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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is essentially concerned with the persona who can see the potential in life - the possible loves, joys, companionship and heroism - but is unable to act on his desires. The poem resonates on his inadequacy, the hesitancy in which he poses scenarios and then rationalises inaction. On this level the poem is a very personal poem of a sad and tormented man outlining his ‘love song’ to all to hear, wanting someone to see and understand his plight. On another level it is a critique of modern society; a place where inane social rituals prevail; a place where individuals are repressed, alienated and no longer in contact with a meaningful existence. Although ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ does not delve deeply into the alienation of a whole civilisation, like Eliot’s later poems such as ‘The Wasteland’ and ‘The Hollow Men’ it does point obliquely to the meaningless world of ‘tea and cakes and ices’ and the pretentious and superficial chatter of ‘In the room the women come and go/ thinking of Michelangelo’.

If the title suggests a potential happiness and involvement in life it is immediately undercut by the epigraph from Dante’s Inferno. These lines relate to Guido’s willingness to tell of his life after death to Dante as nobody had been known to ever return to tell. The imagery of hell parallels Prufrock’s own inner hell of isolation and lovelessness. Just as Guido is imprisoned in a flame, Prufrock’s inner self is imprisoned in a world where he cannot tell of his feelings and desires.

The sadness and tragedy of the poem is mainly due to the fact that Prufrock is conscious of his own inadequacy. He sees the inanity and superficiality of the social conventions that are valued by middle class society, yet he is too indecisive and lacking in strength to break free of these restraints and follow his desires. In the dramatic monologue Prufrock reveals his soul to the reader as he discloses his secret desires and wishes, but ultimately he accepts his own indecision and cowardice.

These ideas are explore through the poem mainly through the form and patterns of imagery.

The form of the poem is fragmented in the sense that different scenes of his life are juxtaposed with no sequential fluidity. The opening stanza is set in the back streets of the irreputable part of town and then is juxtaposed with an upper-middle class cocktail set (‘In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’). The persona is actively engaged in the first stanza, walking the streets and is a part of the action. The second and third stanzas do not have his active presence, but is rather his meditation on the world around him. There are certainly key words and images that link the poem and form a narrative, but the effect is cinematic, with readers given juxtaposed scenes like in a film rather than a flowing conventional narrative. Many of the scenes are from everyday life, but his repression by social conventions are conveyed predominantly through metaphor and imagery. The journey promised in the opening line (‘Let us go then, you and I’) is not a physical journey to make ‘his visit’, but a journey into Prufrock’s mind, following his stream of thought as he agonises over what he desires and of his inability to carry out any decisive action to achieve these desires. The form then is naturally going to be partial and fragmented as Prufrock’s mind leaps from one thing to another usually with the narrative being driven by images, repetition (‘And indeed there will be time’, and ‘And I have known ...’) and word association rather than a logical or argumentative design. For example, Prufrock’s thoughts on the girl who fails to understand him is set in the everyday middle class world of teacups, novels, shawls, sunsets and the final line ‘That is not what I meant at all’, is only linked to the next stanza of Hamlet and a Shakespearian Elizabethian world by the word ‘meant’: ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’. The juxtaposition of the domestic twentieth century world and the court of Hamlet is sharply contrasted and the only connection is to do with both Hamlet’s and Prufrock indecision, but this is narratively linked through the word ‘meant’ triggering off a chain of thought in Prufrock’s mind that moves him further along his monologue.

The use of questions throughout the poem (Do I dare disturb the universe? And how should I begin?) is a device within the form that shows Prufrock’s indecision; it shows him posing questions as a means to escape having to act with courage and decisiveness. The last questions in the poem, ‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?’, is used differently as it ironically posed by Prufrock who by this stage has accepted defeat and acknowledges his failures with his pathetic examples that fully show how the most trivial decisions frame his life.

The closing section of the poem is the most personal and tragic. It reveals Prufrock’s state of mind as he acknowledges his failure and withdrawal from life. The use of the personal ‘I’ - ten times in seven lines - makes this tragedy more complete; perhaps showing more than anywhere else in the poem the persona fully comprehending his alienated situation. Interestingly the final stanza shifts from the ‘I’ to ‘We’ and could suggest that he is not alone in his failure to live out his desires, while also suggesting that the ‘We’ represents the two sides to Prufrock, the ‘You and I’ of the first line, and refers to the two selves fighting in Prufrock - the indecisive, obseqiuous self and the one that desires to ‘murder and create’. Both are now one and the same: indecisive, pathetic and ready to ‘drown’ in the inane rituals of everyday life rather than pursue his mermaids.

