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Eliot’s Poetry

T. S. Eliot

Contents

The Waste Land Section I: “The Burial of the Dead”

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The second episode contains a troubled religious proposition. The speaker describes a true wasteland of “stony rubbish”; in it, he says, man can recognize only “[a] heap of broken images.” Yet the scene seems to offer salvation: shade and a vision of something new and different. 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 remembers a female figure from his past, with whom he has apparently had some sort of romantic involvement. In contrast to the present setting in the desert, his memories are lush, full of water and blooming flowers. The vibrancy of the earlier scene, though, leads the speaker to a revelation of the nothingness he now offers to show the reader. Again memory serves to contrast the past with the present, but here it also serves to explode the idea of coherence in either place. In the episode from the past, the “nothingness” is more clearly a sexual failure, a moment of impotence. Despite the overall fecundity and joy of the moment, no reconciliation, and, therefore, no action, is possible. This in turn leads directly to the desert waste of the present. In the final line of the episode attention turns from the desert to the sea. Here, the sea is not a locus for the fear of nothingness, and neither is it the locus for a philosophical interpretation of nothingness; rather, it is the site of true, essential nothingness itself. The line comes from a section of Tristan und Isolde where Tristan waits for Isolde to come heal him. She is supposedly coming by ship but fails to arrive. The ocean is truly empty, devoid of the possibility of healing or revelation.

The third episode explores Eliot’s fascination with transformation. The tarot reader Madame Sosostris conducts the most outrageous form of “reading” possible, transforming a series of vague symbols into predictions, many of which will come true in succeeding sections of the poem. Eliot transforms the traditional tarot pack to serve his purposes. The drowned sailor makes reference to the ultimate work of magic and transformation in English literature, Shakespeare’s The Tempest (“Those are pearls that were his eyes” is a quote from one of Ariel’s songs). Transformation in The Tempest, though, is the result of the highest art of humankind. Here, transformation is associated with fraud, vulgarity, and cheap mysticism. That Madame Sosostris will prove to be right in her predictions of death and transformation is a direct commentary on the failed religious mysticism and prophecy of the preceding desert section.

The final episode of the first section allows Eliot finally to establish the true wasteland of the poem, the modern city. Eliot’s London references Baudelaire’s Paris (“Unreal City”), Dickens’s London (“the brown fog of a winter dawn”) and Dante’s hell (“the flowing crowd of the dead”). The city is desolate and depopulated, inhabited only by ghosts from the past. Stetson, the apparition the speaker recognizes, is a fallen war comrade. The speaker pesters him with a series of ghoulish questions about a corpse buried in his garden: again, with the garden, we return to the theme of regeneration and fertility. This encounter can be read as a quest for a meaning behind the tremendous slaughter of the first World War; however, it can also be read as an exercise in ultimate futility: as we see in Stetson’s failure to respond to the speaker’s inquiries, the dead offer few answers. The great respective weights of history, tradition, and the poet’s dead predecessors combine to create an oppressive burden.

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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.

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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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85 out of 94 people found this helpful

Appalled

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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