engages the mythic qualities of that literature to revolutionary levels that effectively succeeded in changing the very nature of poetry. Okigbo’s answer to that can be criticised for lacking the wealth of knowledge that Eliot possesses, or it can be extolled for his intellectual choice to replace the arcane allusive quality that dominates Eliot’s poetry with the more relevant insight into the historical and social fabric of colonial Africa.
Eliot’s poems are often striking for the manner in which ancient myths are utilised to comment on contemporary human condition. Okigbo meets this challenge by forcing African tradition to confront the foreign intrusion of colonisers. Once again, the question of reconnecting a splintered identity is introduced and in many poems from both men the result is language that is equally fragmented, containing multiple elements that inform Eliot’s idea of a simultaneous existence created by the entire history of the world and not just the poet’s own inner psychological architecture. Identity and society are viewed as not only labyrinths, but labyrinthine processes that are intended to infuse the very act of writing poetry. The critique that a streak of pessimism permeates the work of both conveniently ignores the fact that the physical act of writing poetry is itself a denial of any nihilist convictions. Further underscoring the illegitimacy of this critique is the obvious intellectual effort required to produce poetry of this caliber. If there is a feeling of pessimism that can be said to course throughout the poetry of Eliot and Okigbo, then it may be said to inform the possibility for spiritual reawakening in a world facing the devastation of ancient traditions as those traditions are reworked into a modern perspective.
T. S. Eliot demonstrates a complex relationship exists between the language and the spiritual deliberation. In his Four Quartets poem “Burnt Norton,” Eliot confronts the restrictions and restraints inherent in language in its attempt to adequately lend meaning to spiritual perceptions. The opening stanza of “Burnt Norton” dives right into a thematic commonality that exists between Eliot and Okigbo, that of the connection between the past and the future. Stanza two serves to illuminate another solid modernist technique shared by the two poets, that of experimentations in voice and tone. Eliot’s use of vibrant adjectival imagery stands in stark contrast to the abstractions that are delineated in the first stanza. The movement is from starkly archaic to a more fluid contemporary quality; it is a terse an example of language evolving. That evolution of how words are used to describe abstract ideas gives rise to the greater thematic concerns of time and how it affects tradition and the clash of cultures. The cyclical nature of societal progression is intimately intertwined with the inference that language evolves over time as well. Eliot exhibits this relationship by juxtaposing the fragmentation that exists between the sacred and the secular. In “Burnt Norton” this fragmentation arises as an obstacle to understanding and reach forward to a greater spiritual awareness when he writes that language “will not stay in place/ Will not say still” ( V, l. 17). The commotion caused by language often being ill-equipped to deal with the abstractions of contemporary life arises again when Eliot asserts that writing is always a process of beginning anew each time the pen is set to paper.
Eliot’s poetry in the first of the two quartets engages the modernist issue and presage the postmodernist concerns of interpretation. In these specific poems, Eliot addresses the issue of how language often serves to create problems in the communication of ideas directly related to knowledge and spiritual matters. There is a concurrence of ideas at work that underscores the unspoken belief that transcendence can only be achieved through a dualistic process in which light and shadow co-exist to form a synthesis. Eliot consistently makes indication to the evolution of words and meaning, implicitly associating that this dualistic relationship may hold the key to arriving at a deeper understanding of how cultural fragmentation works to construct a synthesis. Any synthesis of ideas based on language is subject to certain limits of ambiguity, but this is all the more so if one accepts that language if very often an obstacle toward understanding even the intent of the wording, much less the meaning beneath the language.
The critique that Eliot allows pessimism to enter into his poetry may be viewed from the perspective of really being nothing darker than cynical scepticism, and that is illustrated here in the form of hesitation in “Burnt Norton” such as when he writes “What might have been is an abstraction/ Remaining a perpetual possibility” (I, ll. 6-7). This weary wariness of possibility negated can be interpreted as a statement on the dangers inherent in the ambiguity of language itself, as well as how language is utilised to communicate what may be viewed as incommunicable. The poem raises serious questions about the elusive nature of the truthfulness of anything that one may ever experience in life, as demonstrated in the poem’s sequence describing the actions that take place in the garden. Within the poems contained in the first two quartets are many allusions to myth that serve Eliot’s intention to punctuate the realism of the events described with a meaning more heightened in experiential substance. This is accomplished, however, through what appears to be simple linguistic devices such as descriptive imagery heavy on the usage of adjectival description.
The predicament facing the synthesis of the fragmentation that exists because of the ambiguous nature of language and the ephemeral quality of spirituality that makes it so very difficult to define rests on the horn of the inescapable dilemma that meaning cannot be divorced from medium. In other words, language is an absolute necessity in order to both understand and then relate the higher meanings that exist in the philosophical spheres that dominate the greatest poetry. In “Burnt Norton” Eliot writes that “Only by the form, the pattern,/ Can words or music reach/ The stillness as a Chinese jar” (V, ll. 4-6). These lines propose that context is inseparable from the process of fully understanding and appreciating the significance of language, but context is almost always complicated by the introduction of interpretation. An example of this occurs in Okigbo’s “The Passage,” during the section that retells the story of the bird finding itself in a foreign land and urging itself to stand astride just one leg because it does not fully understand the traditions of the new culture. The incident reflects the contextual significance of understanding language, as well as the obstacles placed in the path of understanding. The bird is much in keeping with the abstraction that allows the existence of the possible through the infinite. Okigbo is also concerned with Eliot’s importance of form to the prosaic message of understanding. His poems confront this issue through literal translation of metaphor such as in “Lament of the Lavender Mist” in which the natural purification symbol of water is personified in the female subject. Okigbo also follows Eliot’s linguistic lead by engaging in the art of juxtaposition. Okigbo uses the technique of grouping together contextually unrelated images to concretise a new meaning from disparity. The result may not be immediately logical, but it is creatively coherent. Discordant language and cacaphonous rhythms are used to apprehend the new sensation forged from the fragmented reality of original meaning.
Eliot and Okigbo both use this kind of juxtaposition and linguistic flourish to highlight the fact that language can act as a stranglehold on knowledge, while also possessing the ability to force interpretation as an act of enlightenment. Eliot’s purposeful confusion of seasonal imagery “East Coker” exposes the mystifying disorder of contemporary society. His insistent desire to see how far he can alter the method by which language communicates ideas generates a further issue concerning the inherent deceptive qualities of how words can be used to transmit thought. The restrictions of verbal communication serve as a metaphor for the development of language and society, illustrated by the lines discussing how tradition is “removed, destroyed, restored or in their place/ Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass” (“East Coker,” I, ll. 3-4). Eliot also engages the idea of the subtle treachery of language in such lines as “Our only health is the disease” as a way of understating the twofold aspect of everything. Eliot’s poetry revealed that it requires context for understanding language and this obviously is compounded with the language is introduced to a foreign audience either through the immigration or emigration of communicable ideas and concepts.
It is the emigration of communicable ideas that stifles indigenous cultural concepts that forms the basis of the colonial mindset in which Christopher Okigbo set out to follow in the tradition of T. S. Eliot. Spiritual themes involving the fragmentation of tribal traditions, Christianity and the struggle between the two dominate much of Okigbo’s writing. The themes of religious suppression, anti-Christianity, religious revival, and literary struggle predominate. Okigbo’s poetic attempt to reveal the fragmentary construction of communication combines African traditions and the intrusion of Western academia. Mirroring Eliot’s position as an American intruder into British society, Okigbo works from the perspective of an African writing in an almost post-colonial mindset rather than an embrace of a pure nativism. Okigbo’s poetry winds up having a transformative effect that is completely in keeping with Eliot’s move toward establishing the duality of language as a means to both illuminate and obstruct the ability to communicate. By fusing together traditional Africa and post-colonial attributes, he concretises a synthesis of European and Africa perspectives to create a new modernist approach that also inhabits the significantly diverse fields of literary endeavors that take into full consideration the spiritual rituals of indigenous polytheistic belief and Christianity.