One of the ways Eliot was innovative in his poetry was the way he created imagery that defamiliarised the reader with conventional portrayals. He often used incongruous juxtapositions that set up new relationships between words, forcing the reader into re-seeing the phenomena in a new light. Conventional images and associations are dismissed and readers are invited to re-examine their own preconceptions and values.

In the lines ‘When the evening is spread out against the sky/like a patient etherised upon a table’ he juxtaposes the usual beauty and romance associated with the evening sky with the sterility of a etherised patient awaiting surgery. This metaphor of paralysis serves to give an insight into the persona’s psychological state, showing his own inaction like the comatose patient, while also revealing that the persona cannot relate to the beauty in the world.

The metaphor of paralysis is closely aligned with other patterns of imagery that operate in the poem. Throughout the poem there are images of restriction and entrapment which encompass more specific metaphors like the fog-cat and insect metaphors. All these reveal the persona’s own sense of entrapment and his inability to escape social mores and routines. The insect metaphor (‘And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,/When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall’) reveals the persona’s state of anguish. He sees himself as being painfully pinned by convention, controlled by external factors and always on display as if his actions are constantly being watched so that he must present a proper face or facade to those around him. This fuses two main ideas in the poem where Prufrock is constantly self conscious of his own actions and presentation of self (‘Time to turn back and descend the stair,’With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-/(They will say:’How his hair is growing thin!’)’ and the need to act in accordance with social expectations: ‘prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’. All these factors restrict him, forcing him to behave in socially prescribed ways and eventually alienating him from his ‘other’ self that aspires to live fully.

This connection between the social forces that restrict and imprison Prufrock and his own self-consciousness accentuate his dilemma. The fog-cat metaphor presents the city as stifling and claustrophobic (‘The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes’) yet it also reveals the two sides to security and safety. The security of the familiar routines of everyday life are comforting and easy to accept(‘Curled once about the house, and fell asleep’), however it is also stifling and debilitating to the soul. Prufrock admits he would like to ‘murder and create’ and to ‘disturb the universe’, but the safety of the comfortable routines is too hard to break free from.

The fog-cat metaphor also relates to Prufrock’s own timidness and sexual repression. The sexual connotations implicit in ‘Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening’ gives way to ‘Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.’ Prufrock also prefers to retreat from action and desire, sleeping quietly rather than inviting sexual attention. This retreat from action is also seen in the crab imagery (‘I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.’) In this image Prufrock wishes to lose his human qualities, to be able to hide inside a shell like a crab and to scuttle sideways rather than confront problems directly. It is in many ways a longing for the uncomplicated and instinctive life, rather than the turmoil of human society.

The images of restriction are centrally linked to the way society forces the individual to act according to socially prescribed codes which seem to conflict with the more instinctive desires of the individual. This is shown in the image of restriction where the clothes of acceptable middle class society (‘My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,/My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.’) are confining and metaphorically restrict him to the point of being fixed, like the later insect image, and unable to act upon his feelings.

Also connected to society are the images of domesticity that form the world outside work yet reinforces the routines and ways of proper behaviour. Prufrock constantly compares his would-be world of action to the domestic rituals that he tries to interrupt (‘And would it have been worth it, after all,/After the cups, the marmalade, the tea’, ‘Before the taking of toast and tea’,). He is totally aware throughout that these inane rituals are superficial and pretentious, and acknowledges they form part of a superstructure that destroys the individual and though some lines are extremely ironic, it is still too difficult to break away from the comfortable security of knowing what to do each day. The domestic metaphor of ‘I have measured out my life in coffee spoons’ captures the unfulfilling and controlled nature of Prufrock’s life. His life is carefully calculated and lived in small and measured amounts. The coffee spoons are a direct link to the domestic routines that entrap him and highlight the insignificance of his life.

