T.S. Eliot: Poems Background

T.S. Eliot: Poems Background

T.S. Eliot is perhaps the most influential modernist poet and one of the most eminent poets in the English canon. In 1948, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Eliot's personal life, growing urbanization and the advent of World War I were important contextual factors which influenced the treatment of individuals, society and morality in his poetry. The relative obscurity of the fragmented imagery and structure of his oeuvre contributes greatly to its richness and complexity.

One work that epitomizes the widespread uncertainty amidst such contextual change is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, published in 1915. One of Eliot's defining works, the poem's persona is representative of the 20th century Everyman, paralyzed by inaction and hesitation amidst a rapidly changing post-industrial context. The inability to achieve a cohesive sense of self in the modern age is further explored in Rhapsody on a Windy Night (1917).

The Hollow Men (1915) marks a shift in Eliot's poems to a more overt discussion of futility and alienation. His masterpiece poem, The Waste Land (1922), one of his most interpreted and analyzed works yet, is a further exploration of these central themes. The distress wrought by WWI upon the 20th century psyche is evident in fragmentary images and disjunctive structure of these poems.

Eliot's later poems, including The Journey of the Magi (1927), become more unified and linear in their imagery and structure. Magi deals primarily with the doubt and uncertainty in the wake of spiritual or religious conversion. The poem is an extended allusion to the Nativity tale, an example of the intertextuality that pervades Eliot's entire oeuvre.

Generally regarded as one of the major poets of the modern era, Eliot fostered a reputation that grew to legendary proportions in his own lifetime. He revolutionized the literary tradition bequeathed by the Romantics and the Victorians by the radical innovations he introduced in poetic technique. He is the harbinger of modern English literature and is one of the most respected critics of the present day. The relatively recent period of English Literature may come to be known as the age of T.S. Eliot.

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