Showing posts with label T. S . Eliot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label T. S . Eliot. Show all posts

Monday, December 2, 2013

Contrast between Past and Present in 'The Waste Land' by T.S.Eliot

“The Waste Land” has generally been criticized as lacking structural principles. The work has been regarded by some people as a collection of some separate poems. The Waste Land is a very important landmark in the 20th century literature. In the careful study of the poem it has been found that there is a thin and subtle thread which runs throughout the poem and gives it a sort of unity. In the poem, Eliot describes the barrenness of city life in modern civilization. He describes London as an “unreal city.”

The poem gives us an authentic impression of the mentality of educated people in the psychological stump that took place immediately after World War I. It makes us aware of the nervous exhaustation, the mental disintegration, the exaggerated self consciousness, the boredom, the pathetic groping after the fragments of a shattered faith-all these symptoms of “the psychic disease which ravaged Europe mercilessly like an epidemic.”   Eliot takes us into the very heart of the wasteland which was post war Europe and makes us realize to the full the plight of a whole generation. It vividly illustrates the complexity and machine like activity of modern man comparing with the glorious past of spiritual and moral highness.

The figures who inhabit the unreal city are like the inhabitants of Baudlaire’s Paris. Eliot clearly points out the aridity of the modern urban civilization.

  Besides the modern waste landers consider April as the cruelest month because they have no desire for re-birth and spiritual life.
The dead-routine of the office goers shows the futility and the emptiness of civilization. The city-dwellers have no faith in any religion. The offices and factories in London begin at nine which is the time of Christ Crucifixion. In the modern civilization, the world of commerce is entirely different from the world of God. In the big city, one will come across the evil of gambling in different forms. In the poem, Madame So Sostris exemplifies the worldliness and unspiritual outlook of modern world. She is a society. Under the low, fortune telling is a criminal and undesirable business. So Madame So Sostris is afraid of police. (She has a pack of seventy eight ends through which she tells the fortune of her customer.)

We may regard “The Wasteland” as an epitome of the “Decade of Despair’, which followed World War I. The poem aims at presenting to us the various cross-current, emotional, intellectual and psychological which together contributed to the general atmosphere of that unhappy period. In the past the source of inspiration for life and achievement was faith. But values have bee changes now-a-days. Spiritually the people all over the world have become barren. In the poem, Eliot shows that the conception of family and of human relationships is being shattered down day by day. The people of upper class capacity are suffering from various types of mental illness. The fashionable society women called the lady of situation are bored with her urban wasteland. They do not feel comfort in their houses. For example, Mr. Eugenides, modern businessmen, is fond of home sex, and he fulfills his desire with hotel boys. Psychologically, the modern people are no satisfied with their getting. They seemed frustrated. For example, Lil is frustrated because she is a woman of thirty one ad fails to fascinate her husband who wants to enjoy life. Similarly, the fashionable society woman, the lady of Situation is bored with her own life.

The Waste Land is timeless; it is valid for all ages. It deals with a universal dilemma. The theme of the poem is the spiritual emptiness, the unemotional sociality and the general aimlessness which have characterized all periods of history. In addition to the myth which serves to link the present with ancient times. Eliot has introduced a multitude of reminiscence of other poets into the fabric of his poem. By this method he is able to suggest the extensive consciousness of the past and to reveal the sameness as well as the contrasts between the life of the present and that of the past. 

There is a general feeling of fear in Waste Land-modern and ancient. April inspires fear. Marie is frightened in her moment of sexual delight on her cousins’ sledge. The “Son of Man” is urged to endure the vision of fear and mortality in the desert, and the lover in the garden is neither living nor dead. Fear is common to all times ad periods of history. Unemotional sea or lust is a feature of all ages too. It has become a source of moral degradation. For instance, we find in the poem the picture of three Thows daughters who live on being the objects of sexual enjoyment in exchange of money. Cleopatra was, of course, an exception. But Philomel’s rape by the barbarous king is “Game of Chess” strikes the keynote of this section linking the past and the present.
Thus, Eliot in “The Waste Land” has cast his vision of the contemporary erotic and spiritual aridity into a general perspective beyond berries of historical time or national or geographical boundaries. The framework of the myth and  the recurrent allusions the portrayal of characters, the presentation of scenes of seduction and violation of women, the literary reminiscences and quotations all the contribute to giving the poem a permanent and universal quality.