In the closing scenes of the poem Prufrock lists out the pathetic questions that life now has to offer. Instead of the dramatic and dynamic ‘Do I dare disturb the universe’, which encompasses the great metaphysical questions of life (What is the meaning of life and how should I live fulfilled?), it us replaced with ‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?’ The mermaids he hears singing are part of the closing sea imagery and represent all the sensual and instinctive longings that he desired in his life, but now states ‘I do not hink they will sing to me’. Accepting his inability to act upon his desires he metaphorically drowns amongs the ‘human voices’ that he had criticised earlier in the poem, accepting the social roles that are comfortable yet alienating.


1.1 Poem is also concerned with a more direct ‘question’ of Prufrock wanting to propose to a girl. It takes in the theme of romantic longing and erotic desire yet also the fear of never being able to fulfil the idealisation of love. The disparity between the potential passion and actualisation in life.

1.2 Poem of metaphysical desire and fear. Wanting to know the ‘meaning to life’, yet fearful of any explanations that might also destroy the ideal. No question is asked, only avoided at the beginning (“Oh, do not ask, ‘What it is’ “) and no answer ever given.

‘Do I dare disturb the Universe?’

Allusions and comparisions made to John the Baptist, Marvel’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’, Hamlet, Lazarus

‘I feel like a witness at my own absence’ (Jean Baudrillard)

Discuss how the persona’s way of perceiving the world contributes to the meaning of the poem.

The major ideas and issues explored in the poem,‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’, are encapsulated in the way the persona perceives the world. The persona finds the world hostile and alienating as on one level he perceives the possibilities of love and fulfilment, yet he is so stifled and controlled by social propriety, as well as his own self-doubt, that the realisation that life could be fulfilling makes his condition even worse. The persona sees a world of social conventions that appear banal and restricting of which he is a part. Though acknowledging their superficiality and ultimately alienating functions, he stills finds it impossible to escape from, accepting its safe routines instead of a life that goes beyond these comfortable parameters.

The persona is a middle-aged man of the upper-middle classes. He moves within a world of educated and prosperous people, the type of people society admires, yet Prufrock finds this life superficial and alienating. The persona percieves this world to be full of inane social rituals - drawing room parties where ‘women come and go talking of Michelangelo’ or afternoon soirees of ‘tea and cake and ices’. Ironically these cultural icons of a life of success and leisure are perceived by Prufrock to be the source of his suffering. He has been so shaped by this life of unoccupied leisure that he finds it difficult to escape from its comfortable mediocrity and ‘disturb the universe’. He constantly asks if he can ‘Dare disturb the universe’, to put aside these banal rituals to fulfil his inner desires of living life as an individual and seeking love, but finally rationalises his inaction by believing that this world is all life has to offer. This is shown in the lines, ‘I have heard the mermaids singing each to each/I do not think they will sing to me’.

Preludes

Poetic techniques are integral in presenting the main ideas and issues in ‘Preludes’. The poem is centrally concerned with the alienation of the urban masses and many different techniques are used to make this concern resonate on a number of different levels. Imagery, metaphor, rhyme and rhythm, and sound patterns all combine to reveal these people who are caught in the boring and inane rituals of waking, eating, working, and sleeping.

The poem is structured on a twenty four hour day and captures the cyclic monotony by starting at ‘Six o’clock’ in the first canto and ending in the same place in the final canto (‘At four and five and six o’clock’). Within these routines that appear inevitable, the people’s lives are empty and purposeless. This is evocatively seen in the cigarette metaphor of ‘The burnt-out ends of smoky days.’ These lives are burning away to nothing - the butt end is useless and extinguished and the adjective of ‘smoky’ also suggests a lack of vision and squallor.

Certain patterns of imagery appear throughout the poem; all suggesting this wasteland environment where life is controlled by external factors. The images of decay and disintegration (‘burnt-out ends’, ‘grimy scraps’, ‘withered leaves’, ‘broken blinds’) expose a world that is falling apart. For Eliot this goes beyond the visual squallor of living conditions to a purposelessness in everyday existence. The rhyming scheme and rhythm also contributes at times - feet/beat/street- aurally captures the movement of the people’s feet coming home drudgingly after work. The monotonous thudding sounds of the repeated monosyllables echoing their empty journeys.

