T. S. Eliot: A Tale of Two Countries
Today’s distinguished poet T.S. Eliot wrote such intellectually challenging verse that it is difficult to read his poetry without cross-referencing some of his imagery, He was a forefather of the modernist movement in poetry with it’s plain language, stark imagery and pessimistic tone as opposed to the more ornate imagery, flowery language and idealistic poetry of the Romantic and Victorian era. And it was a most pessimistic and complicated poem that gave him the claim to international fame and the Nobel Prize for literature. The name of the poem is “The Wasteland” which and in this brief excerpt from this 22 page poem Elliot aptly paints a picture of the bleakness of post WWI London, the hypocrisy of war and the emptiness of early 20th century man between the two World Wars.
Except from part one; The Burial of the Dead
One must be so careful these days.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!
This part of the poem is written in signature Modernist free verse with a touch of rhyme at the end, and I believe that at the end of stanza, the poet calls himself a hypocrite because of the similarity of his own sins to his friend’s during the war.
Eliot was a distinguished individual indeed, not just for his poetry and his brilliant literary reviews and criticisms, but also for his family pedigree as he hailed fro m one of the oldest founding families of Boston, Massachusetts, however he was born in St. Lewis, Missouri on September 26, 1888 since his family transplanted themselves to that Southern state to establish a Unitarian Church. So, being a family of Northerners living in a Southern state, Eliot felt like quite the outsider as a boy and also suffering from a congenital double in hernia which excluded him from playing sports with his peers, Eliot was an isolated child indeed, so he immersed himself the world of books and gained a deep love for literature. He eventually went to college and became a poet there in his own rite by writing and publishing his first landmark poem The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock considered to be his first Modernist masterpiece. Eliot went on to move back to Boston and to attend Harvard University as a Philosophy major where he graduated in three years instead of the usual four year, but his strong ancestral connections to England drew him to move to London where he was mentored by the great Modernist pioneer poet Ezra Pound and became a British subject and joining the Anglican Church on June 29, 1927. He died on the January 4, 1965 in London.