T.S. Eliot: Persuasive

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Understanding written material requires careful analysis of the society, culture, and context in which it was composed. Neglecting this can result in disregarding the work as insignificant or without meaning. T. S. Eliot, a celebrated poet during the interwar era, sought to avoid such perceptions by introducing his distinctive concepts, employing precise language, and leaving a lasting impact with his Modernism movement. As a result, Eliot revolutionized poetry and remains influential even today.

The Nobel Prize-winning poet’s innovative and unique style is renowned for presenting an unbiased view of the world. Eliot’s poems ‘Journey of the Magi’ (1927) and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ (1920) delve into the fragility of the human mind, showcasing the fragmented and alienated outlook of writers in the Modernist era. These works also exemplify Eliot’s distinctive and abstract writing style, while simultaneously reflecting the values and societal norms prevalent during that time. In ‘Journey of the Magi’, Eliot employs a dramatic monologue narrated by one of the Three Wise Men, who reflects on their renowned journey to witness Jesus Christ’s birth as described in Matthew’s Gospel. Through this poem, Eliot illustrates how personal experiences can shape perspective, emotional stability, and one’s spiritual journey towards conversion to Christianity.

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In this text, the use of metaphoric language, imagery, and anachronistic symbolism explores themes like spirituality and death and rebirth. The speaker is a Magus who has returned home after many years, which gives the poem a conversational tone. By adopting this perspective, Eliot creates a personal tone that reflects the speaker’s uncertainty, frustrations, confusion, and troubles on their spiritual journey. This helps the reader fully experience and empathize with the challenges faced by the speaker.

The critics believe that the Magus who narrates the story is a stand-in for Eliot himself, as he expresses feeling uncomfortable living with unfamiliar people after converting to the Church of England two months before releasing the poem in 1927. This conversion bewildered Eliot’s family, friends, and colleagues, who may have been the voices criticizing his decision. Eliot plays with the Magus’ contemplation of whether they were led on this journey for the purpose of birth or death.

At first, the concepts are complete opposites, but as the Magus repeats and restates this notion, the barriers between the two begin to crumble. The concept of birth and death holds a crucial belief in Christianity: when one individual passes away, another is reborn. It is essential to comprehend this idea fully in order to appreciate the poem. The entire journey can be likened to a process of dying and being reborn. The initial stanza depicts a harsh, hostile, and brutal environment set during “the very dead of winter” (5), which resembles death. The Magus expresses frustration through the repetition of “and” (12-15) and self-doubt through mentions of voices (19-20), which intensifies the overwhelming atmosphere. The second stanza marks the moment of rebirth with the Magus arriving at a “temperate valley” (21). It contains religious references to the crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary, symbolized by “three trees on the low sky” (24) and allusions to Romans gambling for Jesus’ robes at His death and Judas’ betrayal with “dicing for pieces of silver” (27). Additionally, a literal birth occurs in this stanza – the birth of Jesus. The third stanza poses the question “Birth or Death?” (36).

The Magi’s journey mirrored death as they abandoned their luxurious lifestyles and embraced a new religion. However, returning to their kingdoms did not bring the rebirth they anticipated, causing the Magus to long for another death. The poem contains significant symbols of Christianity that, without understanding, readers may find confusing and insignificant. These symbols contain deeper messages within the poem. “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” is a free verse lyric poem that captures emotionally intense and surreal images of the gritty midnight streets. The title reflects the poem’s irregular form but is ironic as it fails to convey a joyful mood. “Rhapsody” does not express feelings or thoughts in a conventional way and explores the fragmentation and alienation of the modern world, depicting themes of isolation, hopelessness, and insanity.

Without a proper understanding of these Modernist values, T. S. Eliot’s work would consist of a peculiar and disordered combination of imagery and sounds. In this poem, Eliot establishes the persona’s role as a representation of the isolation and alienation experienced by human beings. As evident from the loner status of the persona, the world that their eyes observe also reflects feelings of solitude, deterioration, and a lack of communication. Remarkably, the street lamp becomes the sole ‘speaker’ in the poem, emitting a sputtering and muttering sound (which is quite absurd) and instructing the persona to inspect their surroundings as they approach each pool of light it casts.

The woman in the doorway, possibly a prostitute, does not approach the unman form. Instead, she hesitates towards him, unable to initiate human interaction. This lack of communication and physical contact highlights the alienation and isolation experienced by the unman as they navigate through the modern world alone. Throughout the poem, there is a recurring motif of time calls, such as “Twelve o’clock”, “Half-past one”, and “Half-past two”, which further contributes to the sense of impersonality and fragmentation.

Eliot accentuates fragmentation, isolation, hopelessness, and insanity by employing imagery and allusions to portray the entire setting as “twisted,” “crooked,” “broken,” and decaying. At first glance, one might interpret this as a depiction of an individual leisurely returning home after a night out. Nevertheless, this extended four-hour “stroll” (commencing at midnight) displays peculiar conduct, intensifying the evident sense of hopelessness and loneliness experienced by the persona. They consciously delay returning home because they perceive their dwelling to be equally empty and desolate as the world through which they have been journeying.

The text highlights that individuals are instructed to return to a desolate place, characterized by a single “tooth-brush hands on the wall”, in order to sleep and prepare for a purposeless life. The persona in the poem has been unable to find meaning, resulting in a harsh and final blow. To fully grasp the poem, readers must make an effort to comprehend the Modernist writing values of fragmentation, alienation, and the significance of themes such as isolation, hopelessness, and insanity. Failing to do so will leave them feeling as if their brain is twisting and decaying while they try to understand Eliot’s portrayal of a grim setting.

Poetry can be difficult to read and analyze. However, by exploring the writer’s context, society, and culture during the time of its creation, readers can develop a deeper comprehension of its style and complexities. T. S.

Lilies hold an unparalleled sway over poetry, and their elusive and inventive ideas can be confusing to those who do not delve into their knowledge of the Modernist era and the poet’s personal values when crafting pieces like ‘Journey of the Magi’ and ‘Rhapsody of a Windy Night’. This mistreatment is unfair for such poems. It is our duty, as readers, to make an endeavor to grant poetry the acknowledgment and admiration it deserves. By doing so, it will overcome the doubt of those who dismiss it as mere empty chatter and find a rightful place in their hearts as imaginative and meaningful works of Literature.

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T.S. Eliot: Persuasive. (2018, Feb 26). Retrieved from


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