The juxtaposition of incongruous images is also used by Eliot as a means of awakening or alerting the reader through the incongruity and inappropriateness of the images, to the disturbing ways that human life has progressed. It appears twice in ‘Preludes’ and both times involve the comparison between a natural and a more scientific or urban image. ‘The morning comes to consciousness’ denigrates the potential beauty of morning, with its promise of new life and energy, to a sterile medical term, which evolves into a image of a hangover when coupled with the line ‘Of faint stale smells of beer’. People wake up as if from a coma and need to rush to ‘early coffee-stands’ to start their days. The sterility and lethargy of this suggests that life in the city has lost contact with its natural rhythms and is consumed by the routines that ‘time’ demands.

A similar image appears in the third canto - ‘And you heard the sparrows in the gutter’. The beauty of nature and birdlife is relegated to the level of the city gutters, and more importantly it is connected with the only character that the poem focuses on and this lost of beauty and potential reflects her own personal view of herself and the world where she lives.

Another technique is the use of decontextualised parts of the body rather than representing people as a whole identity. The prostitute in the third canto is only hair, feet, hands; and the people rushing home in the first and final canto are merely feet. This shows the partial, fragmented lives they live; there is no sense of personal identity or spiritual wholeness and they are just the ‘parts’ that add up to no whole sense of a person. For Eliot this also transcends the personal and corresponds to the sense of fragmentation and breakdown in society that he explores in more detail in ‘The Wasteland’ and ‘The Hollow Men’.

Eliot constantly uses repetition. Sometimes it is the repetition of a single word or a longer phrase. ‘And’ is a favourite in his work and in ‘Preludes’ it is repeated continually to create to suggest the monotony and repetition of the activities, both in the tone and rhythms of the lines: ‘At four and five and six o’clock/And evening newspaper, and eyes’ The image of ‘vacant lots’ is repeated in the first and last stanzas and besides revealing the inherent emptiness of these lives the repetition links the vacant lots of city blocks to the vacant lots of earlier societies (‘The worlds revolve like ancient women/ Gathering fuel in vacant lots.’) to suggest that this condition is present throughout history and that there is nothing that can be done to remedy this situation. This is also reinforced by the cynical tone that the poem ends on. The repetition of the word ‘certainty’, in ‘certain certainties’, only reinforces the doubt of these certainties in life. In a pre-World War 1 world, where there was the certainty of the Bible’s truth or at least in human progress (a world before the influence of Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud), there may have been certainty and a sense of purpose, however in the urban environment of the 1920’s this had been shattered and the ‘certain certainties’ are a half-hearted attempt by the persona at assuring himself of things that are not there.

Metaphor and imagery create the scenes and evokes the feelings of the personas and characters in an indirect manner, however poetry also involves the sounds of the words to carry the same power. In ‘Preludes’, sound patterns are important in conveying similar concerns. The scene in the working class house is evocatively shown by the alliteration of the ‘s’ in ‘With smell of steaks in passageways.’ The repetition of the ‘s’ sound creates an olfactory image, showing the sizzling steaks filling the passageways and presenting both a homely scene of domestic meals and a stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere. The alliteration of the ‘b’ sound in ‘Broken blinds’ with its hard, thudding sound mimetically captures the sense of things falling apart. At other times consonance is used, such as in the line, ‘A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps’, to evoke through sound the image of the horse stamping his feet as the cold air issues out of his mouth. Rhyme is another device of sound and is used at times to emphasise an image. In the rhyme of ‘shutters’ and ‘gutters’ the harsh sounding double rhyme accentuates the disparity of hearing the sparrows in the gutters and links the woman’s life behind the shutters to the squallor of the gutters.

The way a poem is structured and the form used is probably the controlling device, and therefore can be seen as a poetic technique in presenting the ideas in a poem. ‘Preludes’ is made up of four separate cantos which can be read as individual poems. While exploring four separate scenes at different times of the day it is the position of the persona and his detachment or presence in each canto that contributes to understanding the poem. In the first canto the persona is a detached observer who merely present what is visual and never delves into the mind of a character or comments (not even obliquely through tone) on what is happening. This in turn adds to the mood of emptiness and helps to present the scene of alienation. The second canto starts off in a similar way but the last three lines (‘One thinks of all the hands ...’) reveals a voice that is reflecting for the first time on the alienated lives that exist in the city. The sterility and detachment of the images in the poem up to this point are given a more human face or at least there is a sense of lives that are suffering. This theme is taken up fully in the third canto where the persona is fully involved and addresses the prostitute (and perhaps the reader) in the second-person ‘You’. This creates a marked change from before and the accusatory tone involves the reader directly. The hard-sounding repetition of ‘You’ in the first three lines is confronting and personal and the scene and the events and feeelings shown are given more urgency - an involvement that was missing in the earlier two cantos. The voice does soften half way through the canto and there is sympathy for the woman who finds herself without meaning in the world as well as appearing aged and worn out. This sympathy culminates in the penultimate stanza of the poem where a ‘I’ figure comments freely: ‘I am moved by fancies ... The notion of some infinitely gentle Infinitely suffering thing.’ The poem has built up to this moment, where there is a presence that seems to care for the plight of humanity, however the final stanza undercuts this attitude dramatically by revealing that this is impossible and foolish.
‘Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh:
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.’