Okigbo merges Christian and Igbo religious iconography to showcase the difficulties inherent to language, which Eliot had identified, while providing the promise of reconciliation. He also manages to get around the constrictions of adhering to outmoded tradition, as well as skirt many issues of the post-colonialist literature. “Before you, mother Idoto, / Naked I stand” summons the specter of the Igbo religious tradition while also invoking Christian imagery with the line “upon waters of the genesis.” What Okigbo is actually doing is synthesising the symbolism of water that runs throughout all religions in a general sense by using specifics to defragment the chasm that separates the specifics. This is an imagistic amalgamation that echoes much of the greatest work of Eliot and, indeed, modernism as a movement. This usage of African and colonial religious traditions was not intended to put them into total competition through juxtaposition, but to draw them into relief together to show evidence of a cooperative effect on language and communication. At the same time, Okigbo is also quite capable of using these divergent images as a force of collision between two warring factions. This may be most effectively accomplished in the Fragments poems that take full promise of the idols of worship. “And the ornaments of him, / And the beads about his tail; / And the carapace of her / And her shell, they divided” explicitly draws attention to the divisive potential that exists in the confrontation and competition of a duality that exists between two traditions. Heavensgate exists as a text whose mission is to defragment African and European manners of language and communication in an attempt to synthesise a new paradigmatic whole by connect the oral history of Africa with the written tradition of the West. Dramatic evolution is at the center of this poetry, and throughout Okigbo is quite careful about the utilisation of voice. Okigbo accomplishes very much of the same thing in Limits and regularly adds another poetic dimension to the work in terms of the mood and ambience that pervades each of the poems. The same dependence on fragmented imagery exists, but the overall emotional mood is a bit more somber and possibly the target of the criticism of pessimism directed toward him. In these poems, there is an encroaching sensation of isolation; a sense of an isolated hero facing down the wasteland.
T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” describes a modern society overwhelmed by alienation and disorder, knocked off its bearings by the inexorable tide of progress arriving at double speed. For Eliot, industrialisation is the culprit; for Okigbo the sinister agent threatening to turn his society into a wasteland is colonialism, essentially a synonym for industrialisation. Throughout “The Waste Land” Eliot powerfully questions whether industrialisation and the consequences of urbanisation have resulted in positive effects on culture and society. He engages the same modernist techniques of discontinuity and fragmentation of language to underscore the confusion and chaos that is the topic of the poem. In the poems contained in Limits Okigbo recognises that the introduction of Christian religion is a metaphor for the European colonial designs at large.
Okigbo reveals quite explicitly in “Limits X” the full extent of the waste laid to his people through the symbolism of the invaders into the pristine land of his ancestors. Tellingly, these invaders are not just colonialists but also Christian missionaries. The missionaries, though imbued with the sense of savior in their own minds, are in fact little more than apologists for the devastation to come. This devastation is given poetic flight in the killing of the sacred sunbird before entering the jungle. There two different gods are present, metaphors for the indigenous ways and the new Christian path that is set to fragment those ancient traditions. The suggestion of death and rebirth connotes the unavoidable acceptance of Christian iconography, but Okigbo wisely chooses juxtaposition as his greatest poetic tool. This juxtaposition of the old and the new, the indigenous and the forced reaches a state of ultimate artistic triumph with the image of the rite of fertility. Here, the pagan sacrifice of one of his own gods is utilised to upend the religious significance of the act and reveal it instead as an aggressive attempt to exterminate tribal rites and annihilate pre-colonial identity.
If Eliot might be termed a revolutionary artist in the sense that he was attempting to revolt against style and substance by enacting a sacrificial death and resurrection of the medium poetry, there can be no doubt that Okigbo was not attempting an actual revolution against the forces of spiritual colonialism. Okigbo ultimately comes down on the side of recognition. The defeat of the tribal tradition has a tremendous impact and there is an authentification of the sense of having lost something valuable to the psyche. Eliot’s poetry forces the reader to recognise the potential threat of industrialisation and the loss of myth, whereas for Okigbo it is enough to merely recognise what has been lost and to move onward.
Despite these apparent differences in intention, both T.S. Eliot and Christopher Okigbo openly confront the issues they posit and defy easy explanations. Their dense, allusive language may at first appear to be merely adding to the obstacles that Eliot insist language presents to communication, but the real intention is to force the reader to polish his skills for interpretation and to understand that the simplistic declarative language he so often confronts is loaded with ambiguous connotations. Modernism as a general rule recognised that it is not the simplicity of language that assures communication and understanding. Genuine communication is reached only through the contextual decoding of the fragmented cultural contributions of an increasingly diverse population. Understanding is not facilitated through common ideas of ease and direct discourse. Both Eliot and Okigbo position themselves as the translators that are necessary to full decode and then recode the transmission of signals, symbols and signs. Poetry serves that purpose best because it is the medium of literature that relies least upon the standard convictions of simplistic, stripped-down language. The irony is that though the poems of Eliot and Okigbo may be more dense and difficult than others, their many contextual clues actually make them better vehicles for communicating ideas those that are less dense. It is specifically this absence of simple clarification that turns the poetry of Eliot and Okigbo into things both beautiful and menacing to so many readers.
BROOKER, J. S. 1994. T.S. Eliot and the dialectic of modernism. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
OBIECHINA, E. N. 1990. Language and theme: essays on african literature. Washington, DC: Howard University Press.
A Close Reading of T.s. Eliot’s the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a modern journey into and dissection of the mind of a society man, J. Alfred Prufrock. Prufrock is pushed in two opposite directions by his desires: his desire to have the favor of the woman he admires from afar, and his desire to protect himself from rejection. This theme of division and opposites is seen throughout the poem, and even its protagonist’s name can be seen as an example of this– his last name, “Prufrock,” can be read two ways. Read as “Pru-frock,” the name is suggestive of a certain weakness; the two words that come to mind are “prudish/prudence” and “frock,” which suggest a womanly, restricted character. Read another way, “Pruf-rock,” the name suggests a manly, solid character. The poem builds inexorably to the “overwhelming question”, whether or not Prufrock will be able to conquer his fear and act, to win the favor of the lady in question.
The opening phrase, in italics, is from “The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri,” and it says, to paraphrase, “If I knew these words would or could be repeated, I would not say them.” This serves to perhaps put the reader into the frame of mind of an explorer, one who observes unseen; the last thing it seems Prufrock would want would be for anyone to know his true feelings, though as we see later it is himself who is doing the exploring. This theme is carried over into the opening lines of the first verse paragraph, when the speaker describes the evening as being “…[S]pread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table;” at first glance, this does not seem to make much sense, but consider—for what purpose is one anesthetized? One is “etherised” for surgery, for dissection, for exploration of the interior. If we take the poem to be an exploration of a
Divided mind, the meaning seems clear. Prufrock’s dilemma seems to have come to a head, on an evening among society—and perhaps in the company of his admiree, so I read the two as being synonymous—the evening, and Prufrock’s dilemma. Eliot goes on, in the first verse paragraph, to tell us that the message of the poem will not be told to us outright, but will be revealed to us through our observation and study of Prufrock’s interior stream-of-consciousness, when he says “Oh do not ask ‘What is it?’” The poet/speaker himself bows out of the scene at the end of the first verse paragraph, with the sentence “Let us go and make our visit….,” and we move into the mind of Prufrock.
