The Life Of The Poet Ts Elliot English Literature Essay

3971 words (16 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this

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T. S. Eliot was one of the greatest poets, play writers, and literary critics of all time. Not only did he manage to compose numerous volumes of ingenious poetry, but Eliot also wrote a myriad of plays towards the latter end of his life. His poems, however, were some of his best work. It is no surprised that T. S. Eliot was immersed in English literature from the very start of his life. He was born in St. Louis of Missouri in September 26, 1888, as the last of six children. His parents, Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte C. Eliot, were very encouraging of Eliot’s education. Eliot’s mother particularly was a strong supporter of English literature: Charlotte was an English teacher from Baltimore who retired once she married Eliot’s father. While caring for six children, Charlotte also wrote a biography for her father-in-law, William Greenleaf Eliot, who too was a poet that founded the first Unitarian church in St. Louis. In addition, he established George Washington University and the Smith Academy for Girls. Thus, T. S. Eliot inherently grew up in a well educated, bourgeois environment.

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When T. S. Eliot graduated from secondary school at Smith Academy, he chose to study at Harvard in 1906. Eliot at the time wanted to major in philosophy, but always had a keen interest in poetry as well. In fact, at the age of fourteen, Eliot stumbled upon Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, a famous Muslim work that was translated by Edward Fitzgerald. The beautiful and intricate poetry inspired Eliot not only to write lyrical poetry, but also to study linguistics, which represented his appreciation for diverse and vibrant cultures. After a brief one-year break to the school of Sorbonne in Paris, Eliot returned to Harvard to attain a master’s degree in philosophy. In 1914, Eliot transferred to the University of Marsburg in Germany as a graduate student. In Europe, Eliot appreciated the culture and sophistication of both its people and history. When World War I broke out, Eliot moved to Oxford instead of returning home, disregarding his parents’ wishes. However, after a year in Oxford, Eliot left the school because he was disgusted with the campus. Despite this, in June 26, 1915, T. S. Eliot made his stay in Europe permanent by marrying Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Vivienne, an English woman, initially caught Eliot’s attention with her beauty and dancing grace; as time passed on, the marriage lost its magic. Eliot’s disillusionment with marriage could be seen through his attitude and writing. He wrote to friends that while his marriage began with excitement, his mental, emotional, and physical being withered after years of hostility and tension. Finally, after eighteen years of countless arguments and possibly numerous affairs, Eliot and Vivienne separated. Soon after, Vivienne died in a mental hospital, to the indifference of Eliot. In fact, Eliot was so unaffected by Vivienne’s death that he remarried in 1957 to a woman named Esme Valerie Fletcher. The relationship could be seen as scandalous: Esme was thirty seven years his junior. However, Eliot was content with the relationship, stating that for once, he “felt happier than [he] had been for years.” (Miller 218) They had no children together, but Esme stayed by Eliot’s side until his death. After seventy-seven years, Eliot died in January 4, 1965 due to emphysema, a result from his heavy smoking. On that day, the whole world mourned T. S. Eliot’s death, for he was one of the greatest writers of all time.

Social Context

T. S. Eliot was greatly affected by his surroundings. As a young boy, he grew up in an era that experienced tensions between the different classes. Although his family was very well off, Eliot saw distinct differences between various communities. He knew that while the upper class lived in wealthy conditions and the lower class in poor circumstances, they both had their similarities in problems and predicaments. Eliot was also very sensitive toward women, due to the caring and tender nature of his mother, Charlotte C. Eliot. Charlotte not only influenced him as a poet, but also taught him to recognize that women faced unfair inequalities. In addition, Eliot was exposed to the effects of war in 1914. Originally, Eliot had wanted to attend the University of Marsburg in Germany; but when World War I broke out, he was forced to change plans and study at Oxford in England. During this time period, Eliot experienced first-hand the life of the urban city, which inspired him to write The Wasteland, one of the greatest poems of his career. However, the biggest influence toward Eliot and his writing was his conversion to the Church of England. His love for his newly found home, England, could be found in the deep, religious themes of his poems written toward the end of his life. All these social factors in T. S. Eliot’s environment affected his entire being.

Literary Career

T. S. Eliot has written a variety of works, including both poems and plays. His collections include “Prufrock and Other Observations,” “Four Quartets,” “The Faber Book of Modern Verse,” “The Hollow Men,” and “The Wasteland.” Some of his more outstanding poems include “Ash Wednesday,” and “The Wasteland.” In addition to poems, T. S. Eliot also composed plays, such as Murder in the Cathedral, and The Cocktail Party. However, Eliot’s poems are the more significant accomplishments of his career.