This suffering is a part of life and has always been so and nothing can be done about it. The cynical tone and attitude returns the reader to the emptiness of ‘vacant lots’ that appeared in the beginning and the poem ends accepting this final world view as the way of life.

Prufrock - Form

‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is a dramatic monologue, where Prufrock reveals his soul to the reader as he discloses his secret desires and wishes, and ultimately his indecision and cowardice.

The form of the poem is fragmented in the sense that different scenes of his life are juxtaposed with no sequential fluidity. The opening stanza is set in the back streets of the irreputable part of town and then is juxtaposed with an upper-middle class cocktail set (‘In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’). The persona is actively engaged in the first stanza, walking the streets and is a part of the action. The second and third stanza does not have his active presence, but is rather his meditation on the world around him. There are certainly key words and images that link the poem and form a narrative, but the effect is cinematic, with reader given juxtaposed scenes like in a film rather than a flowing conventional narrative. Many of the scenes are from everyday life, but it is conveyed predominantly through metaphor and imagery to convey how he is repressed by social conventions and in confession mode he reveals his anguish - ‘When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall’. The journey promised in the opening line (‘Let us go then, you and I’) is not a physical journey to make ‘his visit’, but a journey into Prufrock’s mind, following his stream of thought as he agonises over what he desires and of his inability to carry out any decisive action to achieve these desires. The form then is naturally going to be partial and fragmented as Prufrock’s mind leaps from one thing to another usually with the narrative being driven by images, repetition (‘And indeed there will be time’, and ‘And I have known ...’) and word association rather than a logical or argumentative design. For example, Prufrock’s thoughts on the girl who might misunderstand him is set in the everyday middle class world of teacups, novels, shawls, sunsets and the final line ‘That is not what I meant at all’, is only linked to the next stanza of Hamlet and a Shakespearian Elizabethian world by the word ‘meant’: ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’. The juxtaposition of the domestic twentieth century world and the court of Hamlet is sharply contrasted and the only connection is to do with both Hamlet’s and Prufrock indecision, but this is narratively linked through the word ‘meant’ triggering off a chain of thought in Prufrock’s mind that moves him further along his monologue.

The use of questions throughout the poem (Do I dare disturb the universe? And how should I begin?) is a device within the form that shows Prufrock’s indecision; it shows him poses questions as a means to escape having to act with courage and decisiveness. The last questions in the poem, ‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?’, is used differently as it ironically posed by Prufrock who by this stage has accepted defeat and acknowledges his failures with his pathetic examples that fully show how the most trivial decisions frame his life.

The closing section of the poem is the most personal and tragic. It reveals Prufrock’s state of mind as he acknowledges his failure and withdrawal from life. The use of the personal ‘I’ - ten times in seven lines - makes this tragedy more complete; perhaps showing more than anywhere else in the poem the persona fully comprehending his alienated situated. Interestingly the final stanza shifts from the ‘I’ to ‘We’ and couls suggest that he is not alone in his failure to live out his desires, while also suggesting that the ‘We’ is the two sides to Prufrock, the ‘You and I’ of the first line, and that where there may have been two selves fighting in Prufrock - the indecisive, obseqious self and the one that desires to ‘murder and create’ - both are now one and the same: indecisive, pathetic and ready to ‘drown’ in the inane rituals of eveyday life rather than pursue his mermaids.