Next we have the sentence “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo.” This singsong cadence and rhyme suggests a certain inconsequentiality, a triviality, which one would imagine is typical of drawing-room conversations of any era, and the conversation of Victorian-era women in particular. Immediately we have a sense of place and of setting.
The next verse paragraph, about “yellow fog,” seems less clear in meaning. It is given some of the attributes of a cat, which when considered in light of the rest of the poem makes sense; a cat is reserved and delicate in demeanor and appearance. The smoke, because of its yellow color may be meant also to represent cowardice, which is certainly appropriate—what the significance of combining these two images is, I do not quite understand. Finally, fog is an ephemeral barrier, blocking only sight; perhaps, to reach a little, the fog represents boundaries that aren’t really there, but are perceived as being impenetrable; Prufrock, certainly, could penetrate the boundaries, which he has set upon himself, if he so desired. This goes well with a reading of the color as an indication of cowardice, as Prufrock’s boundaries or inhibitions may be seen as being the products of fear. This image is carried over into the next verse paragraph, concerning Prufrock’s sense of time.
Time plays a large role in the poem. Prufrock insists on repeating the phrase “There will be time” over and over, as a sort of mantra. This too can have a double meaning: on the one hand, he sees that there will be time enough to perhaps discover his courage. From a more negative point of view, in which his failure to act is a foregone and immutable fact, time exists as an instrument of his torture. The “Michelangelo” phrase is repeated again after the third verse paragraph, as if to remind us that time indeed is passing, and Prufrock, after this intrusion from the outside world, goes on with his meditation on time, which then segues into further characterization of the man.
It is telling that Prufrock’s perception of himself as a physical being is seen first through his own eyes—he simply declares that he has a “bald spot in the middle of [his] hair’” and goes on to describe his clothing, which seems to be more than acceptable—and then, immediately, through the eyes of society. This duality shows us that he is unable even to form a definitive picture of himself for himself. He lacks confidence, so much so that he obsessively projects his own misgivings about himself into the private conversations of others, conversations that of course he can never know the truth of. This suggests that any negative vision of Prufrock from outside himself may be simply of his own creation. If they are in fact founded somehow upon his own experience, however, it remains indicative of his nature that, when thinking of himself, these negative comments are the first things that come to mind. This illustrates the power of Eliot’s stream-of-consciousness technique, in that we see the associations in Prufrock’s mind as they come; the associations give us a deeper understanding of Prufrock’s mind than we might get from other, more traditional forms of narrative.
In the next verse paragraph, we move on into this mind, and we begin to get more of an idea of what holds him back from what he desires. He says, “I have known then all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee-spoons;” He seems to be indicating a sense of inevitability, if we take the meaning to be that he feels that he has known the mornings, evenings etc. of the future as well as the past; here we begin to get into the real meat of Prufrock’s psyche, the heart of his dilemma, his sense of fatalism — does he see his failure as a foregone conclusion? Or is it, perhaps, the threat of failure alone that is sufficient to hold him back? In this verse paragraph, as well as the next two, in which Prufrock considers the eyes of society, and the arms of the ladies, we see another facet of Prufrock’s dilemma which we have already seen, his hyper-awareness of and concern with his appearance in the eyes of others, emerge yet again. I would suggest that Prufrock’s hyper-awareness of others is what in turn makes him especially sensitive to other peoples’ awareness of him, “The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase;” the word “formulated” itself has two meanings: the metaphysical sense, following a rigid formula, and the physical sense, infused with formalin, the active component of the chemical formaldehyde, a preservative or “fixative”.
Next Eliot uses an interesting device, the row of dots across the page. This is important! Up until this point, Prufrock has been asking questions, specifically “Do I dare?” “How should I begin?” and “How should I presume?” Eliot next creates a space, separate from the rest of the poem through the use of these dots (the technical name for which, if there is one, I am ignorant), in which Prufrock seems to attempt to answer these questions in a parenthetical aside to himself. This device seems to suggest an even deeper level of thought in Prufrock’s mind, perhaps not immediately available to the consciousness “above;” this would be a Freudian reading, of course, that this separate section represents a subconscious that operates independently of the ordinary stream-of-consciousness. Or, perhaps, Eliot separates these thoughts from the others to show that Prufrock may be seriously considering the questions that he wrestles with in the poem, but does not take seriously the possibility of arriving at an answer. Indeed, after the mere consideration of an answer, in a segregated section of his consciousness even, he takes an enormously negative turn within his thoughts, when he says “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” This image suggests a purely utilitarian form of life, removed from all consciousness and from most sensory input. It is very nearly a wish for death. All over the barest suggestion of an answer!
The next verse paragraph is back in the ordinary, established style of Prufrock’s stream-of-consciousness. It is interesting to note here that the paragraph begins with the word “And;” many of the previous paragraphs have begun with this word, and it seems that the use of this word may be meant to show that the “upper level” of Prufrock’s consciousness has remained undisturbed by his brief foray into darker territory; in a sense, the rows of dots, whatever they represent, seem to have done the trick.
Prufrock goes on in the next three verse paragraphs to discuss more fully the situation in which he finds himself, to clarify more fully what it is that he is facing. He describes the evening as sleeping peacefully, “Stretched on the floor,” relaxed and undisturbed; his life, as it is, is not so bad2E He has all the comforts of his position, “Tea and cakes and ices.” He goes back and forth, the tension building, as he remarks on how he has “wept and fasted, wept and prayed;” obviously, Prufrock has given the matter a lot of thought to say the least, as anyone who has wept and fasted and prayed over such a matter well knows. He envisions his failure as seeing his head brought on a platter a la John the Baptist, and seems to nearly be able to accept this outcome, when he says “I am no great prophet—and here’s no great matter;” he sees his own mortality, “the eternal Footman” which I read as being Death—the clue is the capitalization of the word “Footman—” and sums it up with the simple phrase “and in short, I was afraid.” He goes on in the next verse paragraph to further envision his attempt and the possibility of failure more explicitly. He mentions again the trivialities of his life, which it seems have come to represent his sense of security—these things have always and will always be as they are, unchanged, “The cups, the marmalade, the tea;” and here he finally gets to the actual heart of the question itself, “To squeeze the universe into a ball/to roll it toward some overwhelming question.” This phrase suggests to me that his entire existence, his universe, would be encompassed in the question, and this is true; for a man whose existence as we see it is defined by his indecision, his fear, and his uncertainty, to ask—to discover the truth for certain—this existence, or mode of existence, would come to an end with the answer, and this I believe is the most powerful message of the poem: were Prufrock, the Prufrock whom we are exploring in the poem, dissecting layer by layer, were he to discover the answer to his question, he would cease to exist. His whole being is centered on this question, and if it were taken away, he would become fixed, formulated—his uncertainty is the one thing that no one knows about him, and all that separates him from the trivial nature of those around him, the singsong people, coming and going, talking of Michelangelo. “Would it be worth it?” he asks, to ask, to be answered, to be rejected finally? But, Eliot shows us finally, the truth of the matter is that it is not the external question of the lady upon which Prufrock’s nature rests after all! It is the question of whether or not he can ask the external question at all. Up until this point it has seemed that the resolution of the poem will center on the answer to the external question—in his acceptance of his inability to ask the external question, he has answered the internal question, and the answer is, most simply, “NO!” The final clue is in the structure of the poem on the page.
