A letter to a friend preparing for their exam on TS Eliot Essay Sample
How are you? Don’t stress too much on your English exam on you’ll begin to grow a ‘bald spot’ (if you haven’t realised, that phrase is from Prufrock). Well, let me assist you by revealing my feelings and analysis on TS Eliot’s issues and concerns. Since I’ve only studied ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, ‘Portrait of a Lady’, ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ and ‘Preludes’, I’ll be relating my explanation to those poems.
The human conditions that Eliot represents are trivial, struggle, pessimism, depersonalisation, despair and desolation. His views of women are misogynistic and being involved in sordid activities.
Eliot’s poems deal with the psychological impasse of the sensitive person from whom life has been withheld. Both ‘Prufrock’ and ‘Portrait of a Lady’ depict self-conscious, philosophical characters who are unable to act and fear the chance of acting. As portrayed in ‘Prufrock’ the character is hesitant yet questions actions that are risky and difficult: “Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?” He is unable to act through the limitations of his inner self but is equally limited by the ‘social’ standards and public views of life.
Prufrock struggles with the concept of asking the “overwhelming question”. This may refer to one of the women in the room whom he is unable to ask to marry him. The male observer in ‘Portrait of a Lady’ also illustrates his inaction, apathy and numbness towards the older lady with whom he has a detached relationship. The imagery of the fog that is personified in ‘Prufrock’ suggests the vacillation of humans deciding to act. The fog merely lingers outside and eventually ‘curled about the house, and fell asleep’. Both characters are confronted by the difficulty of action rather than its unpleasantness. ‘Prufrock’ and ‘Portrait of a lady’ conveys specifically emotional inaction while ‘Preludes’ illustrates physical inaction, as the woman in the third stanza struggles sluggishly to pull herself out of bed.
The observers within Eliot’s poetry are depersonalised, passionless and unemotional, although conforming to society’s social standards. After the socially acceptable conventions of “the cups, the marmalade, the tea”, “the porcelain” and “some talk of you and me”, Prufrock is still unable to connect to the woman in any meaningful level. The man in ‘Portrait of a Lady’ doesn’t respect the lady’s heart poured emotions of her lonely and empty life and finds her voice annoying like ‘cracked cornets, hammering a prelude of its own’. Despite this, the young man is entirely reasonable by social standards. This demonstrates Eliot’s concern with the public and private self and the contradictions between them.
In Eliot’s early poems he suggests that mankind is self-masking, implying that mankind’s public persona is false or empty. In ‘Prufrock’, Eliot displays the emptiness of the masks people create, in a sense that you have “to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”. The “masquerades” is put on as “time resumes” in human lives as shown in ‘Preludes’.
Eliot conveys that the inner self is both hidden and isolated from everyone else. The question remains hidden and isolated within Prufrock while the observers in ‘Portrait of a lady’ and ‘Rhapsody’ are alone in their fantasies and daydreaming. The notion that everyone’s private egos are separated clarifies why Eliot’s characters struggle to convey or express true meaning. Eliot suggests that the gulf between human beings’ inner egos cannot be bridged and that is why his characters are unable to reach out. Prufrock perceives that it is too intricate to truly express the meaning of the inner self: “it is impossible to say just what I mean!”
In ‘Rhapsody’, Eliot shows that there is no escape from the world within. “Memory”, the lamp reminds him, “you have the key”. The memory is the “key” to the imprisoning life which he has to prepare for, the unalterable reality.
Eliot confirms that he is concerned with human condition and the realistic limitations of that condition. The limitations in the real world mean that the desires of all the characters cannot be satisfied or fulfilled. ‘Prufrock’, ‘Preludes’, and ‘Rhapsody’ depict melancholic contemplative characters who cannot satisfy their desires. For Prufrock, love is beyond his reach but still within his desires. ‘Portrait of a Lady’ exhibits a male observer who is perplexed about how to keep emotionally unscathed while rejecting someone who he has no use for. As the characters desires cannot be quenched in reality, most of the characters succumb to some other form. Through fantasizing or daydreaming, the individual escapes the limitations of reality, attempting to fulfill their desires and ease the pain of living. Prufrock wishes he had the freedom of “a pair of ragged claws” that are “scuttling across the floors of the silent seas”. He fantasizes about “mermaids” “riding seaweed on the waves” for he is unable to approach real women. Prufrock demonstrates the freedom of his imagination contrasted with the depressing “drowning” of reality.
Eliot’s poetry insinuates that life is sterile, unexciting, bleak and mundane. Life is characterised as repetitive and mechanical, through a monotonous routine. For example, in ‘Preludes’ the description of “a thousand furnished rooms” shows the automatic gestures repeated through each day. Living is portrayed mainly as painful in both ‘Preludes’ and ‘Rhapsody’. In ‘Rhapsody’, the character prepares life for “the last twist of the knife”. In ‘Preludes’, life is illustrated as an “infinitely suffering thing”.
Women are portrayed sexually in ‘Rhapsody’ and ‘Prufrock’. In ‘Rhapsody’, the prostitute lingers under a streetlight, and the door that “opens on her like a grin” represents the fascination and temptation of the prostitute to the observer. “Bare arms”, “bracelets”, “perfume”, symbolizes women as sex objects that make Prufrock “digress”. Women are fantasies just like the “mermaids”; they are temptresses and seductresses.
Eliot displays psychoanalysis by the constant images of blurred consciousness or semi-conscious objects and people. The yellow fog and in ‘Preludes’, “The morning comes to consciousness”. These images of blurred vision represent the lack of clarity and the degenerated consciousness and soul of mankind within the twentieth century. In ‘Preludes’ the imagery of fingers, newspapers and eyes constitutes the soul of the personified street, as the woman’s soul is constituted. “Human voices wakes us…” from ‘Prufrock’ and “Dissolves the floor of memory” from ‘Rhapsody’, creates a hazy image and a spiritual trance.
Eliot’s poetry is fragmented, full of rapidly changing yet recurring images that are visual, aural and tactile. He takes the readers on a journey through the mind and gives us a view of man’s condition in the modern metropolis. His style could be described as cinematic. He writes in a stream-of-consciousness style which is accentuated in ‘Preludes’ and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’.
The lines in his poems are irregular and have different lengths. Rhyming is not used regularly but rhyming devices are used to satirize a situation. The rhyming couplets in ‘Prufrock’ adds to the effect of the satire concerning the women discussing Michelangelo: “In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.” Eliot uses alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeic effects to intensify his description. For example, in ‘Rhapsody’ Eliot employs the alliteration of the ‘m’ sounds to intensify the words “memory” and “madness”.
That basically concludes my brief explanation on TS Eliot’s poems. I hope that it has at least helped you in some way in understanding Eliot’s issues in his early poems. Wishing you the best of luck on your English examination and hope to hear from you soon! Take care!