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' is another of Eliot's poems that deals with an alienated character and the mindless, deadening routines of everyday life. 'Preludes' explores the drudgery of working class in the city, 'The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock' reveals the emptiness of middle class conformity, while 'Rhapsody' is an attempt to recover some lost self during a night walk, only to find that there is no escape and the persona must return to the banal routines of contemporary existence:

The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall

Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life

The last twist of the knife.

The poem traces the persona's solitary walk through the city streets between the hours of midnight and four. The night is meant to be a time when the more instinctual and imaginative sense of self are realised, as opposed to the nine-to-five existence that demands regularity and uniformity. In the opening stanza this is aligned with the image of the moon, with its symbolic associations with romance, creativity and the irrational. If an individual could regain some sense of self diminished during the day it would be during these late hours, however in the poem this spontaneity is diminished by the the mechanical movement from street lamp to street lamp, and later the poem is dominated by images of twisted and crooked objects, images of dryness and desolation and finally even the beauty of the moon is shown in an image of disease: 'The moon has lost hewr memory/A washed-out smallpox cracks her face.'

Eliot's poetry often presents the possibilities of beauty, psychological wholeness and a sense of redemption, but these are (at least in his early poems) undermined by the other forces that soon diminish these possibilities. 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' opens with the possibilities of imaginative redemption. Memory, which can be seen as defining a sense of self can relocate itself, 'dissolve' in the magic of midnight and the rationality ('Whispering lunar incantations/Dissolve the floors of memory') that dominates life with its 'clear relations/its divisions and precisions' give way to a more primal elements. This is shown in the savagery of 'fatalistic drums' and the personification of midnight and the incongrous simile of 'Midnight shakes the memory/As a madman shakes a dead geranium'.

After these possibilities the poem soon moves back to a more pessimistic view of life. The woman mentioned in the second stanza is a whore offering her body, and she is constructed in images of torn and twisted things - she has a torn dress, 'the corner of her eye/Twists like a crooked pin'. These images show there is no clear direction offered and things are falling apart. They also are the perceptions of the persona giving the reader an insight into his psychological state and waht could have the creative wanderings of the mind are reduced to be obsession with the distorted and purposeless things in life.

This is further accentuated when the persona's memory can offer little solace and only remembers images of desolation and dryness:

The memory throws up high and dry

A crowd of twisted things.

Everything remembered is associated with decay and disintegration - 'broken spring', 'rust that clings', 'a twisted branch ... stiff and white.' The world remembered is full of imagery that reveals the automatic meaningless graspings after what is useless: a cat reaches for rancid butter, a child for a stolen toy, a voyeur reaching for other lives ('Trying to peer through lighted shutters'), a crab reaching for a stick. All these reveal the meaningless, purposeless world that the persona inhabits, and in particular it explores how people search for things that will not bring happiness and contentment, a theme explored in depth in 'The Wasteland', and this is the condition of a materialistic world devoid of spiritual values.

It is this world where even the moon with its beauty, potential for romance and shedding the daytime self, is no longer a possible a source of escape. Now the moon is constructed as old and frail ('a feeble eye'), senile ('lost her memory') and diseased ('A washed-out smallpox cracks her face'). This is then connected by the persona with the world of the streets he is moving through, and there is only dryness, decay and claustrophobic images ('female smells in shuttered rooms/Cigarettes smells in corridors')

The final stanza ends with the persona returning to the everyday world where he must resume his ordinary world, with the night walk bringing no oslace or change to his life. The 'last twist of the knife' connects with the twisted imagery throughout the poem and shows the death-in-life situation of the persona. It is not the quick death of a penetrating thrust, but the agony of feeling the twists of the metaphorical knife of alienating routines.

Gender: The Wasteland

The Wasteland has often been seen as a poem that challenges the English poetic tradition and that its complex fragmentation and overlaying of voices and quotations serves to undermine hierarchical relationships by not privileging any particular voice or way of speaking or use of language. However a close examination of the discourse in the poem in terms of their social and historical significance reveal clear hierarchies that marginalise women and the working class.