Sense of waste, ennui and Boredom in 'The Love Songs of J. Prufrock' and 'The Waste Land' by T.S.Eliot

In his early poems T. S. Eliot gives a horrifying picture of the modern world. In his two extraordinary poems “The Love Songs of J. Prufrock” and The Waste Land he projects a terrifying vision of our chaotic times and troubled lives. The waste land scenario he portrays throughout these poems is one that reflects the social anarchy and spiritual vacuity of modern urban life that drives the individual to the deep crises of emotional and intellectual despair. Eliot attempts to depict the total disarray and near collapse of Western civilization in the early 1920s. During the years, immediately following the monumental upheavals of World War I, European life-styles, social mores and moral values were all changed drastically. Apart from the waste and decay, the life of modern people also became very complex. Education made the modern people intellectually superior, but their life became full of ennui and boredom. 

The his poems “The Love Songs of J. Prufrock” and The Waste Land he gives us an authentic impression of the mentality of educated people in the psychological stump that took place immediately after World War I. It makes us aware of the nervous exhaustation, the mental disintegration, the exaggerated self consciousness, the boredom, the pathetic groping after the fragments of a shattered faith-all these symptoms of “the psychic disease which ravaged Europe mercilessly like an epidemic.”

The poem in which Eliot, for the first time, draws the problems of the modern people is “The Love Songs of J. Prufrock”. Here in this dramatic monologue a character is speaking in a context and analyzing his temperament and his experience of love. Prufrock, the speaker of the poem, is in love with one of the ladies and wishes to declare his love. But he is an irresolute person for whom the surliest decision is a matter of strain speculation, and distress. He wants to avoid taking any responsibility. That of taking decision is why he asks,” Do I dare disturb the universe?” because any action that changes the pattern of things will disturb the universe that is the opinion of him. He is so self-centred a person that an ordinary decision taken by him will, in his view, have far reaching consequences for the whole universe.

Prufrock is one of Eliot’s major creations. He tries to give us a view of Prufrock. We get enough information about him to imagine his situation as he proceeds through the soft October sight to the drawing soon where the sophisticated women, one of whom he loves, are taking tea and indulging in elegant conversation with music in the ground. We know something of his appearance and dress. And we are made acquainted with the agonies and intricacies of his confused meditation about the nature of things, his hopes which he knows to be vain. In spite of these, however, the situation as well as the mind of Prufrock remains shrouded is a kind of mystery.

Prufrock is a complex character. Everything about him cannot be defined is a formula. He is like Hamlet. He shows what a modern individual is and has a clash of his personality. Hesitating, wavering are always is within him. We find Prufrock is a prison, the prison of a divided self in the tortures of neurotic conflict. His long song will never be uttered outside the inferno of his own mind, and the “you” and “I” of his monologue are the impulses within him.

Prufrock has retreated into the world of despairing introspection day-dream, and he experiences mingled feelings of self-pity and self-disgust. The retreat and the feelings are impressed upon our minds through the images of the tortures streets and the fog-cat, the picture of his life as measured but with coffee spoons and the symbols of his terror of social and sexual failure. He is unable “to force the moment to its crisis”, he is not even a Hamlet who did at last muster the courage to do something, and he is only an attendant lord: Unlike Hamlet, he has no heroic quality. He can only back into trivial speculations whether he shall not a peach or part his heir behind. He is very imaginative, escapes into a fantasy world of unreal love with mermaids.

In the first half of the poem, there is no hope of success. The sense of failure does not begin until the passage beginning “And would it have been worth it, after all.” By this time, he has seen himself enter the drawing-room, take tea, fail to ask his question, and scenthe foot men “snicher” in; a superior way, and he has come away, afraid to take the positive step which would made him “great” just because it was a step which would have changed something. In the poem, he is not a hero properly. He is the anti-hero that means he is the central character but it nothing heroic in him. He is thought as physically impulsive and ugly so he has no dare to propose his beloved because he fears ally not spiritually. As he mixed with many girls but no girl is suffited to him. He is very intellectual that he only go for knowledge. In the poem, he in not talking/ addressing to his beloved but he is confessing to us.

In the poem, he was a pair of claws scutting across the floors of silent seas. The claws represent the longing for an uncomplicated existence. The claws siege the prey and carry it off without the hesitation or wavering with which Prufrock is faced. The claws, like the mermaids, are at home and free in the sea, and can settle at will. But at the some time they cannot go forward or make any progress. Profrock laments, “ I grow old-------I grow old,” but secretly he wishes only to regress to a safe place where his inner universe is no longer disturbed by any tormenting human problem.

Prufrock never reaches a decision, never penetrate, beyond “the marmalade, the tea,” to a conclusion either with the ladies in the room on with his surroundings. He accepts boredom from the fear that worse may ensue from an attempt to probe too deeply. If he had asked the question, the lady might have replied: “That is not what I meant, at all. That is not it, at all. “Such a reply shattered his illusion. Prufrock’s sense of boredom with the social round and his terror at the way thought of asking his overwhelming question. His boredom and his indecision stand out in the poem and these create an atmosphere of despair.

