Saturday, June 4, 2011

Is T.s Eliot's poetry appreciated in modern society?

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“Of withered leaves about your feet…You dozed, and watched the night revealing, the thousand sordid images …Of which your soul was constituted…The notion of some infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing.”(Preludes) These are one of the many demoralizing lines found in Eliot’s poetry.

T.S. Eliot is considered to be one of the most prominent poets and playwrights of his time and his works are said to have promoted to “reshape modern literature” (Britannica). He was born in 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri and studied at Harvard and Oxford. It was at Harvard where he met his guide and mentor Ezra Pound, a well-known modernist poet. Pound encouraged Eliot to expand his writing abilities and publish his work. His published work was alarming and little to find enjoying. He gained the ability to write poetry filled with wisdom while adding his own passionate language. Eliot received the Nobel Peace Prize for literature in 148. His poetic nature changed as he matured and the issues that associated society. Irrespective of the subject Eliot’s themes were cynical and pessimistic that emphasized society’s role. As a whole, the works of T.S. Eliot an influential pessimist depicted the public’s position as a moving culture faced with conflict.

As a radical innovator whose poetry represented the harsh realities of England in the 10s, T. S Eliot magnified England’s society through a fine tooth comb. Incidentally England was then an expanding industrialized empire and did little to mollify the working class, whose political discontent was no doubt aggravated by the social upheaval, brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

The 114-18 war marked the end of the Victorian-Edwardian age, it was described as an age of social, political, economical reformation in society, where one sought to erase the old order and replace it with a completely new set of values. But Eliot was never interested though contented to examine the habits of the old order and contrast them with the new hopes and fears without offering solution. Such an example is ‘Ash Wednesday’.

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Mainly in free verse his careful choice of descriptive words is the main reason why his poems are constantly discussed. Eliot’s poems one might say are nauseating because of the strong courage he exerts to emphasize his perception. Society in 10s neither expected, nor was ready for Eliot’s view of the world. They were disgusted and appalled by Eliot’s poetry soon to realize it was their lives he was articulating.

An example of one of his poetry is the ‘Morning at Window’, where strong effective words are used such as “rattling”, “sprouting despondently”, “trampled “aimless” all conjuring a bleak mundane atmosphere. In this poem Eliot slightly advocates to the lower class. He repeats similar words throughout his poems, words he really likes and adds the undercurrent of irony. An example is “twisted” where he uses “Twisted faces” in ‘Morning at the Window’, “Twists like a crooked pin” and in the same poem “last twist of the knife” (Rhapsody of a Windy Night). Readers realize he is not merely poetic out of anger but finds joy out of creating cynical expressions and gasp at his menacing character.

He’s indeed articulate to an extent that even his poetic structure relates to the theme. For example there isn’t any punctuation in ‘Morning at Window” till the end of each stanza. The continuity of long sentences suggests the long monotonous life of the servants who are metaphorically revealed in the poem.

A similarity that occurs in all his poems is the first stanza where he sets the scenes, which are mainly murky and dark. All seem to have a penetrating aura of magic “lunar incantations” (Rhapsody of a Windy Night) but are distort and destroyed by the realities of the actual town and its events. In ‘Rhapsody of a Windy Night’ a misanthropic poem, is Eliot’s description of a working nightmare. Lines like “Dissolve the floors of memory”, “Madman shakes a dead geranium” all evoke a sense of violence and aggression. From the beginning Eliot’s epigraphs and opening lines alarms the readers whether to continue reading or not.

Even phonetics played a big part in his poems, with certain letters deliberately repeated to emphasize and establishing the tone and point of the poem. Certain strong s-sounds “scuttling across the silent seas” (The Love Song by J.Alfred Prufrock) emphasizes lack of purpose. Certain “t” sounds are also used commonly in most of his poems - “And now a gusty shower wraps” (Preludes), “The street-lamp sputtered, the street lamp muttered” again to emphasize his point.

Eliot’s awareness and knowledge of different languages are clarified through his extensive use of other languages especially French supposedly the “language of love.”

He uses it to express his point clearly and sometimes in languages words may have a deeper meaning to get the gist of an emotion. Such examples are “cauchemar” (Portrait of a Lady) and “La lune ne garde aucune rancune” (Rhapsody of a Windy Night) even in French he malignly describes society.

Generally the personas in his poems are on a journey, which lasts throughout the poem and appears to have no fixed destination. Only in the physical sense do they seem to be going nowhere and this is due to the fact that in both an emotional and intellectual perception each persona reaches some kind of awareness. (E.g. The loved song by J. Alfred Prufrock) All of the themes in his poems can be briefly summarized as issues relating to social classes and their mistreatment, fulfilled longing desires, loneliness, relationship misfortunes, anti-Semitic, antifeminist etc. His poems are journeys that penetrate deep inside his subject and theme which are all pessimistic.

He entertains and keeps the excitement and tone upbeat by repeating phrases to form a sort of chorus to a song. We tend to sing to the chorus of a song first then learn the whole song; similarly here his main theme is illustrated in the repetitive phrases. Especially his long poems where he establishes the scene in his first two stanzas, describes subject in the rest but the second last stanzas usually express an insight to a fantasy, a positive image, a hope in life then he naughtily drowns and dissolves such thoughts with sordid paradox images in the remaining last lines. “Till humans voices wake us, and we drown.” (The loved song by J. Alfred Prufrock)

The modern reader may find T.S Eliot’s poems distasteful and hostile due to the cynical perspective he portrays in his poetry. He informs the reader of certain human circumstances whether they are resplendent or disturbing. Many of his poems are associated with death and dreadful elements. Although one might occasionally, want a reality check a subtle approach would be appreciated but Eliot’s emphasizes and reiterates the sufferings of life. Death, loss, failure, misfortunes that all relate to today’s society in nature. Modern readers would find little to enjoy because the elements criticised are still issues discussed today.

Sexual discourse, relationship misfortunes, suppressed emotions etc, are all current issues of society. Being anti-feminist (lines 16-0 Rhapsody of a Windy Night) in today’s society isn’t popular because of the large amount of opinionative women, his poetries would be left isolated.

Personally I enjoy T.S Eliot’s poetry solely because of his sceptical view and his articulate phrases that conjure forceful images, emphasizing the ironic truth. Eliot in his time was an individual who passionately connected to society by providing a window into individual thoughts, while everyone was too ignorant and afraid to allow themselves to question. He expressed the hurtful truth. For someone engrossed to produce vivid pessimistic imagery, I do believe he had experience his themes expressed in his poetry, during his life.

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