The women in The Wasteland are represented in two main ways: firstly through dramatic presentation, and it is worth noting that to the extent that voices are identifiable within the poem, they are women. In addition to the use of first-person, these voices are clearly marked off by being socially situated, characterised in relation to precise social and regional settings. For example the upper class Marie in the mountains of Europe, the neurasthenic woman in middle class London, Lil's friend in a working class pub in England, and the woman on Margate Sands. This is in contrast to to the unspecific and ahistoric nature of the other voices (male) in the poem which suggests they are almost universals and therefore having broader and more significant cultural values. The construction of women also carry the stereotypical features of 'woman's language', traditionally associated with gossip, chatter, hysteria and childishness. They also fail to feature the density of literary overlay and allusion so characteristic of the poem as a whole, thus relegating them to inferior positions on the cultural hierarchy.

Through this the text hierarchises gender relationships , subordinating women to aspects of a cultural traditional that is devalued, while the male is privileged.

In the 'Marie' sequence ('And when we were children, staying at the archdule's/My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,/And I was frightened. He said, Marie./Marie, hold on tight. And down we went./In the mountain, there you feel free. I read, most of the night, and go South in the winter.' ) the overall impression seems to one of inconsequential chatter. Though admittedly recalling when she was a child she still uses short phrases and a simple vocabulary, as well as shifting abruptly to another topic. These features all ascribe to the stereotype of the female speech having these characteristics.

The women in the poem all conform to general stereotypes. In terms of content they feature traditional topics such as childhood, love affairs, pregnancy, abortions and trivial details of social intercourse. Lil's friend, the typist and the women on the banks of the Thames seem concerned primarily with sex and it could be argued that Eliot limits the female agency to matters of sex and childbirth. The women are not silenced in the text, instead they are garrulous, they chatter which again is a stereotype of woman's talk. Another aspect is the hysteria of the neurasthenic women who suffers badly from her nerves and find no purpose in her life ('My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me. Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak ... What shall we ever do?')

Another dimension to the subordination of women in the poem is that they speak in the less valued rhythms of everyday speech rather that the more elevated poetic metre of the males. In a poem full of dense literary and mythical allusions, quotations and references they are represented in the more mundane realm of the everyday. (Though the Thames Daughters differ slightly).

Therefore in the poem females are aligned with the spoken vernacular and a non literary tradition while the males are aligned with the more prestigious and valued discourse of the written and literary heritage.

This exclusion is part ot their cultural heritage where the vernacular is associated with women and children as they had no access to education and the classical languages such as Greek and Latin. If they are not so much excluded here it is certainly apparent in their separation from the framework of classical myth that Eliot constantly draws upon and most significantly, from the literary language itself, as marked by metre and allusion. In this women are decidedly marginalised while males are associated with discourses valued in intellectual society.

Madame Sosostris symbolises the way the great religious traditions have been replaced by the charlatan skills of a tarot-card reader, and some of the women such as Ophelia and Cordelia are abused as is Philomel, who in Greek mythology had her tongue ripped out to prevent her telling of her rape by Tereus.

Though the gender of many of the voices are not clearly marked it can be seen that there are male voices through traditional associations with masculine discourses. These discourses include the biblical and mythical which are traditionally marked both as part of 'high' culture and masculine by social and historical tradition. So the 'prophetic' voice of 'What are the roots that clutch' is linked by imagery, and by the address of 'Son of Man' to the Judaeo-Christian patriarchal tradition. A similar aura is created in 'What the Thunder Said', where there are no overt markers of the sex of the narrator, but which utilises mythical schema (Shackleton's expedition to the North Pole, the Chapel Perilous), which have little in common besides a masculine quest theme. There might be room in classical mythology for a prophetic female voice, and while ironically a weak and tired sybilline voice forms the epigraph, within the poem it only arises as a debased version in the form of Madame Sosostris, a domesticated and trivialised clairvoyante. There are no references to fertility goddesses, but instead the masculinist tradition is called upon in the figure of the Fisher King. Thus taken as a whole, the network of allusions in the poem itself hierarchises gender relationships.

The Wasteland

Many of Eliot's early poems concern the individual in conflict with society: the mindless routines that alienate those entrapped by social rituals and materialism. In The Wasteland Eliot for the first time deals with civilisation as much as the individual. He is reacting to a world without order and meaning, a godless and dying civilisation where the 'certain certainties' of traditional society had been undermined by Science, the theories of Darwin and Freud, the social analysis of Marx and the philosophy of Nietzsche. These come to a climax in World War 1 where the teleological belief in Science and Progress brings only greater destruction. It is a world that needs spiritual renewal according to Eliot.