The dots again…we have seen that the dots seem to symbolize a break from the established pattern of Prufrock’s mind, and the poem in general. Prufrock has answered the true question, the question of his nature, and having done so, ceases to exist in the form in which we have come to know him through the course of the poem. The dots earlier signaled a break from Prufrock’s normalcy; when the dots came again, it seemed to signal a return to that normalcy. But now, at the end of the poem, there is only one row of dots—Prufrock, perhaps against his will, has been changed, and things will no longer be the way that they were. He has come to an acceptance of himself as an incidental person, useful perhaps “To swell a progress, start a scene or two, advise the prince….[to be] Almost, at times, the Fool.” Perhaps Eliot’s message here is that no one can avoid the questions of his or her nature forever, and in fact the very attempt to do so will be itself defining in the end. Prufrock, after facing the question, returns to and embraces triviality—this is expressed brilliantly in the conflation of his original question, “Do I dare?” with the triviality of eating a peach—“Do I dare to eat a peach?” This is what his questions have become, all the fire and desperation is gone, he grows old and walks along the beach, with only his memories of beauty in the final lines—he sees himself forever separated from that beauty. At the end, the poet/narrator returns for the final three lines, and suggests that the “You and I” of the opening line are Prufrock himself; the journey into his mind and the question of his nature are symbolized as “[lingering] in the chambers of the sea;” and the final, most moving line—“Till human voices wake us, and we drown” suggest that Prufrock’s attention has finally become rooted in the trivial present drawing rooms of his life, and his questioning of himself has drowned—has come to an end.
Invitation, Violation, and Automation: The Deterioration of Desire in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land
In The Waste Land, Eliot utilizes women as a window to show the dissolution and distortion of love and desire. Eliot creates a progression from invitation, to violation, to automation through the use of three distinct female characters: the hyacinth girl, Philomela, and the young typist. These women give the reader an understanding as to how the waste land came into existence. As the reader observes the shifting landscape, the women in the landscape gradually transform from youthful, pure girls into sterile, mechanical beings. The erosion of intimacy is documented in these three crucial portions, showing a pre-corruption world, a tragic intermediary world, and the final product: the waste land. In these scenarios, Eliot’s women exhibit the weakness and suffering that is a necessary part of the human condition. However, the transformations from pure love to a pale imitation of love show them to be detrimental to the landscape of desire.
The foreshadowing of love’s dissolution begins with an invitation for the consummation of love in the hyacinth garden. This is portrayed through a glowing remembrance of purity associated with fertility and fulfillment:
‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl.’
Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence. (Eliot 34-40)
The vibrancy and natural setting of this scene provide a sharp contrast to the seedier representations of love that appear later in the poem. The inaction of the narrator proves to foreshadow, not indicate, the dissolution of desire. Critic Cyrena Pondrom reads this scene as a specific entrance into the waste land itself: “In the agonizing light of the expectation of masculine dominance in literal physical and erotic connection, the speaker cannot connect in any abstract way” (Pondrom, 428).
Pondrom’s premature identification of this particular male impotence as “agonizing” leaves no room for memory of a world before the waste land, which seems to be the crucial point on which the first portion is comprised, and the following parts build. Neither, however, does it leave room for an intermediary phase. Even at the point of failure, it seems that the purity of love is still preserved. The male speaker’s nervousness and inability to act stem from love, the “heart of light” (Eliot 41). Because the recalling of this scene mixes the “memory and desire” of the beginning lines, it signifies the world before the fall (Eliot 2-3). However, the event in the hyacinth garden and failure of the male counterpart to accept the hyacinth girl’s offering portends the waste land to come.
The role of feminine suffering in The Waste Land displays the “violation” portion of the text: the intermediate scene in our progression towards the waste land. This violation is shown through the agonies of Philomel, whose rapist cut out her tongue so she could not speak his name:
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears. (Eliot 99-103)
Through the rape of Philomel, Eliot portrays the opposite of the nervous excitement and inaction displayed in the hyacinth garden. The assertion of desire becomes a desperate overcompensation of the previously failed male claim to power. The desire of the “heart of light” is replaced with a fulfillment “so rudely forced” (Eliot 41, 100). The sexually willing yet virginal hyacinth girl is replaced with the violated, muted Philomel. Interestingly enough, Eliot does not acknowledge the latter half of Ovid’s recount, in which Philomel weaves a tapestry which tells the name of her rapist (McRae, 34). He instead weaves a version in which the nightingale’s mangled syllables are, after much difficulty, able to convey her rapist’s name: “Twit twit twit/Jug jug jug jug jug jug/So rudely forc’d. Tereu” (Eliot 204-207). This image of suffering and an inability to speak morbidly echoes the lost actions and unspoken words in the hyacinth garden. In this scenario, however, the masculine and feminine roles have been stained and violently distorted.
It is important to note that the roles in the two aforementioned scenarios still possess passion and struggle, which are obliterated in the mechanical world of the typist which Philomel’s story precedes. The mistreatment of women embodied by Philomel’s story gives way to the final destruction of love and desire. At this point, Eliot gives his poetic presence as an observer prominence by identifying himself as the blinded, dual-sexed Tiresias. In this voice, Eliot presents his vision of how intimacy operates in a fully developed waste land. Tiresias gained his female parts as punishment for striking two copulating snakes. Eliot’s version of Tiresias is ironically forced by his agonizing prophetic powers to foretell the scene of sterile, deadened copulation between two characters in this ruined landscape. Through the character of Tiresias, Eliot justifies his prophetic abilities, and is able to express his agonized observations without risking poetic vulnerability. He states in his notes on The Waste Land that “the two sexes meet in Tiresias” (Eliot qtd. in Rainey, 105). The dual sexuality of Tiresias permits Eliot to shift from a male to a female voice, and justifies his ability to discern both perspectives:
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour… (Eliot 215-220, italics added)
Eliot employs imagery of machines and automatons in order to synchronize the death of love with the acceleration of industrialism. It is significant that the woman in this narrative is nameless, referred to only as “the typist home at teatime” (Eliot 222). She is directly identified only by her profession: a “human engine” (Eliot 216). Her body, deadened to external touch, only feels a pair of “exploring hands” in place of intimacy (Eliot 240). Her “young man carbuncular” is apathetic as to whether his actions are acknowledged or reciprocated. Philomel’s rape is eerily echoed when the young man “assaults at once” after a failed attempt to “engage her in caresses (Eliot, 239; 237).” Eliot scholar Philip Sicker distinguishes the young typist from her female predecessors by her lack of sexual desire: “All pretense of genuine feeling has disappeared, and the typist, unlike her forerunners, does not appear even to possess a real sexual ‘appetite’” (Sickler, 428). The “lovers” become two separate, mechanical entities. Even in her home, the typist is still an unfeeling automaton. Sickler asserts that the remnants of her sexuality lie “an unstimulated, almost unconscious prostitution in which the body alone participates, or half-participates” (Sickler, 428).
However, Sickler’s phrase, “unconscious prostitution in which the body alone participates” implies a deliberateness of the body which does not seem congruent with the poem itself. In light of Philomel’s story, the scene echoes rape. The typist’s body, “bored and tired,” does not even attempt to engage in caresses. Her body feels nothing but a “pair of exploring hands.” Her mind, like Philomel’s pathetic attempts for clear speech, can muster nothing but “half-formed” thoughts. Paralleling this scene with halfhearted prostitution implies a certain amount of pragmatic willingness which she lacks. However, where the resistance and agony of Philomela is implicit, the typist puts up no defense. The thoughts after the “rape” are only half-formed because to actually digest the events would evoke too much human emotion for this sterile, mechanical place. In the background, to underscore the mechanical note of this scene, the gramophone’s artificial music plays on: “She smoothes her hair with automatic hand, /And puts a record on the gramophone” (Eliot 249-256, italics added).