Prufrock is the representative of the modern people. Modern people have become sophisticated in manner and way of life, but at the same time their emotional life has become barren and chaotic. Prufrock represents the life of these modern, urbanite people.

The greatest poem of the modern literature that portrays the waste and boredom of the modern people is undoubtedly The Waste Land. Throughout the poem there are recurrent symbols of drought and dryness, decay and disintegration. The reader sees, in Eliot’s own words, "a heap of broken images" made up of dusty streets, dead trees, desert rocks, dry bones, rats scurrying in sewers, empty cisterns and exhausted wells. Eliot skillfully evokes the picture of a wasted world where universal symbols of life - such as earth, air, fire and water - prove both sustaining and destructive. 

Eliot seeks thereby to recreate in his poem a truly compelling portrait of the drab life we lead in our dreary modern cities. People work and live their whole lives in a mechanical, almost robot-like fashion today. This is emphasized all through the poem. Besides, Eliot constantly links the present with the past, showing as how much more futile our existence is today. With the modern world being almost rendered a total waste - by human greed and materialism, by industrial pollution and ecological over exploitation.

The speaker is very much pessimistic about the existence of the modern people and their way of living. The modern people lead a bored life. Their pleasure is not spontaneous pleasure. London has become enveloped in brown fogs and the crowds moving over London Bridge are the spiritual waste dead citizens of the waste land going their daily round of dull routine. In this unreal city sex has become a matter of intrigue and has become a mere source of pleasure and lost its spiritual significance. The sexual life has lost spirituality and it has become a work without any real pleasure of both body and mind.

The picture of the vulgar sexual life and low morality both of the higher as well as the lower classes are drown in the Game of the Chess part.

The second seection of the poem ’ A Game of Chess’ portrays two women-a Rich Lady at her boudoir and the cockney women in the East-side pub. The two women of this section of the poem represent the two sides of modern sexuality: while one side of this sexuality is a dry, barren interchange inseparable from neurosis and self-destruction, the other side of this sexuality is a rampant fecundity associated with a lack of culture and rapid aging.

Thus, the poems The Love Songs of J. Prufrock and The Waste Land’ combinely evoke a ssense of waste, ennui and boredom inherent in the life of the modern people.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Social, Religious, Moral Decadence of the Post War World as Reflected in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is an epoch making poem that presents a complete break with 19th century poetic tradition in its style, diction, theme and versification and opens a new one. 20th century poetry experiences several ups and downs. It is the period when literary “modernism” comes into being, people’s life got shattered by world wide violence which ultimately created anguish, barrenness, fragmentation and alienation in every aspect of life. The new poetry is realistic and the poet’s consciousness of the grim realities of life has shattered all illusions and romantic dreams. The tragedy of everyday life has induced in the poet a mood of disillusionment and so the poetry is bitter and pessimistic. The Waste Land projects this tragic gloom, terrifying vision of modern chaotic times and troubled lives through social, religious and moral decays of modern people.  

T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, depicts an image of post-war modern world through the perspective of a man finding himself hopeless and confused about the condition of the society. Through its fragmented and allusive nature, The Waste Land illustrates the contemporary waste land as a metaphor of modern Europe.

Post-War Europe: The Real Waste Land:

The Waste Land is fundamentally a poem about Europe”. The connection between the poem and the historical context of the modern era reveals that the poem metaphorically illustrates the actual condition of modern Europe; the barren and lifeless waste land is a metaphor of Europe after World War I. Eliot uses this “dialectic of analogies” to metaphorically depict the condition of postwar European society, demonstrating the “disillusionment of a generation”.


Eliot chooses a technique that suits to his theme. As the theme of the poem is anguish, barrenness, fragmentation and alienation of modern people, so Eliot expresses this by employing myth, religious symbolism, juxtaposition, objective correlative, colloquial language and literary allusions. If we look at the structure of the poem, we see the first part of the first section of the poem is largely in unrhymed iambic pentameter lines, or blank verse. As the section proceeds, the lines become increasingly irregular in length and meter, giving the feeling of disintegration, of things falling apart.


The single most prominent aspect of both the form and content of The Waste Land is fragmentation. Eliot used fragmentation in his poetry both to demonstrate the chaotic state of modern existence and to juxtapose literary texts against one another. In Eliot’s view, humanity’s psyche had been shattered by World War I and by the collapse of the British Empire. Eliot wants his poetry to express the fragile psychological state of humanity in the twentieth century. Critics read the following line from The Waste Land as a statement of Eliot’s poetic project: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”.