Writing Style

T. S. Eliot writes with a variety of approaches. He mostly uses a complex prose or verse style, with simple yet penetrating phrases that give a whole new meaning to the context. Eliot’s free verse is especially very interesting, because they seem to have no definite pattern to them. Yet, when comparing all of his poems together, Eliot seems to have left a definite trademark of his writing in his works. For example, his words give certain imagery to them, one that is neither vague nor extremely apparent. Usually, Eliot focuses his writing on urban tawdriness, social malaise, and unease with women. There is also a trend that can be seen between the events of his life and his writing. For example, in his young age, Eliot addressed his severe disappointment in civilization, probably as a cause of World War I. Many of his poems, including his famous “The Wasteland,” mention the belief that society would self-destruct on its own due to a spiritual void of anxiety and boredom. Later in Eliot’s life, however, his writing style changed. His method became more freely associated with ideas and feelings, giving way to a vulnerable side that no one had ever seen of Eliot. Converting to the Anglican Church was probably the key factor in this, as Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” strongly reflected his strong commitment to Christian orthodoxy. Summarily, Eliot wrote ingenious poetry that showed off his expertise of rhythm and cadence. He indirectly reflected his own life’s experiences in his poetry, despite denying of doing such things. Literary critic Richard Ellmann stated that “Eliot was addicted to the portrayal of characters who had missed their chances, become old before they had really been young” (Epstein 222). Eliot’s writing style, thus, is very distinguishable due to its free verse, simple yet effective vocabulary, and similar themes concerning despair in emotion-less society and complicated relationships with women.

Thesis Paragraph

“Is it perfume from a dress/ That makes me so digress? / Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl./ And should I then presume? / And how should I begin?” (Eliot 277). As it can be seen in this sample of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T. S. Eliot usually writes of apprehension and anxiety towards women in his poetry. As a result of his upbringing by his mother, Eliot has a deep respect for women. However, in his poems Eliot usually writes with unease about women relationships. Specifically, he attacks the false ideals that most of society has with respect to love. Many of his poems refute traditional ideas of blissful love by turning the situation around to present actual situations that happened commonly in the era of his time. Thus, T. S. Eliot exemplifies the disillusionments of love with his poems.

Literary Criticism

“Nocturne”

During his early years, T. S. Eliot represented his ridicule of melodramatic romances with “Nocturne.” The poem, a petrarchan sonnet, alludes in both form and subject to the Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet. In “Nocturne,” Eliot jests at Shakespearean fans for glorifying these examples of meaningless love, which he feels is a poor representation of reality and life’s true relationships. Eliot modifies the poem by adding satirical humor. For example, he starts off the poem with “Of love, beneath a bored but courteous moon;/ The conversation failing, strikes some tune” (Eliot “Nocturne” 23. 2-3). The personification of the moon gives an image to the reader of a plain, dull moon that is only present to give the dreamy effect that all romanticists love. During this particular part in “Nocturne,” Eliot is setting the scene, although his slightly mocking tone forebodes of humorous mishaps to come. The words “failing” and “bored” relate to Eliot’s theme because it derides the passionate feelings that usually come out of romantic works. Eliot thus immediately portrays his opinions in the beginning of the poem.

In the middle of “Nocturne,” Eliot twists the plot by changing the suicide of Juliet into a murder, directed by the narrator himself. Eliot writes “Behind the wall I have some servant wait,/ stab, and the lady sinks into a swoon” (Eliot “Nocturne” 23. 6-7). Eliot’s knowledge of poetic devices shows, as portrayed in his numerous uses of alliteration within two lines. He suddenly changes the tone of the poem by bringing in abrupt violence into the piece. This unexpected distortion in the poem subtly pokes fun at the rash and impulsive decisions that romantic characters make. While the death of Juliet creates a dramatic scene, it has almost entirely nothing to do with the original storyline, and does not achieve a single productive result. Hence, “Nocturne” thus ridicules the melodramatics of Shakespearean, or general, romances for their rash yet foolish actions.

