And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
J. Alfred Prufrock ascends the stairs to a room where fashionable women are drinking tea and discussing art. Prufrock has almost turned back several times, acutely conscious of his aging appearance. Now he anticipates, with dread, his interactions with the women. He fears that they will regard him as an alien species, like a butterfly pinned to a collector’s board. The sense of being alone within one’s consciousness, unable to connect to or communicate with others or to feel at home anywhere, pervades “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The theme of alienation runs through all of Eliot’s major poems.
I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
Nothing again nothing.
In Part II of The Waste Land, “A Game of Chess,” a mysterious woman speaks to an equally enigmatic listener. The setting could be a palace, a temple, or merely a luxurious bedroom. The woman could be a queen, a prophetess, or an aging aristocrat awaiting her lover. Whatever the case, the questions are spoken aloud, and the answers are kept silent. The speaker and listener seem alienated from each other. Whether someone is praying to a goddess, petitioning a queen, consulting a prophetess, or just talking to herself, no answer is provided for such questions.
Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.
In “Burnt Norton,” the first of the Four Quartets, the poet visits the ruins of a grand country house and meditates on time. Part III describes so-called real time, the everyday world, where humans are perpetually distracted by the past and future. In this passage, the poet describes what lies below the surface of modern life: alienation, the sense of being cut off by consciousness and paralyzed while the world passes by. Appetency means “desire or longing.” Metalled ways evokes technology and warfare. The poet suggests that the greed and violence of modern life leave the individual in spiritual solitude.