T.S Eliot’s Poetic Voice
Emotionally charged and deeply intellectual literature acts as the voice of an empathic society, reeked by disturbing uncertainty and consumed by an anxious paralysis. T.S Eliot’s confronting suite of poetry forces a reconciliation with the futility of the modern world, a masterful quality that allows his nihilistic works to endure within our anxious post-9/11 zeitgeist. In a 1951 speech Eliot recognized the immensely powerful nature of the poetic voice, as it has the ability to communicate the “secret feelings” and the “despair of a generation”. The intense anxiety of Eliot’s disjointed society resulted in an earthly ‘purgatory’ of isolation and disparity. Eliot’s nihilistic perception of modernism provided a voice for paralyzed society, rejected by the infertility of the decaying urban landscape.
Alienation from a superficial world embeds a sense of meaningless isolation within a social consciousness. Eliot voices his permeating social anxiety through Prufrock, in the ironically named ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. The poem, despite the misleading title, is not in fact a love song typical of idyllic romanticism. Rather, ‘Love Song’ is an agonizing examination into the modernist psyche, as Prufrock embodies the crippling paralysis of Eliot’s 20th Century society. Voicing his qualms over the inhibited social sphere, Eliot transfers his struggle inhibited social connection, unable to voice the “overwhelming question” to the “women talking of Michelangelo”. The need for pretense in an inauthentic society crippled self worth, as Eliot’s voice lacks Bergeson’s ‘elan vital’, a vital life force and requires the emotionally drained individual to “prepare a face to meet the faces”. Falsity is continued in the nihilistic poem ‘The Hollow Men’, as Eliot anxiously voices his concern with modernist reality being “stuffed” with a collective who’s “headpiece is filled with straw.” The narrator’s accusative voice and the repetitive of the inclusive pronoun “we” draws the responder into a reflective state of questioning regarding our “hollow” existence. The anxious realization forced by Eliot, requires both contemporary and modern audiences to reconcile with their “lost violent [soul]” and reflect on their contributions to a “meaningless” society. Eliot’s painstakingly relevant observation regarding the inescapability of futility is as a glaring as “sunlight on a broken column”. The narrator purposefully reiterates the motif of eyes, drawing from Roman philosopher Cicero’s interpretation as eyes being windows to the souls. Eyes are a means for deep connection, yet in Eliot’s disillusioned society “there are no eyes here”, perpetuating existing ennui. The lack of authentic connection creates a society trapped in anxious purgatory, a sentiment reflected in the repetition of “between” in ‘Hollow Men’. Thus, Eliot poignantly expresses his struggle against the inescapable human condition that craves to seek meaning in an inherently meaningless word.
The degradation of social connection is perpetuated by urban decay, and enhances the modernist suffering of ennui. Eliot’s deeply fragmented voice in ‘Preludes’ creates disjointed stanzas, which display no apparent beginning or end, reflecting the instability of “grimy” modernity. The malaise of urbanized cities that waft with “the faint smells of beer” through “sawdust-trampled streets” has paralyzed modernist society. Eliot’s pessimistic disgust regarding urban existence is furthered by the olfactory imagery of “burnt-out ends of smoky days”, as Eliot forces readers to reflect on the lethargic futility of life under the toxicity of urban decay. Eliot recognizes the gloom of modernist society, as the individual is forced to hide behind “blinds”, “shades” and “shutters”, indicative of the deeply isolating affects of residing in a meaningless world. Modernism damages the “infinitely suffering” everyman, as Eliot voices the destruction of inauthentic “masquerades” on a void social consciousness. Voicing the rampant disillusionment of modernism, Eliot furthers the understanding that existence is fleeting in ‘Rhapsody On A Windy Night’. The ironic title, evocative of a joyous musical piece, subverts Romantic idealism, instead reflecting the existential recognition of life’s inherent futility. Eliot voices his deep loathing for modernist decay, personifying the street lamps that “splutter” and “mutter” to reflect the failing nature of 20th century society. The “fatalistic” combination of a society void of authentic connection and the suffocation of an inescapable city drives Eliot to feel like a “madman”. The insanity inducing nature of an infertile environment that “smells of dust” forces the reader to personally reflect on the degrading affects of an arid milieu. Paralyzed by a lack of control, modernist society becomes obsessed with time. Eliot voices the intense difficulty in relinquishing a false perception of control over the passing of “four o’clock and five o’clock and six o’clock”, as time endures in both ‘Preludes and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’. In true modernist fashion, Eliot offers no solution to his pervasive criticism of modernity, instead sarcastically advising readers to “wipe your hand over your mouth and laugh”. The comical advice endures in relevance, as contemporary readers are reminded that the agonizing struggle against the universal human condition is an inherently meaningless experience.
Thus, the ability for Eliot to masterfully voice the anxiety of modernism and the damage of disillusioned paralysis reflects an understanding regarding the meaningless nature of man’s search for meaning. Communicating the enduring plight of humanity to seek meaning in a toxic social milieu acts as pervasive social commentary of modernism’s anxious zeitgeist. Capturing the disillusionment on an unstable social sphere allows Eliot’s nihilistic commentary to endure, as contemporary audience as drawn into a reflective state regarding the futility of existence.
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Emotionally charged and deeply intellectual literature acts as the voice of an empathic society, reeked by disturbing uncertainty and consumed by an anxious paralysis. T.S Eliot’s confronting suite of poetry […]