In the end of the poem, Eliot finishes “Nocturne” by directly addressing the exaggerated emotions of romanticists. After the death of Juliet, Eliot continues with “(No need of ‘Love forever?’-‘Love next week?’)/ While female readers all in tears are drowned” (Eliot “Nocturne” 23. 12-13). Essentially, Eliot parodies the senseless goriness with which readers entertain themselves. He finds it humorous that in most love stories, “true love” can arrive instantaneously yet disappear as swiftly as it had come. Eliot’s ironic combination of the phrases “love forever” and “love next week” exemplifies the theme that he is attempts to portray throughout the poem. In addition, “Nocturne” ridicules the ardent fervor of romantic devotees by describing their emotions with the hyperbole, “all in tears are drowned.” Certainly, by the end of “Nocturne,” the reader can discern that Eliot believes that people should be more reasonable and not fall for such fallacies.

Although “Nocturne” was written by a very young T. S. Eliot, it undoubtedly captures the attitude of Eliot that portrays in numerous other writings for years to come. From the start of his writing career, Eliot warns the public not to be deluded by the countless romances that over-dramatize love and its nature. Thus, by alluding to the famous Romeo and Juliet, Eliot illustrates his belief in “Nocturne” that one should look at love with a realistic, and not idealistic, point of view.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

In addition, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” portrays T. S. Eliot’s belief that the idealistic paradigm of love contrasts with the reality of relationships. Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” along with his compilation of “Prufrock and Other Collections” in 1910. Eliot further developed his writing style during this time period, creating his well known signature odes that can be seen in this poem. “Prufrock” describes the complicated relationship between a man and his long-time friend. The lover is a balding man, who although is assured that he and his friend have known each other long enough, cannot bring himself to propose to his friend, for fear of rejection. In the end, he grows old and lonely, having never confessed his love. The poem starts out calmly, leaving the reader to assume that the lady accompanying the narrator is his lover. However, by line 45, when Eliot writes “Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?/ In a minute there is time/ For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse,” the reader can assume that the relationship is much more complicated than what it appears to be (Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” 5. 45-48). This is a significant verse from the poem because it portrays the narrator’s hesitation to confess his love. His uncertainty fully embodies one of Eliot’s main themes, which is regret and wistfulness. While the author yearns to express his love, he is fearful that his actions will end things horribly, something that he cannot endure. The regret and anxiety that the narrator feels goes along with Eliot’s opinion that love in reality is troublesome and never perfect.

Another instance that exemplifies T. S. Eliot’s pessimistic convictions regarding love is when he writes that the narrator is in agony later in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” During this period, Alfred Prufrock continues to lament about his misfortune, for he is torn between declaring his love and suppressing his true feelings forever. For example, he thoughtfully contemplates why he is so attracted to women:

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I presume?

And how should I begin?

(Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” 6. 65-69)

The palpable longing in Prufrock’s words appeals to the reader’s sympathy. In addition, Eliot expertly rhymes “dress” and “digress” to create a rhythm and cadence within the poem, thus further appealing to the reader’s senses. With these combinations combined, Eliot presents a realistic view of how love acts in reality: Instead of being simple and effortless, the true nature of relationships tare stressful and even cause emotional pain. Thus, by using the agony of Prufrock as an ethos, T. S. Eliot demonstrates that love is disillusioned in society.

Finally, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” finishes off with a tone of complete nostalgia and regret. While the beginning of the poem started off in a pleasant, soothing manner, by the end Prufrock has a voice of defeat and sorrow. He becomes very wistful, wondering whether it would have been worth confessing after all. Eliot writes:

And would it have been worth it all, after all,

Would it have been worth awhile,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail

Along the floor-

And this, and so much more? –

(Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” 9. 97-103)

The poignant tone of Alfred’s voice once more appeals to the reader’s sympathy, which further emphasizes Eliot’s belief that love is not uncomplicated. It should also be noted that Eliot only rhymes the last two lines, which not only gives the poem cadence but is also a common characteristic throughout the entire work. The statement essentially portrays the narrator’s regret of never confessing his love. Although he is content enough with the blissful memories, he questions whether it would have been better to profess and lift the burden that burdens him now. Eliot ends his poem with this question hanging in mind, so as to show that the misery of Alfred Prufrock will never end until he dies. Thus, love in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is not as easy as depicted in stereotypical romances, according to T. S. Eliot.

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To summarize, T. S. Eliot portrays a more realistic tragic love story in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” compared to “Nocturne.” His writing style is more fully developed at this point, which in this case is characterized by odes and free verse. T. S. Eliot once more displays his discontent in erroneous views of love and shows that relationships usually are imperfect and heartbreaking. Thus, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” exemplifies Eliot’s opinion about the flaws of idealistic love.