At the very beginning of the poem, we see the natural cycle of death and rebirth traditionally associated with the month of April appears tragic to Eliot’s speaker:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

For Eliot’s speaker, April’s showers are cruel, not sweet. The “us” in line 5—“Winter kept us warm”—seems to link the poet himself to the earth that is covered with snow. These opening lines, then, pose the question of the poet’s originality in relation to a tradition that seems barely capable of nourishing the “dull roots” of the modern poet’s sensibility. The poet lives in a modern waste land, in the aftermath of a great war, in an industrialized society that lacks traditional structures of authority and belief, in soil that may not be conducive to new growth. Even if he could become inspired, however, the poet would have no original materials to work with. His imagination consists only of “a heap of broken images,” in the words of line 22, the images he inherits from literary ancestors going back to the Bible. The modernist comes to write poetry after a great tradition of poetry has been all but tapped out. Despite this bleakness, however, the poem does present a rebirth of sorts, and the rebirth, while signifying the recovery of European society after the war, also symbolizes the renewal of poetic tradition in modernism, accomplished in part by the mixing of high and low culture and the improvisational quality of the poem as a whole.

Social Decay:

Closely allied to the central spiritual or religious theme of The Waste Land is Eliot’s concern with the socio-cultural scenario of post-war Europe. In the poem, relationships between people in the modern society are reduced to something that is sterile, lifeless, and dry. The various characters that appear in the poem are unable to carry a logical and coherent dialogue. As a part of the already fragmented whole, any attempt for conversations between people reflects the fragmented and incoherent structure and content of the poem. This impossibility of meaningful communication corresponds to the dismal and hopeless reality of the modern society and also intensifies and dramatizes the speaker’s anguish and frustration at the isolation and loneliness in the modern world. For example, the speaker’s attempt to have a conversation in the second part, “A Game of Chess,” demonstrates the impossibility of communication and thus relationship: “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” (112-114). The speaker of these lines is unable to communicate with the person he is speaking to; this failure in communication reflects the isolation and lack of connection that characterize relationships within the disillusioned and dismal modern society.

Religious/ Spiritual  Decay:

The Waste Land  contains a troubled religious proposition. In the second episode the speaker describes a true wasteland of “stony rubbish”; in it, he says, man can recognize only “[a] heap of broken images.” The vision consists only of nothingness—a handful of dust—which is so profound as to be frightening; yet truth also resides here: No longer a religious phenomenon achieved through Christ, truth is represented by a mere void.

The speaker is very much pessimistic about the future of the world. He says that we cannot expect much from this modern world because

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow                           
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.  [The Burial of the Death]

In this segment one can hear again the voice of Tiresias, who depicts a sort of spiritual waste land. It portrays an agonized world filled with "stony rubbish," where "the sun beats" mercilessly down so that "the dead trees give no shelter" and the shrill cry of the cricket brings "no relief." In this desolate scenario "the dry stone" gives "no sound of water."

The second and third parts of the poem throw light on the failure of sex relationship in the modern waste land. Sex has become a matter of intrigue and has become a mere source of pleasure and lost its spiritual significance. The sexual life has lost spirituality and it has become a work without any real pleasure of both body and mind. The picture of the vulgar sexual life and low morality both of the higher as well as the lower classes are drown in the Game of the Chess part. The fire Sermon section also shows the lustful nature of the modern men. It also reminds one of the Confessions of St Auguustine wherein he represents lust as a burning cauldron. But the spiritually dead, modern humanity knows only lust and no true love. The sterile burning of lust is brought out by different sex experiences in the contemporary waste land.

To conclude, Eliot was deeply shocked by the moral, social and moral degradation of the post-war people in Europe as well as other parts of the world. The poem is a clear picture of that degradation. Here Eliot juxtaposes what the past was like and the present conditions in order to show how the world has undergone a radical, tragic change. The ending of the poem is a reminiscence of Coleridge’s concerns in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner i.e. the need for redemption through prayer, penance and self-abnegation after a life of sin.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What does Coleridge mean by 'Willing suspension of disbelief' ?

Willing suspension of disbelief is a formula named as such in English by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge to justify the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature. Coleridge coined the phrase in his Biographia Literaria, published in 1817. Coleridge suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

The phrase "suspension of disbelief" came to be used more loosely in the later 20th century. It might be used to refer to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is that the audience tacitly agrees to suspend their judgment in exchange for the promise of entertainment.

The concept of "willing suspension of disbelief" explained how a modern, enlightened audience might continue to enjoy gothic pieces.