Introduction #1: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
By T. S. Eliot
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is filled with ethereal imagery of lust, love, and time lost. The reader must make assumptions about if the time Eliot refers to is real or more a dream-like allusion to a sense of philosophical confusion as to how real love is defined in relation to lust. The symbolism used, also, such as of smoke and fog, and the personification of these cloudy adjectives make Eliot’s work very intriguing and give the reader a sense of the plot, which is most likely of a daydream of unrequited love or lust, but to a confused writer it may be both or neither. The divide between the two is what becomes very well demonstrated in the blurry question in the entire theme. That is “what is it”? In the first stanza lies this previous line, but Eliot preceded that very question with the suggestion not to attempt to discover just what “it” is. However, this is exactly what he does metaphorically and philosophically. Eliot, then most likely refers to having much time to find and have love, but in all this time it is never enough to answer the question of the fundamental difference between a more carnal and physical feeling and a more calm and stable state of relationships.
The piece is meant to be confusing for this reason, as it does pose a very philosophical and unanswered question by Eliot. It may be guessed that since he was quite young when this poem was written, he was still very uncomfortable with the opposite sex and his feelings of morality toward lust. Since Eliot studied philosophy extensively, he may have wondered if it was immoral to feel certain feelings for women that he had no intention of building a loving relationship with. It is probable that he was in a state in his youth that he wondered if lustful feelings could be carried on with a loving a stable relationship. No doubt this question is posed by many young men and his articulation and smoky, stylistically unique version of this question makes this poem a classic.
Introduction #2 “The Waste Land”
By T. S. Eliot
“The Waste Land” is written in such a way that seems more reminiscent of a Greek tragedy with several stages of the hero, or in this case several anti-heroes. Eliot, obviously, uses these different characters to pose as philosophical speakers with unique personas that consistently denote confusion and strife with different roles in a life misunderstood and seemingly hopeless. Eliot, also, alludes to different cultures and styles of writing, not only of the Greek tragedy, but others, as well. Similarly, the poem engages different tones and times and is almost musical in its use of dissonance and consonance in each part. The piece is very engaging in its surreal undertones of good and evil. The overall tone is more of a melody of the satirical nature of life itself while the undertones have more of a feel of the rhythm of good and evil underneath this satirical life.
Eliot most likely utilized his studies in philosophy and his understanding of the work of Dante to create such a controversial view of the sterility and Godlessness on earth through the ages and up to the time that this piece was written. His style and different use of structure from other poets’ works, is very notable and shows his blossoming writing abilities and disregard for the criticism of his innovative methods of exploring novel ways to produce this piece that is remarkable and unforgettable.
Introduction #3 “Gerontion”
By T. S. Eliot
“Gerontion” is a very interesting work by Eliot utilizing the speaker as an older man, who had seen much and known many through his life. The theme is that of the fact that a person can know others and still never know everything about them in the mysterious world that one lives in. Similarly, the speaker seems very nostalgic of his youth and realizes that even his own memories have become hazy and unreliable in his own mind. Therefore, the plot, also, allows the fact that one cannot truly now themselves completely for this reason. Like other of Eliot’s poems, the tone is dark and dreary with imagery of loss and loathsome understanding of the human condition. There is a cyclical movement to this work that correlates with the cyclical explanation that the speaker gives for his own ghost. This speaker reveals that he must come to face himself and what he had done or not done in his life at the end of it. He must, also, let go of the notion of knowing and embrace the fear of not knowing oneself or others truly and completely while shedding ideas of courage and heroism as they are more of a mirage in this shadowy world that he alludes to in this piece.
No doubt Eliot in his own anxieties in his own life wondered about how to overcome his own fears and came to the conclusion that everyone must be alike in this one fundamental way. While Eliot realizes that one person cannot completely know another and that one cannot completely know themselves, this must have been the product of his inquiry into his own perpetual nervousness and inability to explain it. Like his other works, Eliot uses his poetic genius to explore the darkest recesses of his own mind and his own fears to produce works that inspire and lead others to inquire, as with “Gerontion”.
Introduction #4 “Sweeney Among the Nightingales”
By T.S. Eliot
“Sweeney Among the Nightingales” is an intriguing and very well-woven piece of an ordinary man with an extraordinary encounter with two strange women. The speaker is a dull zookeeper with the name Apeneck Sweeney with almost animalistic qualities, himself. The theme, then is one of man and his basest desires and instincts. This character desires a simple life out of the simplicity of it and the likeliness of survival by avoiding strange and new encounters. The plot twist of this ordinary zookeeper and his encounter with two strange women sets a tone of mystery and suspicion. The man can chose his more animal and carnal instincts toward the opposite sex or chose to remain safe as he is with no outside predators (the women) that can do him potential harm.
This work is quite a bit shorter than Eliot’s other works and is beautiful in its simplicity. The repeating pattern in Eliot’s works of desires and instincts can be noted here, though there is no confusion what-so-ever in this piece. Although it is mysterious as much of his works are, there are no questions posed here, leading one to believe that Eliot had become more comfortable and less anxious in his own life at this time. Similarly, it seems that Eliot has taken his philosophical studies to a more Darwinian and scientific point in his life, where the human condition and the animal condition are one and the same. This comparison of man and beast is very compelling and telling of Eliot’s state of self at the time of the creation of “Sweeney Among the Nightingales”.
T. S. Eliot Collection at Bartleby.com. Accessible online <http://www.bartleby.com/people/Eliot-Th.html>. Last Accessed 28, May 2008.