“Portrait of a Lady”

As a final point, T. S. Eliot proves that love is disillusioned in society by writing “Portrait of a Lady.” The poem, which was written in 1925, is very similar to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in that they both are composed of lyrics with complex stanza forms. The poem makes numerous allusions in both French and classical music: for example, the famous Preludes by Frederic Chopin are mentioned. The combination of romance languages and sophisticated melodic compositions create an effect of classiness and elegance, despite the theme that the poem presents. Within “Portrait of a Lady,” Eliot discusses the abstruse relationship between a man and an older woman. The man, who must separate from his older beau, seems trapped because the woman wishes to still correspond. Most likely, the relationship formed on false pretenses for the advantage of the man, because one can tell that the woman is very well off. For example, in line 15, the narrator initiates the poem with a description of the woman’s house:

Among velleities and carefully caught regrets

Through attenuated tones of violins

Mingled with remote cornets

And begins.

(Eliot “Portrait of a Lady” 55. 15-18)

The very delicate nature that the poem takes on in the beginning sets a scene of tranquil elegance. However, T. S. Eliot cleverly introduces a foreboding of conflict with the words “velleities” and “regrets.” The reader can discern from such a verse that “Portrait of a Lady” will be slightly obscure, because the tone does not noticeably match up with the issue presented. When further analyzed, one can also tell that the conflict at hand represents complications, a point that Eliot made about relationships. Thus, within the beginning, “Portrait of a Lady” already demonstrates the realities and difficulties of relationships.

Furthermore, T. S. Eliot goes on to describe the hardships of life and its regrets in “Portrait of a Lady.” A common theme that can be found in Eliot’s poems is the nostalgia and regret that is reflected upon in old age. Drawing from the perspective of the man, Eliot incorporates dialogue into the poem to make the wistfulness all the more realistic. For example, in one scene, the woman speaks to teach the man the importance of life:

‘Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know

What life is, you who hold it in your hands’;

(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)

‘You let it flow from you, you let it flow…’

(Eliot “Portrait of a Lady” 56. 44-47)

From this verse, the reader can tell that the woman has had much experience in her life about the meaning of friendship. Her wisdom derives from her old age, which makes her seem the more superior and sophisticated one out of the relationship between her and her beau. Such a relationship was exactly the type of contrast that Eliot wanted to achieve with romantic archetypes; during Eliot’s era it was more common that men dominated relationships and provided most of the wealth. The poem thus reflects Eliot’s belief that love is a complicated and adverse matter.

Lastly, “Portrait of a Lady” deliberates over the complications of relationships, specifically through the age difference between the narrator and his older love. Eliot emphasizes his point that relationships in actuality are complex and contain certain motives, unlike the innocence and happiness they are credited for in stereotypical romances. With “Portrait of a Lady,” the man must separate from his beau, although the woman believes that she is near her end anyways. She tells the narrator:

But what have I, but what have I, my friend,

To give you, what can you receive from me?

Only the friendship and the sympathy

Of one about to reach her journey’s end

(Eliot “Portrait of a Lady” 58. 64-67)

The sadness yet knowing tone of the woman gives a sense of an inevitable end to the relationship between the man and woman. Although later in the poem, the narrator shows that this is what he wanted all along, the statement still does justice by displaying the complications of relationships. Along with refuting generalized ideas of love, Eliot too gives the message that personal friendships should not be based upon false pretenses.

To conclude, in “Portrait of a Lady” T. S. Eliot teaches the reader the complexity of love and refutes stereotypical paradigms.

Conclusion

The styles and themes of T. S. Eliot’s poetry brought him up to achieve the fame and esteem that he has now. Eliot’s poetry was not only well constructed, but it consistently had thought provoking material that was open to various interpretations. Specifically, throughout many of his poems, Eliot concentrated on attacking the erroneous and stereotypical based beliefs of love and its nature. He believed that love itself was a complicated affair, which he described intensely and effectively in his poetry. These certain poems include “Nocturne,” which he wrote at a young age; “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which portrayed not only Eliot’s opinions but also demonstrated the potential of his writing; and lastly “Portrait of a Lady,” which included the most inextricable motives out of all three. All these works tie in to state Eliot’s frustration with society’s conviction that relationships and friendships are a simple affair: in fact, they are based on ever-changing motives and cause tension socially. As T. S. Eliot once said, “poetry…is the ideal medium for expressing intense and universal emotions of spiritual states” (“T. S. Eliot” CD-ROM). Certainly, T. S. Eliot effusively reveals his message of the disillusionments of love with his poems and spectacular writing style, making him one of the best poets of all time.