Just as Philomel’s broken tongue cannot utter the name of her rapist, the typist gives no complaint. As the hyacinths of the first scene symbolize fertility potential, the gramophone’s synthetic tune implies total stasis. In his personal annotations, Eliot states of the female characters in The Waste Land that “all the women are one woman” (Eliot, qtd. in Rainey 91). Upon dissection, these three scenes prove his assertion, and reveal an intricacy which connects three seemingly disparate women to the birth and death of intimacy between man and woman: a microcosm of the birth and death of a passionate, deliberate existence.
- Rainey, Lawrence, ed. The Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose. Duke & Company: Devon, Pennsylvania. 2005.
- Pondrom, Cyrena. “T.S. Eliot: The Performativity of Gender in The Waste Land.” Modernism/Modernity. Volume 12, Number 3. (pp. 425-441). September, 2005.
- McRae, Shannon. “Glowed into words”: Vivien Eliot, Philomela and the Poet’s Tortured Corpse. Twentieth Century Literature. Summer, 2003.
- Sicker, Philip. “The Belladonna: Eliot’s Female Archetype in ‘The Waste Land’” Twentieth Century Literature. Winter, 1984.
Influence of “Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot
Compared to the poetry prior to the 20th century, the poetry of T.S. Eliot rings vibrant, unconventional and inventive. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi” is typical of his style and illustrates how Eliot’s poetry changed the genre forever. In its compression of image and language, “Journey of the Magi” is a complex poem, reflective of the complex world of the 20th century.
The poem narrates the journey of the magi to see the birth of Christ. Traditionally, the magi in this tale are filled with a sense of wonder and excitement over the new king. They travel from afar and bring the finest gifts like gold, frankincense and myrrh. In Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” the magi are not characterized by the same sense of wonder and enthusiasm; they perform the journey without full understanding or interest. The gifts that are traditionally associated with them are not even mentioned. The first few lines of the poem set a negative tone; they explain that the journey was during the “worst time of the year” and in the “very dead of winter” (2; 5). This tone is surprising to the reader because traditionally the wise men are represented as dedicated and reverent-hardly the type to complain about how long or cold the journey is. Also, because the poem is a retelling-apparent because of the quotation marks around the first five lines-one would expect the magi to have forgotten the negative aspects of the journey in light of their conversion. In comparing the tone of this monologue to the Ulysses’ monologue in Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” we see that Eliot is not concerned with perpetuating a picturesque myth but rather with constructing a realistic-even ordinary-perspective for his characters. This is a major shift for poetry: while it once focused on conventional images of beauty like nature, landscapes and singing birds, Eliot extracts beauty out of the mundane.
As the poem continues, the narrator provides images of the journey, though never describing the landscape directly. In a word, the journey is disastrous: their transportation, the camels, are miserable; their guides, the camel men, are undependable, and the cities are hostile. The wise men “regret” the former times of “summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, / and the silken girls bringing sherbet” (8-10). The word “regret” is an interesting choice because there are two relevant meanings: it could mean that the wise men miss, or long for, the former times, or that they feel repentant over them. Both interpretations of the word can be supported: because the wise men are leaving on a winter journey, one would expect them to miss home (and summer); also, considering their spiritual conversion, one would expect the magi to feel repentant over the idleness in which they spent former times. The reader’s uncertainty parallels the uncertainty of the magi throughout the poem. By the end of the first stanza, the magi seem to lack a full understanding of the journey. By the line “that all this was folly” (20), the reader is invited to supply the meaning that the magi have missed.
In the next stanza, the reader is actively engaged in deciphering the meaning of the poem. The magi reach a valley that smells of vegetation, and has a running stream and a water-mill. These are all images of birth-a direct contrast to the images of death in the first stanza. Though opposites, birth and death are connected through the relationship of the snow and the valley-the snow, an image of struggle and death, gives the valley moisture that causes vegetation, a symbol of birth. This relationship between birth and death is revisited later in the poem. The poem continues with a series of images that refer to Christianity. The three trees directly allude to crucifixion-there were three crosses at the crucifixion of Christ. The white horse alludes to the white horse of the second coming that is referred to in the New Testament. The pieces of silver refer to the silver pieces for which Judas betrayed Christ. These images are typical of Eliot in their compressed language and juxtaposition. Collectively, the images tell the story of Christ’s life, albeit briskly. At the end of the stanza, the wise men have found the place of the nativity, and call it “satisfactory” (31). This adjective certainly surprises any Western reader, for whom the nativity is traditionally celebrated as a divine event. That the magi find the nativity only “satisfactory” suggests that they don’t quite understand the gravity of the scene-or that they are not fully converted.
In the last stanza of the poem, the uncertainty of the magi is revealed as the narrator reflects upon the journey. Though he “would do it again” (33), he is still unsure why they were led all that way: for death, or for birth? He is certain that he has seen a birth-the birth of Christ-but he had also seen a death-the death of his old lifestyle. In returning to their kingdoms, they are uncomfortable among the Pagans, “alien people clutching their gods” (42). This passage revisits the complex relationship between birth and death. In Eliot’s time, this passage seems particularly appropriate-much of his other writing deals with the alienation and isolation inspired by the increasingly modern world. The death of an old world brings about a more intricate new world, and the magi experience anxiety about the change. That the magi do not seem to fully comprehend the impact of the birth they have just witnessed shows that though converted, they are unable to truly benefit from their conversion. They are left awaiting another death, regretting past times.
Credited as an inventor of modern poetry, Eliot reflected the uncertainty and complexities of modern life in his poems. Much like the narrator in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the narrator of “Journey of the Magi” is complicated and alienated. Unsure of their desires, the narrators of both poems are unable to make choices. The doubt and hesitation that the magi feel over the impact of Christ’s birth keep them from benefiting from their newfound faith. The conversion of the magi could parallel Eliot’s conversion to modern society: he was a man no longer at ease in the old dispensation of poetry.
An Analysis: Unexpected Negatives in “Journey of the Magi”
The speaker of T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” is one of the magi of the title, who delineates his arduous journey to witness the birth of Christ. What is interesting is that the tone of this poem is not of wonderment, but of powerlessness. The man who witnesses such seminal moment in the history of the world isn’t truck by wonder, but simply exhausted, perhaps even resentful as he has been forced to leave the old order to witness this moment. His journey is also in a sense compared to the suffering of Christ through the tapestry of symbols and allusions in the poem. A number of references like “beating darkness” (symbolic of baptism), the “vine leaves” (symbolizing the blood shed during crucifixion) and many others draw a parallel between his journey and that of Christ. He projects a sense of isolation in a world that has changed too fast for him to be able to adapt to it as well as that of ambivalence.
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
This poem starts with a Nativity sermon by one Lancelot Andrewes (1662). While this may seem like just a quote at the first glance, it is important to analyse this as an instance of anachronism that permeates throughout the poem. Anachronism is essentially a discrepancy with regard to chronology. The speaker goes back and forth between different periods and the narrative is not chronologically linear. It is also important to note the tone of the poem since the beginning. The word “cold” in the beginning of the poem adds a sense of melancholy to the poem. Words like “cold”, “worst”. “sharp” and “dead” make it abundantly clear that the speaker is not enjoying this journey and has no choice in it. This sets the tone of isolation in the “dead of the winter” that is found in the rest of the poem.
