T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) was a renowned poet, playwright, and literary critic who held dual citizenship of the U.K. and America. His poetry represented a departure from romanticism and embraced modernist expressions, questioning traditional values and norms while displaying a sense of cynicism.
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915) portrays a sense of decay and embodies one of the major philosophical traits of modernism. The protagonist, Prufrock, symbolizes physical and intellectual impotency, making him an anti-hero. Insecurities about his appearance and spiritual pretensions add complexity to his character. The poem also mocks Prufrock's misplaced sense of pride when he compares himself to the vast universe.
"Hollow Men" (1925) reflects the hollowness and ignominy of life that seems irrevocable. The poem depicts an uneventful existence where people find no deliverance from their personal hells. It mirrors the broken modern life, devoid of heroism.
"The Waste Land"
"The Waste Land" (1922) is a modernist poem divided into five parts:
- The Burial of the Dead
- A Game of Chess
- The Fire Sermon
- Death by Water
- What the Thunder Said
The poem portrays fragmented humanity in the aftermath of World War I. It alludes to classical literature, delving into themes of suffering, damnation, ignominy, death, rebirth, lost ecstasy, and pain. Love, spirituality, infidelity, and decay are also recurring themes. It serves as a diagnosis of civilization's predicament and concludes with the idea that destruction leads to regeneration, echoing the notion of "Shanti" or peace.
Philosophical and Critical Works
Aside from his poetic achievements, T. S. Eliot wrote several significant essays. "Tradition and the Individual Talent" emphasizes the balance between tradition and individual talent. He argues that artistic creation cannot occur in a void but must draw from the past or tradition to establish literary lineage.
In "Hamlet and His Problems," Eliot introduces the concept of "objective correlative," establishing connections between living things and objects to convey emotions or meanings.
Notable Works and Awards
Among his other notable works are "Ash Wednesday" (1930), "Four Quartets" (1943), "The Cocktail Party" (1949), and "Murder in the Cathedral" (1935). In recognition of his literary contributions, T. S. Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.