T. S. Eliot was one of the greatest poets, play writers, and literary critics of all time. Not only did he manage to compose numerous volumes of ingenious poetry, but Eliot also wrote a myriad of plays towards the latter end of his life. His poems, however, were some of his best work. It is no surprised that T. S. Eliot was immersed in English literature from the very start of his life. He was born in St. Louis of Missouri in September 26, 1888, as the last of six children. His parents, Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte C. Eliot, were very encouraging of Eliot’s education. Eliot’s mother particularly was a strong supporter of English literature: Charlotte was an English teacher from Baltimore who retired once she married Eliot’s father. While caring for six children, Charlotte also wrote a biography for her father-in-law, William Greenleaf Eliot, who too was a poet that founded the first Unitarian church in St. Louis. In addition, he established George Washington University and the Smith Academy for Girls. Thus, T. S. Eliot inherently grew up in a well educated, bourgeois environment.

When T. S. Eliot graduated from secondary school at Smith Academy, he chose to study at Harvard in 1906. Eliot at the time wanted to major in philosophy, but always had a keen interest in poetry as well. In fact, at the age of fourteen, Eliot stumbled upon Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, a famous Muslim work that was translated by Edward Fitzgerald. The beautiful and intricate poetry inspired Eliot not only to write lyrical poetry, but also to study linguistics, which represented his appreciation for diverse and vibrant cultures. After a brief one-year break to the school of Sorbonne in Paris, Eliot returned to Harvard to attain a master’s degree in philosophy. In 1914, Eliot transferred to the University of Marsburg in Germany as a graduate student. In Europe, Eliot appreciated the culture and sophistication of both its people and history. When World War I broke out, Eliot moved to Oxford instead of returning home, disregarding his parents’ wishes. However, after a year in Oxford, Eliot left the school because he was disgusted with the campus. Despite this, in June 26, 1915, T. S. Eliot made his stay in Europe permanent by marrying Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Vivienne, an English woman, initially caught Eliot’s attention with her beauty and dancing grace; as time passed on, the marriage lost its magic. Eliot’s disillusionment with marriage could be seen through his attitude and writing. He wrote to friends that while his marriage began with excitement, his mental, emotional, and physical being withered after years of hostility and tension. Finally, after eighteen years of countless arguments and possibly numerous affairs, Eliot and Vivienne separated. Soon after, Vivienne died in a mental hospital, to the indifference of Eliot. In fact, Eliot was so unaffected by Vivienne’s death that he remarried in 1957 to a woman named Esme Valerie Fletcher. The relationship could be seen as scandalous: Esme was thirty seven years his junior. However, Eliot was content with the relationship, stating that for once, he “felt happier than [he] had been for years.” (Miller 218) They had no children together, but Esme stayed by Eliot’s side until his death. After seventy-seven years, Eliot died in January 4, 1965 due to emphysema, a result from his heavy smoking. On that day, the whole world mourned T. S. Eliot’s death, for he was one of the greatest writers of all time.

Social Context

T. S. Eliot was greatly affected by his surroundings. As a young boy, he grew up in an era that experienced tensions between the different classes. Although his family was very well off, Eliot saw distinct differences between various communities. He knew that while the upper class lived in wealthy conditions and the lower class in poor circumstances, they both had their similarities in problems and predicaments. Eliot was also very sensitive toward women, due to the caring and tender nature of his mother, Charlotte C. Eliot. Charlotte not only influenced him as a poet, but also taught him to recognize that women faced unfair inequalities. In addition, Eliot was exposed to the effects of war in 1914. Originally, Eliot had wanted to attend the University of Marsburg in Germany; but when World War I broke out, he was forced to change plans and study at Oxford in England. During this time period, Eliot experienced first-hand the life of the urban city, which inspired him to write The Wasteland, one of the greatest poems of his career. However, the biggest influence toward Eliot and his writing was his conversion to the Church of England. His love for his newly found home, England, could be found in the deep, religious themes of his poems written toward the end of his life. All these social factors in T. S. Eliot’s environment affected his entire being.

Literary Career

T. S. Eliot has written a variety of works, including both poems and plays. His collections include “Prufrock and Other Observations,” “Four Quartets,” “The Faber Book of Modern Verse,” “The Hollow Men,” and “The Wasteland.” Some of his more outstanding poems include “Ash Wednesday,” and “The Wasteland.” In addition to poems, T. S. Eliot also composed plays, such as Murder in the Cathedral, and The Cocktail Party. However, Eliot’s poems are the more significant accomplishments of his career.