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Perhaps the word “regretted” in this stanza encapsulates this part of the poem. The camels gall in their stubbornness, showing that nothing is in their favour. Right after the speaker delineates the isolated image in the present moment, he juxtaposes it with his past pleasures, invoking a since of nostalgia from within him for his home where he had everything he wanted. It is very important to note that there is a clear juxtaposition of the sense of isolation and powerlessness in the winter and that of absolute power and dynamism in the castle.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
This is very clearly a tale of hardship and this idea is reiterated in this stanza. The speaker makes it clear that they have come far from their comfort zone and that there is much that they have left behind. He speaks not of adulation and wonderment, but of suffering and hardship. The setting is still bleak and desolate, and he has used pathetic fallacy to help the nature reflect the mood of the speaker. He says that everything around him is hostile, even people that they finally come across don’t offer them shelter.
A hard time we had of it.At the end we preferred to travel all night,Sleeping in snatches,With the voices singing in our ears, sayingThat this was all folly.
They have accepted their situation and decide to travel all night. But even as they do so, they are still feeling resentful. At this point, it is sufficed to say that a sense of regret at started clouding their minds and they didn’t wish to face these hardships.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;With a running stream and a water-millbeating the darkness,And three trees on the low sky,And an old white horse galloped in away in the meadow.Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.But there was no imformation, and sowe continuedAnd arrived at evening, not a momenttoo soonFinding the place; it was (you may say)satisfactory.
While everything happens in this particular stanza, and the reader has a hard time catching up, every part of this stanza is fragmented and then put together to form a whole. They come at “dawn” (perhaps symbolizing hope) to a valley. The valley in this context is very important because in contrast to the death and desolation of winter, the valley symbolizes fertility and life. they smell of vegetation soothes them after the kind of hardship that they have been through. The “three trees in the low sky” is perhaps the most important part of this entire poem. This is not only prominent use of anachronism but also one of the first overt usages of Biblical allusions. The idea of the “old white horse” and the “vine-leaves” show deeply Christian connotations and evoke an image of a devout man who is narrating. However, it is the end which is the most striking. After seeing all these awe inspiring scenes, the speaker is satisfied. Perhaps he is too tired and drained to actually take in the experience.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,And I would do it again, but set downThis set downThis: were we led all that way forBirth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.We returned to our places, theseKingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,With an alien people clutching their gods.I should be glad of another death.
The idea of “Birth or Death?” captures the gist of this poem. One of the most prominent themes in this poem is the demise of the Pagan order and rise of the Christian one. In this stanza he brings out an inner conflict of a man who is caught in between two shifting dimensions and doesn’t know how to adapt to it. For him, the birth of Christ and of a new order was a “bitter agony” because this meant the death of everything they knew. In the end he closes with wsaying that now all he can do is wait for his death.
The Centrality of Tiresias in The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land presents a multitude of fragmented depictions of character, voice and dialogue, which combine to create the overall sense of disorientation within the poem. Despite this pervading lack of stability, the poem continues to succeed as a united whole; from some source in the text, a growing sense of unification and constancy develops. Arguably, Tiresias is this source: his position in the poem is not that of ‘mere spectator’, but a disconnection that assigns him almost omniscient authority, rising above the other voices with a tone of certainty, and thus providing a balance to the otherwise dislocated atmosphere.
On a superficial level it could be viewed that Tiresias as a figure in The Waste Land is undercut by his limited appearance in the sequence of poems, the first view the reader is given of the prophet being in the middle of ‘The Fire Sermon’. Yet Eliot’s placement of Tiresias at almost the exact half way point is revealing of his value: structurally, Tiresias appears to be a transitional and bridging figure, perhaps representative of a turning point in thought for Eliot and, as in a five-act tragedy, and his brief appearance could thus highlight Tiresias as a pivotal character. Most prominently, his appearance paves the way to the essential resolution of the poem, in ‘What the Thunder said’- arguably his presence shifts the pace of the poem, and although this initially catalyses the breakdown of the speakers’ language in ‘The Fire Sermon’, it eventually leads to the pared down coherence of Eliot’s various reflections on the conclusive vocalisation, ‘Da’. He seemingly purges the overarching anguished voice of the poem, as indicated by the disintegration of language from lines 301 and 346, allowing Eliot to rebuild the text up to the summit of the instructing final section. Thus Tiresias seems to become the transitional figure that permits Eliot to refigure the ‘heap of broken images’ of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ in his mind, even if by ‘What the Thunder said’ he has only managed to ‘shore (them) against his ruin’; it still appears that Tiresias has allowed for progression, in the speaker’s resolve to seemingly reclaim these disjointed ideas, images and emotions which litter the text.
Similarly, while a prominent source of dissolution in The Waste Land seems to be Eliot’s presentation of the relations between man and woman, typified in ‘The Fire Sermon’ by the clerk’s ‘assault’ and siege of the typist, Tiresias’ presence and first-person control of the narrative paradoxically unifies both the male and female elements in the poem. Tiresias, as a mythological figure, has lived in male and female bodies and consequently feels himself to be ‘throbbing between two lives’, the word echoing from the life-affirming desire earlier in the poem, ‘throbbing waiting’. This transgender and sexual connection allows him to oversee the ‘game of chess’ played between man and woman, having ‘foresuffered all/ Enacted on this same divan or bed’, and experience the suffering between man and woman on a universal, all-encompassing scale. Tiresias’ descriptions of the typist, for example, ‘bored and tired’, ‘alone’, ‘automatic’ are meticulously balanced against those of the clerk, whose actions are ‘undesired’ and who expects no more than ‘indifference’. In this way, his observations highlight the dissatisfaction experienced on both sides, and perhaps, therefore, encourages the reader to view this interaction, and that of man and woman in ‘A Game of Chess,’ in a more detached, less gender-driven way. A unifying effect is thus created by Tiresias’ voice, as the male and female characters are aligned by his observations, and the transcendent, objective view he seems to advocate. The sonnet form woven by Eliot into ‘The Fire Sermon’, from lines 235-248, lifts Tiresias’ voice into a knowing satire: the romantic poetic form is inverted and misused to convey something vulgar and abusive instead. The beauty and regularity of the form highlights the corruption in their relationship, and the sense of resolution which he represents is emphasised, as ‘And I Tiresias have foresuffered all’ appropriately falls on the volta, and Tiresias mercifully draws back from the consummation of the scene. The failure to sustain a rhyming couplet at the end demonstrates the collapse of the sonnet, and Tiresias’ recognition of its ironic unsuitability for the incident described, rendered more poignant by the emphatic ellipses. In this way, Tiresias’ significance is highlighted by his judgmental position in the poem, and by consequence, the characters which seem ‘below’ him, lose their distinction, and seem to merge into one.
Furthermore, Tiresias’ omniscience as an oracle allows for his significant, connective role in the text. Deep in his sordid account of the typist and clerk, Tiresias breaks off from the ruthless depiction to state that he has ‘foresuffered all’ and has ‘walked among the lowest of the dead’. Here, Tiresias suddenly lifts the reader above the intimate view of their dreary union, instead addressing human suffering on a philosophical scale. Eliot’s use of the word ‘all’, could truly be viewed as encompassing everything here; as a ‘prophet’ he perceives and understands all, paralleling his witnessing of this little private ‘folly’ to the tragic scale of when he ‘sat by Thebes below the wall’, recalling the ignorant lust which turned it, too, into a waste land. It is suggested that the disillusioned Tiresias knows the secrets of ‘the waste land’ both of the past and future, and can thus see his way out of it. Perhaps, then, the figure of Tiresias is representative of the internalised power which the poet possesses, to progress from the personal emotional ‘waste land’ which Eliot is often interpreted as facing in ‘The Fire Sermon’. Indeed, while his memory of being ‘among the lowest of the dead’ reflects the nihilistic mood of The Waste Land, the insistence of his pluperfect verbs ‘have foresuffered’ and ‘have sat’ emphasise that Tiresias eventually has progressed, bridging the gap between past suffering and future resolution, thus unifying the fragments of the text and offering Eliot a promise of resolution in the final two poems.
