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Eliot’s Poetry

T. S. Eliot




Eliot attributed a great deal of his early style to the French Symbolists—Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Laforgue—whom he first encountered in college, in a book by Arthur Symons called The Symbolist Movement in Literature. It is easy to understand why a young aspiring poet would want to imitate these glamorous bohemian figures, but their ultimate effect on his poetry is perhaps less profound than he claimed. While he took from them their ability to infuse poetry with high intellectualism while maintaining a sensuousness of language, Eliot also developed a great deal that was new and original. His early works, like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and The Waste Land, draw on a wide range of cultural reference to depict a modern world that is in ruins yet somehow beautiful and deeply meaningful. Eliot uses techniques like pastiche and juxtaposition to make his points without having to argue them explicitly. As Ezra Pound once famously said, Eliot truly did “modernize himself.” In addition to showcasing a variety of poetic innovations, Eliot’s early poetry also develops a series of characters who fit the type of the modern man as described by Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and others of Eliot’s contemporaries. The title character of “Prufrock” is a perfect example: solitary, neurasthenic, overly intellectual, and utterly incapable of expressing himself to the outside world.

As Eliot grew older, and particularly after he converted to Christianity, his poetry changed. The later poems emphasize depth of analysis over breadth of allusion; they simultaneously become more hopeful in tone: Thus, a work such as Four Quartets explores more philosophical territory and offers propositions instead of nihilism. The experiences of living in England during World War II inform the Quartets, which address issues of time, experience, mortality, and art. Rather than lamenting the ruin of modern culture and seeking redemption in the cultural past, as The Waste Land does, the quartets offer ways around human limits through art and spirituality. The pastiche of the earlier works is replaced by philosophy and logic, and the formal experiments of his early years are put aside in favor of a new language consciousness, which emphasizes the sounds and other physical properties of words to create musical, dramatic, and other subtle effects.

However, while Eliot’s poetry underwent significance transformations over the course of his career, his poems also bear many unifying aspects: all of Eliot’s poetry is marked by a conscious desire to bring together the intellectual, the aesthetic, and the emotional in a way that both honors the past and acknowledges the present. Eliot is always conscious of his own efforts, and he frequently comments on his poetic endeavors in the poems themselves. This humility, which often comes across as melancholy, makes Eliot’s some of the most personal, as well as the most intellectually satisfying, poetry in the English language.

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What's in a Name?

by CUBarbara, September 16, 2012

I think an important aspect out that was left out was the name "Lil" which can be short for two Lily or Lilith.

The Lily is a lovely white flower that, in the language of flowers, represents compassion and innocence. Oftentimes painters included lilies in images of the Virgin Mary to represent her innocence.

Lilith is a pagan spirit adopted into Jewish lore. She was the first wife of Adam who was cast from Eden when she wanted to be on top during sex. She became the first vampire and preyed on Adam's children borne by Eve.


6 out of 18 people found this helpful

The presence of a common theme or attitude to life in the separate sections of T.S. Eliot's poem 'Preludes'

by Shehanaz, May 29, 2013

“The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’ clock.
The burnt –out ends of smoky days.”
A poem is a complete expressive of the mood of the poet, and Thomas Stearns Eliot is of no exception to it, when he is certainly throughout his poem is deeply in a mood of gloom and despair, as far as society is concerned. He is considered to be one of the most distinguished poets of the twentieth century who brought a very modern touch to his poetry with plenty of symbolism and knowledge of ... Read more


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by EddieTemple06, September 30, 2013

Whilst the commentary is interesting and does provide some interpretations that are worth merit, the summary is just shocking.
How anyone can read a stream-of-consciousness poem such as this and actually interpret it as "Prufrock" travelling from location to location is beyond me; secondly, the narrator (Prufrock; Eliot) is not addressing any external party, be it the reader or someone else: he is addressing HIMSELF. This, surprisingly, is the nature of a s-o-c poem. This is known as IMAGERY, nothing more. "I wandered lonely as a cloud... Read more


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