Writing Style

T. S. Eliot writes with a variety of approaches. He mostly uses a complex prose or verse style, with simple yet penetrating phrases that give a whole new meaning to the context. Eliot’s free verse is especially very interesting, because they seem to have no definite pattern to them. Yet, when comparing all of his poems together, Eliot seems to have left a definite trademark of his writing in his works. For example, his words give certain imagery to them, one that is neither vague nor extremely apparent. Usually, Eliot focuses his writing on urban tawdriness, social malaise, and unease with women. There is also a trend that can be seen between the events of his life and his writing. For example, in his young age, Eliot addressed his severe disappointment in civilization, probably as a cause of World War I. Many of his poems, including his famous “The Wasteland,” mention the belief that society would self-destruct on its own due to a spiritual void of anxiety and boredom. Later in Eliot’s life, however, his writing style changed. His method became more freely associated with ideas and feelings, giving way to a vulnerable side that no one had ever seen of Eliot. Converting to the Anglican Church was probably the key factor in this, as Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” strongly reflected his strong commitment to Christian orthodoxy. Summarily, Eliot wrote ingenious poetry that showed off his expertise of rhythm and cadence. He indirectly reflected his own life’s experiences in his poetry, despite denying of doing such things. Literary critic Richard Ellmann stated that “Eliot was addicted to the portrayal of characters who had missed their chances, become old before they had really been young” (Epstein 222). Eliot’s writing style, thus, is very distinguishable due to its free verse, simple yet effective vocabulary, and similar themes concerning despair in emotion-less society and complicated relationships with women.

Thesis Paragraph

“Is it perfume from a dress/ That makes me so digress? / Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl./ And should I then presume? / And how should I begin?” (Eliot 277). As it can be seen in this sample of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T. S. Eliot usually writes of apprehension and anxiety towards women in his poetry. As a result of his upbringing by his mother, Eliot has a deep respect for women. However, in his poems Eliot usually writes with unease about women relationships. Specifically, he attacks the false ideals that most of society has with respect to love. Many of his poems refute traditional ideas of blissful love by turning the situation around to present actual situations that happened commonly in the era of his time. Thus, T. S. Eliot exemplifies the disillusionments of love with his poems.

Literary Criticism

“Nocturne”

During his early years, T. S. Eliot represented his ridicule of melodramatic romances with “Nocturne.” The poem, a petrarchan sonnet, alludes in both form and subject to the Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet. In “Nocturne,” Eliot jests at Shakespearean fans for glorifying these examples of meaningless love, which he feels is a poor representation of reality and life’s true relationships. Eliot modifies the poem by adding satirical humor. For example, he starts off the poem with “Of love, beneath a bored but courteous moon;/ The conversation failing, strikes some tune” (Eliot “Nocturne” 23. 2-3). The personification of the moon gives an image to the reader of a plain, dull moon that is only present to give the dreamy effect that all romanticists love. During this particular part in “Nocturne,” Eliot is setting the scene, although his slightly mocking tone forebodes of humorous mishaps to come. The words “failing” and “bored” relate to Eliot’s theme because it derides the passionate feelings that usually come out of romantic works. Eliot thus immediately portrays his opinions in the beginning of the poem.

In the middle of “Nocturne,” Eliot twists the plot by changing the suicide of Juliet into a murder, directed by the narrator himself. Eliot writes “Behind the wall I have some servant wait,/ stab, and the lady sinks into a swoon” (Eliot “Nocturne” 23. 6-7). Eliot’s knowledge of poetic devices shows, as portrayed in his numerous uses of alliteration within two lines. He suddenly changes the tone of the poem by bringing in abrupt violence into the piece. This unexpected distortion in the poem subtly pokes fun at the rash and impulsive decisions that romantic characters make. While the death of Juliet creates a dramatic scene, it has almost entirely nothing to do with the original storyline, and does not achieve a single productive result. Hence, “Nocturne” thus ridicules the melodramatics of Shakespearean, or general, romances for their rash yet foolish actions.