Thus Tiresias’ importance as a character in the poem is arguably most clearly conveyed by the recurrent image of ‘the violet hour’ in which he is set. This motif opens the first stanza Tiresias narrates in ‘The Fire Sermon’, an image alluding to twilight, a transitional period between day and night, and therefore symbolic of the figure of Tiresias himself. ‘The violet hour’ is a liminal space, a bridge between two points of time and indeed Tiresias embodies this transformative time period; his form flits between male and female, and his mind’s eye between past and future. This emphasises Tiresias as the key figure in the poem: he is the only character who seems to have access to this transitional space; he is not stagnating in the elemental settings of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ or ‘Death by Water’, or the claustrophobic inner spaces of ‘A Game of Chess’. He both perceives and embodies the liminal space of progress and so Eliot, emphasising through his use of anaphora and pleonasm, writes that Tiresias can see ‘the violet hour, the evening hour’: fate, the driving force of inevitability that powers our world. Tiresias can see the end of ‘the waste land’ whatever it may be, a twilight role that permits him to transcend the cacophony of fragments and voices in the poem, giving the reader a new perspective on the collective voice of ‘the waste land’. In ‘What the Thunder Said’, this violet imagery returns, in a destructive, but paradoxically restorative scene: ‘Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air’. The polysendetic, emphatic phrasing evokes a potent image of a simultaneously explosive and reconstructive scene, with the hope of ‘the city over the mountains’ seemingly implying the future escape from the waste land. In this way, Tiresias’ intrinsic link to the violet imagery underlines his transformative significance to the poem, and his status as a unifying figure: ‘the violet hour’ which Tiresias represents summons the essential hint of resolution in the text, supplying it with a final, though implicit sense of fusion and restoration.
Perhaps above all, Tiresias’ significance lies in the argument that his prophetic sight makes up the matter of the poem, as conveyed in Eliot’s notes: ‘What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem’. His vision is the singular source of all the many fragmented voices and characters, whose dialogue, thoughts and memories are conveyed; indeed, this transcendent sight is what allows the many characters to ‘melt into’ one another, creating a unifying effect. When viewed in this manner, it appears as if the entirety of the poem is the prophecy of Tiresias- therefore, it could be argued that he is the overall speaker throughout. Certainly, Tiresias is the sole personage in the poem who appears to be self-aware, as demonstrated through the repeated ‘I Tiresias’, especially when juxtaposed with the almost babbling monologues of the other characters such as ‘Marie’ in ‘The Burial of the Dead’, who is even only named indirectly: ‘and he said, “Marie, hold on tight”’. Similarly, the distinctive use of parentheses to pinpoint Tiresias’ reflections seems to elevate them from the surrounding narrative, highlighting the authority of his ‘seeing’ in comparison to the activity of other characters. However, Eliot’s notes are not necessarily to be taken at face value; arguably, they are just as much a part of the poem as the poetry itself, and as cryptic. Perhaps, more simply, Tiresias is a dispassionate ‘fragment’ of Eliot, looking upon both the state of the western world as well as his own life and personal struggles, presenting them in the way which they appear in his mind: fragmented. Indeed Tiresias seems to represent the internalised understanding of the speaker, which Eliot is fundamentally attempting to seek out.
Each man, arguably, is his own prophet, and seemingly ‘the waste land’ is a state of mind, the essence of which is conveyed to the reader by the destabilising and disorientating mixture of allusions, images and voices. It is through the prophetic omniscience of Tiresias that this is communicated; thus he is the figure at the heart of the poem, at once bridging the gap between male and female characters, as well as connecting the present state of ‘the waste land’ to the future, foreseeable resolution and recovery. Whether he is viewed as the mythological prophet, the metaphorical voice of Eliot, or the embodiment of every character in the poem, it is evident that the text would seem disunited, and purposeless, without his presence.
Maturation of T.S. Eliot’s Style
In many respects, T. S. Eliot’s poems “articulated the disillusionment of a younger post-World-War-I generation with the values and conventions—both literary and social—of the Victorian era” (American National). Eliot used The Waste Land and The Hollow Men to illustrate his feelings of a brutal age of war. The Waste Land was “taken over by the postwar generation as a rallying cry for its sense of disillusionment” (American National). These feelings of disillusionment gave way to a more stable religious theme, such as in Journey of the Magi, later in Eliot’s career.
T. S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot was born September 26, 1888. Until he was eighteen, Eliot lived in St. Louis and then went on to attend Harvard. At twenty-two, after earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, Eliot moved to the Sorbonne University in Paris. After spending a year at the Sorbonne, Eliot returned to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, but in 1914 he moved to England. In 1915, Eliot married his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, and they moved into a London flat with Bertrand Russell.
Not only did Russell share his flat with the Eliots, but he also shared with them his social connections. With Russell’s help Eliot met many of Europe’s elite, including Ezra Pound. Pound helped Eliot to meet many of his contemporary authors, poets, and artists. Eliot and Russell’s relationship soured over Russell’s romantic involvement with Vivienne, which led to Eliot not attending his Ph.D. dissertation defense.
It was during this time that Pound recognized Eliot’s poetic ability, and “in 1917 he received an enormous boost from the publication of his first book, Prufrock and Other Observations, printed by the Egoist with the silent financial support of Ezra and Dorothy Pound” (American National). Prufrock established Eliot as a leading poet of the twentieth century. The years of Eliot’s poetic maturation were accompanied by familial hardship. Eliot’s father died in 1919, at the same time as Vivienne’s mental and physical health started to deteriorate, and the emotional strain on Eliot took its toll. In 1921, Eliot suffered from a nervous collapse, and on his physician’s advice he took a three-month’s restive cure.
Whether it was because of the breakdown or the long-needed rest he received afterwards, Eliot recovered from a severe case of writer’s block. He took the time to finish a poem he had started in 1919, which became The Waste Land. The poem’s intensity stems from a blending of the horrors of Eliot’s life, the recently fought war, and many literary influences from English mythology. Although written during a very trying time in his life, it was the publication of The Waste Land that made “Eliot’s reputation grow to nearly mythic proportions; by 1930, and for the next thirty years, he was the most dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world” (American National).
The Waste Land reveals itself as aptly titled, especially when the difficult and dream-like verses have yielded their secrets. The melancholy and morose lyrical feast unveils the aridity and impotence of modern civilization in a series of sometimes realistic and sometimes surrealistic mythological episodes, whose perspectives overlap and underline each other with an indescribable total effect. The complete poem cycle consists of a mere 436 lines, but actually it contains more meaning and impact than most novels of as many pages. The Waste Land is now more than eighty years old, but unfortunately it has proved that its catastrophic visions still have undiminished clairvoyance in the shadow of the digital age, and as Eliot stated about his own work: “I don’t see why the prospect of human annihilation should affect the poet differently from men of other vocations. It will affect him as a human being, no doubt in proportion to his sensitiveness” (Hall Interview 221).
The surreal nature of The Waste Land is in itself a means to Eliot’s ends. The poetic juxtapositions he uses allow Eliot to produce a feeling of shock and awe to offset his message of a hopeless new age. The poem’s discontinuity, from this perspective, is a symbolic form of the confusion of awakening from a deep slumber. The poem’s use of allusions to the past as well as its form must be read as a sign of the disruptive power of primal forces reasserting themselves. It is hopeful to a Christian society to believe that it lives in a world where God is not dead, but the poem is not about such a world. The hope that The Waste Land holds is a negative one: “[t] he fact that men have lost the knowledge of good and evil, keeps them from being alive” (Brooks 186). The Waste Land does not merely reflect the passing of the golden age of Victoria, but shows Eliot’s feelings of a society where people walk around morally dead. Beneath Eliot’s scathing criticism there lies a “profound and painful disillusionment, and out of this disillusionment there [grows] forth a feeling of sympathy, and out of that sympathy [is] born a growing urge to rescue from the ruins of the confusion the fragments from which order and stability might be restored” (Nobel).