The world portrayed at the beginning of the poem reveals a barren Western world of sexual and regenerative incapacity and Eliot turns to Eastern religion, in particular the Hindu philosophy of the Vedas, for an answer to the problems of the world: Datta (give), Dayadhvam (sympathise), Damyata (control).

The poem's major theme centres on the desolated land that needs rebirth. This is the Wasteland, a symbol of the Western world, a place that is culturally and spiritually barren.

The epigraph concerns the Sibyl of Cumae who was granted eternal life but didn't stay young. Eliot draws a parallel with Western civilisation which has evolved but not stayed young. Just like the epigraph it would be a blessing to die as death is a release but more importantly it is through death that rebirth can occur. Society must metaphorically die and be born again culturally and spiritually. Eliot is not offering any new radical world though. He is a conservative traditionalist who wants to draw on the finer aspects of tradition with its wisdom and be rid of the new faiths of materialism and Science. It is for this reason there so many allusions to a past world of literature and religion.

The poem begins with a meditation on natural, cyclical rebirth:

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

April is cruel as it is the beginning of spring, a time when nature resumes its regeneration of a parched land. This metaphorically represents an image of the modern world - a land in need of spiritual awakening. The dominant images throughout the poem are images of dryness and water, and these present the theme that like the natural world recycling itself through the seasons Western civilisation needs to do the same. In the first section the earth is barren, a place where nothing can grow: 'What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/Out of this stony rubbish? This is an allusion to the Book of Ezekiel in relation to the lack of faith but in this context Eliot explicitly connects it to the modern world that lacks faith and belief ('for you know only/A heap of broken images'). These 'broken images' are the remains of the past, traditional belief systems that are no longer intact.

The motif of rebirth through death as related to burial and the natural process of planting the seed in the earth is seen in the last part of the Section One when the speaker calls out to Stetson: 'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,/Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?' But at this stage no rebirth is possible and the speaker asks whether frost has disturbed the death bed and warns to keep the dog away in case he digs up the body.

The main problems in the modern world alluded to in the poem concern the lost of meaning and faith. In this condition people look for meaning in the external and superficial; in essence the material world. No longer is love a cherished, beautiful thing, but simply lust brings emptiness instead of fulfilment. The 'typist scene' portrays this poignantly. There is no love, passion or enjoyment in sex. The 'small house agent's clerk wants sex and does not even need her participation:

Endeavours to engage her in caresses ...

Exploring hands encounter no defence;

His vanity requires no response

And makes a welcome of indifference.

The act that has the potential for beauty and fulfilment is a sordid and mechanical act, leaving both empty. She passively accepts this and only comments 'Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.' It is more out of boredom ('The meal is ended, she is bored and tired') than any true feelings of affection and this boredom is repeated throughout Eliot's poems. Later in the "Fire Sermon' another sex scene is shown in a similar way:

'Highbury bore me. Richmind and Kew

Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees

Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.'

Love again is non-existent and is replaced with not even lust but a mechanical act of sex that derives from an emptiness within. In the modern world all the possibilities of love and fulfilment are unattainable as people have lost any sense of what can bring them real everlastung life.

This spiritual emptiness is shown in the scene where the neurasthenic woman talks to her lover/partner. They are constructed as an affluent, middle class couple who have financial security but live meaningless lives. She asks, 'What shall I do now? What shall I do? ... What shall we ever do?' On one level this concerns her everyday life which is unrewarding and she urgently looks for things to fill in the hours of the day, however it is also the metaphysical question concerning the nature of all existence, the human's place in the scheme of it all. Her sombre lover tells her the answer that reveals the dull routines of their empty lives: 'The hot water at ten./ And if it rains , a closed car at four./ And we shall play a game of chess,/Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.' The banal routines are shown and the only hope is that perhaps something new will appear, 'a knock at the door', to break up this tedium. Yet always waiting.

According to Eliot this state of affairs has resulted from modern society losing belief in religious/spiritual systems that had given a clear set of rituals and a moral code by which to live. This had occured due to the massive changes in society caused by the industrial revolution, the formation of large alienating cities where people no longer had a sense of community and performed mechanical and boring jobs where people were simply a cog in an impersonal wheel of mass production. Also Science had undermined religious belief and the inhumanity of the war had left people feeling that traditional beliefs were no longer relevant.

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