In the end of the poem, Eliot finishes “Nocturne” by directly addressing the exaggerated emotions of romanticists. After the death of Juliet, Eliot continues with “(No need of ‘Love forever?’-‘Love next week?’)/ While female readers all in tears are drowned” (Eliot “Nocturne” 23. 12-13). Essentially, Eliot parodies the senseless goriness with which readers entertain themselves. He finds it humorous that in most love stories, “true love” can arrive instantaneously yet disappear as swiftly as it had come. Eliot’s ironic combination of the phrases “love forever” and “love next week” exemplifies the theme that he is attempts to portray throughout the poem. In addition, “Nocturne” ridicules the ardent fervor of romantic devotees by describing their emotions with the hyperbole, “all in tears are drowned.” Certainly, by the end of “Nocturne,” the reader can discern that Eliot believes that people should be more reasonable and not fall for such fallacies.

Although “Nocturne” was written by a very young T. S. Eliot, it undoubtedly captures the attitude of Eliot that portrays in numerous other writings for years to come. From the start of his writing career, Eliot warns the public not to be deluded by the countless romances that over-dramatize love and its nature. Thus, by alluding to the famous Romeo and Juliet, Eliot illustrates his belief in “Nocturne” that one should look at love with a realistic, and not idealistic, point of view.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

In addition, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” portrays T. S. Eliot’s belief that the idealistic paradigm of love contrasts with the reality of relationships. Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” along with his compilation of “Prufrock and Other Collections” in 1910. Eliot further developed his writing style during this time period, creating his well known signature odes that can be seen in this poem. “Prufrock” describes the complicated relationship between a man and his long-time friend. The lover is a balding man, who although is assured that he and his friend have known each other long enough, cannot bring himself to propose to his friend, for fear of rejection. In the end, he grows old and lonely, having never confessed his love. The poem starts out calmly, leaving the reader to assume that the lady accompanying the narrator is his lover. However, by line 45, when Eliot writes “Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?/ In a minute there is time/ For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse,” the reader can assume that the relationship is much more complicated than what it appears to be (Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” 5. 45-48). This is a significant verse from the poem because it portrays the narrator’s hesitation to confess his love. His uncertainty fully embodies one of Eliot’s main themes, which is regret and wistfulness. While the author yearns to express his love, he is fearful that his actions will end things horribly, something that he cannot endure. The regret and anxiety that the narrator feels goes along with Eliot’s opinion that love in reality is troublesome and never perfect.

Another instance that exemplifies T. S. Eliot’s pessimistic convictions regarding love is when he writes that the narrator is in agony later in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” During this period, Alfred Prufrock continues to lament about his misfortune, for he is torn between declaring his love and suppressing his true feelings forever. For example, he thoughtfully contemplates why he is so attracted to women:

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I presume?

And how should I begin?

(Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” 6. 65-69)

The palpable longing in Prufrock’s words appeals to the reader’s sympathy. In addition, Eliot expertly rhymes “dress” and “digress” to create a rhythm and cadence within the poem, thus further appealing to the reader’s senses. With these combinations combined, Eliot presents a realistic view of how love acts in reality: Instead of being simple and effortless, the true nature of relationships tare stressful and even cause emotional pain. Thus, by using the agony of Prufrock as an ethos, T. S. Eliot demonstrates that love is disillusioned in society.

Finally, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” finishes off with a tone of complete nostalgia and regret. While the beginning of the poem started off in a pleasant, soothing manner, by the end Prufrock has a voice of defeat and sorrow. He becomes very wistful, wondering whether it would have been worth confessing after all. Eliot writes:

And would it have been worth it all, after all,

Would it have been worth awhile,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail

Along the floor-

And this, and so much more? –

(Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” 9. 97-103)

The poignant tone of Alfred’s voice once more appeals to the reader’s sympathy, which further emphasizes Eliot’s belief that love is not uncomplicated. It should also be noted that Eliot only rhymes the last two lines, which not only gives the poem cadence but is also a common characteristic throughout the entire work. The statement essentially portrays the narrator’s regret of never confessing his love. Although he is content enough with the blissful memories, he questions whether it would have been better to profess and lift the burden that burdens him now. Eliot ends his poem with this question hanging in mind, so as to show that the misery of Alfred Prufrock will never end until he dies. Thus, love in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is not as easy as depicted in stereotypical romances, according to T. S. Eliot.

To summarize, T. S. Eliot portrays a more realistic tragic love story in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” compared to “Nocturne.” His writing style is more fully developed at this point, which in this case is characterized by odes and free verse. T. S. Eliot once more displays his discontent in erroneous views of love and shows that relationships usually are imperfect and heartbreaking. Thus, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” exemplifies Eliot’s opinion about the flaws of idealistic love.