The Waste Land was Eliot’s first long poem, and can be read as his philosophy on the need to still destructive human desires. There is little hope found in The Waste Land; its major theme is the inevitable collapse of society through the “Unreal City,” which Eliot seems to use to represent post-war urban areas. This “Unreal City” is always “[u] nder the brown fog” (Waste Land ℓℓ 61 & 208), which seems to represent the pall of death that hung over much of Europe after World War I. The “Unreal City” is a nightmarish place that parallels the urban decay and disintegration of the majority of Europe’s cities after WWI. The poem’s finale is an orgy of elemental and social violence, with “[those] who were living […] now dying” and the “red sullen faces [that] sneer and snarl from doors of mudcracked houses” (Waste Land ℓℓ 329 & 344-45), representing the inevitability of death and the fear of man. What the poem attempts here, by pointing out the slow descent to death and the fear ascribed to that death, is the achievement of an elaborate code of conduct that is indicative of the desires, which Eliot feels should be repressed.
However, Eliot, consumed by the rigors of his domestic life, found it hard to fully appreciate his success. In 1923, Vivienne almost died, which nearly sent Eliot into a second emotional breakdown. Over the next two years, Eliot continued down his path of emotional despair, until a lucky chance allowed him to quit his overly demanding job at Lloyd’s Bank. The infant publishing company of Faber and Gwyer saw the advantage of having a literary editor who was versed both in letters and business and hired Eliot. Eliot had finally found a job for which he was suited.
The seeds of his future faith take root in The Hollow Men, although when published in 1925 the poem reads as the sequel to the philosophical despair of The Waste Land. Although The Hollow Men is not truly a sequel to The Waste Land, it is a thematic appendix to this earlier work. Like The Waste Land, The Hollow Men shows the depths of Eliot’s despair and need for a compass by which to guide himself. By starting the poem with “Mr. Kurtz–he dead,” Eliot taps into Conrad’s theme in Heart of Darkness of the death of the gods of primitive men. The death of Kurtz, the god of Conrad’s African primitives, shadows the death of the primitive elemental forces that govern Eliot’s life, like some ancient thunder god. With the death of his primitive gods, Eliot becomes one of the hollow men and must find something with which to fill himself up again.
The Hollow Men takes place in a twilight world of lost souls and disembodied forces. This world is peopled by “[s]hape[s] without form, shade[s] without colour, paralysed force[s], gesture[s] without motion” (Hollow ℓℓ 11-12). These hollow men are walking corpses, soulless individuals who do not know that they have lost their souls. These men live in a “valley of dying stars” (Hollow ℓℓ 54), a land that is as hollow as they are themselves. The hollow men avert their eyes not only from each other, but also from the eyes of the divine; they are empty men estranged from God. They are the shadow that isolates men from each other and the divine; these hollow men are the unenlightened masses, devoid of a moral compass. These hollow men share the fate of “inhabit[ing] ‘death’s dream kingdom,’ not remembered, to be sure, as ‘lost violent souls,’ but, not on the other hand, even memorable” (Kenner 161).
Although there is little hope for the hollow men in their “twilight kingdom” (Hollow ℓℓ 38), there is life outside in “death’s other kingdom” (Hollow ℓℓ 46). This other kingdom, God’s kingdom, is peopled by the stuffed men: those who found their souls and are no longer hollow. Eliot’s hollow men seem to believe, at least to some degree, that if they withstand “the twilight kingdom” they may find some rebirth in “death’s other kingdom.” Through Eliot’s use of the snippets of the Lord’s Prayer in the poem’s conclusion, he implies that the hollow men’s adverted eyes may once again turn to the divine and they may become members of the stuffed men.
The Hollow Men seems to be Eliot’s final exorcism of the dæmons of his troubled youth. Merely two years after the publishing of the poem, Eliot’s life began to head in a slightly more stable direction. In 1927 two important things happened in Eliot’s life: he found God in the Church of England and he became a British citizen. Although Eliot’s marriage and personal life continued to disintegrate, he began to find solace in his new relationship with God. Therefore, Eliot’s emotional turmoil of his youth gave way to a religious maturation both in his person and his poetry. With his latter religious poems such as Journey of the Magi, Eliot tries to capture God’s calming influence on his life and share it with others.
Journey of the Magi is the monologue of one of the three wise men, come to see the nativity. Although he believes in the importance of the birth he comes to witness, proven by his willingness to travel to Bethlehem, the magi is not jubilant but melancholy. He has been “led all that way for Birth or Death” (Magi ℓℓ 35-36), but does not comprehend that which he has truly come to see: the child’s birth or his own death. It is not until he witnesses the scene that the magi truly knows the answer.
Upon his journey home the magi realizes the real reason for his journey: “It is not that the Birth that is also Death has brought him hope of a new life, but that it has revealed to him the hopelessness of the previous life” (Smith 122). This realization has not filled him with the fervor or elation of those touched by God, but the morose emptiness of one whose life has been exposed for the fallacy that it is. The magi must now return home to face the “alien people clutching their gods” (Magi ℓℓ 42). His transformation is so complete that he can no longer relate to his own people, the magi now knows the true God, and the gods of his people become as alien to him as his people now seem.
Eliot uses the magi to represent his own sacrifice; “he has reached essentially, on a symbolic level true to his emotional, if not to his intellectual, life, the humble, negative stage that in a mystical progress would be prerequisite to union” (Smith 123). In other words, Eliot has reached the very limit of personal tribulation, and through his acceptance of God, and the sacrifice of his old emotional turmoil he has been reborn into a new version of himself. “Uncertainty leaves [the magi] mystified and unaroused to the full splendor of the strange epiphany” (Smith 124), and Eliot seems to view his own sacrifice with some melancholy, as if his uncertainty matches the magi’s. Even though there is uncertainty in Eliot’s transformation, he has matured enough to realize the calmness of his faith is probably better in the long run than the “old gods” of his tumultuous heathenism.
Through the reading of his work it is easy to see why, in 1948, Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry” (Nobel). Just in examining these three poems alone, they can be seen as definitions of poetry itself: they masterfully show the emotions and experiences of the poet in a way that elicits a similar reaction from the reader. If these poems are considered among the complete body of his work, they retain the same meaning as well. Eliot spent his career cataloguing his life through its translation into poetry. This kind of expansive self improvement and refinement is a mark of achievement for anyone, but his ability to turn his life into verse to which anyone can experience sets Eliot apart as a truly great poet.
Brooks, Cleanth Jr. “The Waste Land: An Analysis”. A Norton Critical Edition: T.S. Eliot The Waste Land. Ed. Michael North. New York: Norton & Company, 2001. pp. 185-210.
Cooper, John Xiros. T.S. Eliot and the Politics of Voice: The Argument of “The Waste Land”. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987.
Eliot, T.S. The Hollow Men. Collected Poems: 1909-1962. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991.
Eliot, T.S. Journey of the Magi. Collected Poems: 1909-1962. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991.
Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land. Collected Poems: 1909-1962. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991.
Kenner, Hugh. The Invisible Poet: T.S. Eliot. London: W.H. Allen, 1960. pp. 161-164.
“T.S. Eliot”. American National Biography. Ed. John A Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
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Smith, Grover. T.S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956. pp.122-124.