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How T.S Eliot's Poetry Explores the Relationship Between Individuals and Their Worlds

Updated on February 5, 2018
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Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Asteriaa writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (26 September 1888 – 4 January 1965)

The disillusionment caused by the World War One and Two did not only cause chaos amongst citizens, but it sparked a whole different movement of itself within the 20th century. The movement of modernism was not only taken up by famous artists such as Pablo Picasso, Albert Tucker and Van Gough, but it was a start of the modernist age in literature. T.S Eliot was a British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and most known his famous poetry that encapsulated the anxieties that most faced within that period.

Analysing 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruflock'

Modernist poet, Thomas Eliot effectively reacted to the aesthetics of humanity in response to moral decay in the 20th century. He displayed a critique of the modern world through ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, commenting on how the industrial period had led humanity to become reliant on materials to justify their existence. The impact of industrialisation had led Eliot to convey isolation throughout his poem as for instance, he commented on materialism through the metaphor;

Eliot displayed the impact of renaissance works on his writing though his allusion to Dante’s 'Inferno' to demonstrate the emptiness of life, living from coffee to coffee. Eliot’s use of symbolism through ‘coffee’ highlighted the philosophical impact of modernism on his life, as coffee was associated with contemplation, hence the coffee became a metaphor for how he had supplemented his experiences with contemplation. Through this Eliot confronted the audience with the meaningless of experiences consumed by contemplation as in the end there was nothing to show for his thoughts than coffee spoons, highlighting the impact of the modern world on his pessimistic worldview. Therefore, Eliot’s poetry was a product of how the industrial revolution psychologically impacted his bitter worldview of Modern society.

T.S. Eliot Reads: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Elliot’s poems were products of his reaction against the moral decay in society in the 20th century. Eliot’s personal anxiety towards the meaningless of life was encapsulated in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' and was his reaction to humanity’s self-destruction in the world wars. Due to the wars, Eliot gained a modernist view on the insignificance of life as demonstrated by the metaphor;

The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruflock line 85
The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruflock line 85 | Source

The ‘footman’ was a metonym for the reaper meeting him when he exited life, demonstrating Eliot’s self-assessment of his role in the tragedy of life. This presented traces of depression that Eliot conjured as the poem encapsulated his anxieties of ageing and death. Furthermore, Eliot reacted to the inevitability of death that the conflict in Europe made apparent as he stated, ‘I grow old…” it was apparent that Eliot was admitting to death. In conjunction, these concepts together encapsulated Eliot’s philosophical dilemmas in regards to the meaning of life, which was a repetitive theme in the Modern period. Ultimately, Eliot’s poems were a critical and emotive response to the pessimistic way that the world wars had shaped modern society.

“When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table"

— 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruflock' Line 2&3 (An example of enjambment)

T. S. Eliot reads "Journey of the Magi"

Analysing 'The Journey of The Magi'

Elliot’s poems were products of his reaction against the moral decay in society in the 20th century. The Journey of the Magi was Eliot’s personal, psychological reaction to the social disillusion as a result of the world wars. As the part of the modernist movement, Eliot confronted his audience with the dire circumstances of the Great Depression how most of society sold their morality for greed. His tiresome reaction to humanity was marked by the biblical allusion presented through stating;

“Six hands at an open door dicing pieces of silver.”

— 'The Journey of the Magi' Stanza 2 Line 7

Moral corruption was integrated, as a reflection of Eliot’s perspective of the world was how Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 silver pieces. This allusion marked Elliot’s loss of faith in humanity as this referenced the rise in crime rates due to the Great Depression. Furthermore, Eliot presented the rhetorical question of “Birth or Death?” to demonstrate the conflicting emotional turmoil that the World War had confronted him with. The questioning of the binary themes confronted the audience with what was better: to have a new generation of humanity to be born into a godless land or to find relief the end of humanity. In support of this concept Eliot made a biblical allusion to “An old white horse” which in Revelations Christ was to battle Satan on a white horse. Therefore, through Elliot’s explicit references to Christianity, his poems expressed his moral concerns for the world around him.

Source

Eliot demonstrated a spiritual, psychological reaction to modern society though his poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi.’ Through a series of intense imagery and biblical allusions, he explored his personal conflictions with morality and death in reaction to the socio-economic corruption entailed by the First World War. The conjoining ideas demonstrated the emotive turmoil Eliot faced after his conversion to Anglicanism. Eliot personal confliction to maintain his religious grasp as the Magus demonstrated his internal conflict to religion. In the last stanza, the Magus contemplated whether Jesus’ birth was a positive thing since is replaced religion and culture, meaning that everything they prayed for beforehand was useless. This was a metaphor for how reality imposed on Eliot’s perception of humanity, as aesthetic was abused due to the world wars. Eliot confronted the audience of the meaningless of life. Hence, this metaphor explained why the Magus wished for their deaths and his people’s old ways since the change is so sudden they’d rather die than deal with a new order. Therefore, through Elliot’s explicit references to Christianity, his poems expressed his religious concerns for the world around him.

Rhapsody on a Windy Night by T.S. Eliot (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Analysing 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night'

Elliot’s poems were products of his reaction against the moral decay in society in the 20th century. 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' explores the banality of human existence in response to Modernist philosophy. Elliot utilised symbolism, imagery and irony to confront the audience with the meaninglessness of society. For instance, Elliot immediately used irony of the poem’s pessimistic subject matter to contrast with the traditional sonnet forms that normally were positive, musical forms. Elliot delivered this to the audience through the motif of a geranium as within the first stanza he stated that, ‘A madman shakes a dead geranium.’ Hence, he utilised irony, as a geranium was known as a living, flourishing flower filled with beauty that represented humanity. However, the fact that the geranium was dead demonstrated Eliot’s critical analysis of man’s alienation in a hostile world, a clear response to the devastations of the world wars. Due to the conflict in the 20th century, Eliot explored his bitter relationship with himself and his society through 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night.'

T.S Eliot

Through 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night,' Eliot presented his emotive and personal links to isolation and the world around him. The loneliness of citizens moving away from each other due to urbanisation had motivated Eliot to elusively depict the fractured existence of humanity through the tone of his poem. Symbolism evoked by ‘crabs’ was to depict Eliot’s distrust of humanity and moral decay as when the persona attempted to seek comfort from a crab, it was rejected. This demonstrated Eliot’s mindset that friendship and enemies went hand in hand, just as humanity destroyed itself in the world war. This highlighted Eliot’s bitter response to man’s alienation in a hostile universe as a response to social disillusionment.

Furthermore, the persona’s note of the ‘crab’ provided the impression that a version of a substance impaired Eliot was written in the poem. This depicted the impact of modernist philosophy on Eliot as he focused on the moral decay as those in society turned to ‘sinful’ products in order to find substance in their lives. The focus on substances accentuated Eliot’s reaction to drugs but also the romantic aspect of it with the use of conceptual irony; something that held the possible outcome of death provided satisfaction in life. This confronted the audience with how the socio-economic disjunction had driven humans to seek refuge to drugs instead of facing the harshness of reality. Ultimately, Eliot’s connection to the world was one that saw the corruption of society and the instability caused by isolation, as highlighted by 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night. '

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