“Portrait of a Lady”

As a final point, T. S. Eliot proves that love is disillusioned in society by writing “Portrait of a Lady.” The poem, which was written in 1925, is very similar to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in that they both are composed of lyrics with complex stanza forms. The poem makes numerous allusions in both French and classical music: for example, the famous Preludes by Frederic Chopin are mentioned. The combination of romance languages and sophisticated melodic compositions create an effect of classiness and elegance, despite the theme that the poem presents. Within “Portrait of a Lady,” Eliot discusses the abstruse relationship between a man and an older woman. The man, who must separate from his older beau, seems trapped because the woman wishes to still correspond. Most likely, the relationship formed on false pretenses for the advantage of the man, because one can tell that the woman is very well off. For example, in line 15, the narrator initiates the poem with a description of the woman’s house:

Among velleities and carefully caught regrets

Through attenuated tones of violins

Mingled with remote cornets

And begins.

(Eliot “Portrait of a Lady” 55. 15-18)

The very delicate nature that the poem takes on in the beginning sets a scene of tranquil elegance. However, T. S. Eliot cleverly introduces a foreboding of conflict with the words “velleities” and “regrets.” The reader can discern from such a verse that “Portrait of a Lady” will be slightly obscure, because the tone does not noticeably match up with the issue presented. When further analyzed, one can also tell that the conflict at hand represents complications, a point that Eliot made about relationships. Thus, within the beginning, “Portrait of a Lady” already demonstrates the realities and difficulties of relationships.

Furthermore, T. S. Eliot goes on to describe the hardships of life and its regrets in “Portrait of a Lady.” A common theme that can be found in Eliot’s poems is the nostalgia and regret that is reflected upon in old age. Drawing from the perspective of the man, Eliot incorporates dialogue into the poem to make the wistfulness all the more realistic. For example, in one scene, the woman speaks to teach the man the importance of life:

‘Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know

What life is, you who hold it in your hands’;

(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)

‘You let it flow from you, you let it flow…’

(Eliot “Portrait of a Lady” 56. 44-47)

From this verse, the reader can tell that the woman has had much experience in her life about the meaning of friendship. Her wisdom derives from her old age, which makes her seem the more superior and sophisticated one out of the relationship between her and her beau. Such a relationship was exactly the type of contrast that Eliot wanted to achieve with romantic archetypes; during Eliot’s era it was more common that men dominated relationships and provided most of the wealth. The poem thus reflects Eliot’s belief that love is a complicated and adverse matter.

Lastly, “Portrait of a Lady” deliberates over the complications of relationships, specifically through the age difference between the narrator and his older love. Eliot emphasizes his point that relationships in actuality are complex and contain certain motives, unlike the innocence and happiness they are credited for in stereotypical romances. With “Portrait of a Lady,” the man must separate from his beau, although the woman believes that she is near her end anyways. She tells the narrator:

But what have I, but what have I, my friend,

To give you, what can you receive from me?

Only the friendship and the sympathy

Of one about to reach her journey’s end

(Eliot “Portrait of a Lady” 58. 64-67)

The sadness yet knowing tone of the woman gives a sense of an inevitable end to the relationship between the man and woman. Although later in the poem, the narrator shows that this is what he wanted all along, the statement still does justice by displaying the complications of relationships. Along with refuting generalized ideas of love, Eliot too gives the message that personal friendships should not be based upon false pretenses.

To conclude, in “Portrait of a Lady” T. S. Eliot teaches the reader the complexity of love and refutes stereotypical paradigms.

Conclusion

The styles and themes of T. S. Eliot’s poetry brought him up to achieve the fame and esteem that he has now. Eliot’s poetry was not only well constructed, but it consistently had thought provoking material that was open to various interpretations. Specifically, throughout many of his poems, Eliot concentrated on attacking the erroneous and stereotypical based beliefs of love and its nature. He believed that love itself was a complicated affair, which he described intensely and effectively in his poetry. These certain poems include “Nocturne,” which he wrote at a young age; “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which portrayed not only Eliot’s opinions but also demonstrated the potential of his writing; and lastly “Portrait of a Lady,” which included the most inextricable motives out of all three. All these works tie in to state Eliot’s frustration with society’s conviction that relationships and friendships are a simple affair: in fact, they are based on ever-changing motives and cause tension socially. As T. S. Eliot once said, “poetry…is the ideal medium for expressing intense and universal emotions of spiritual states” (“T. S. Eliot” CD-ROM). Certainly, T. S. Eliot effusively reveals his message of the disillusionments of love with his poems and spectacular writing style, making him one of the best poets of all time.

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