This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
The lovers of poetry and students of literature can never forget the most famous lines of The Hollow Man from the post modern poet T S Eliot.
I read poetry often especially when I get bored by fiction, for some reason Eliot’s poems are dear to me. His poetry, he once confessed had cost him dearly in experience.
I happened to read his biography by Peter Ackroyd where the relation between his life and writings is explicitly pictured. When I finished reading the book I was very depressed. Pages after pages there is almost nothing in this book other than his unsatisfied detached marital life with Vivien, her physical and mental illness, his aliments and depression.
“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak”.
We all feel lonely and unhappy many a times, but after reading his biography I felt this particular state of mind can be productive too. A life full of pains and aches, he himself declares that the two happy periods of his life is childhood and his second marriage.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) was an American-born English poet, playwright, and literary critic, arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. His poems are regarded as a masterpiece of the modernist movement. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. The poems I treasure are The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925).
The Wasteland “one of the most important touchstone of the 20th century” is full of myth.
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene.
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale allusion
The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out and biblical imagery.
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
He has lavishly used Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (1920) and Sir James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890).
The Golden Bough depicts old religion as fertility cults that revolved around the worship of, and periodic sacrifice of, a sacred king. Eliot picks the figure of the Fisher King legend here to describe the state of modern society, but in Eliot’s world there is no way to heal the society.
Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck
And on the king my father’s death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret.
Eliot had extensively read Hinduism and Buddhism during his troubled times. He draws on the traditional interpretation of “what the thunder says,” as taken from theUpanishads (Hindu fables).
Datta (Give): what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Dayadhvam (sympathize): I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Damyata (control): The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih
The depressive loveless life of Eliot is clearly stated in the opening lines of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” .
“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky”,
“Like a patient etherized upon a table”.
Prufrock has resemblance to Eliot himself
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair
— (They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin;
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Towards the end of the poem, Hamlet the depressed loveless character of Shakespeare also found a place in this poem.
“Now I am not prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two.”
Eliot himself declares that Alfred Prufrock happened in his loveless stage of life. The poem laments the lost opportunities in his life and the unattained carnal love:
And I have known the arms already, known them all
– Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
The meaninglessness of sex in the most negative form is depicted again in The Waste land …
we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
When Lil’s husband got demobbed,
I said – HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Now Albert’s coming back,
… I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army for four years; he wants a good time...
Here Eliot emphasizes sex as a bare human necessity, with no love, passion or respect between two individuals – the barren, waste, degenerating values of modern life. The Hollow Man evokes a total disillusionment and hopelessness of the generation. This poem from his early days “dried voices, dry grass and dry cellar” pictures the emptiness and the painful life he led.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw.
Alas! Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
Again we find the meaninglessness in
“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now?
What is the wind doing?”
Nothing again nothing.
“Do you know nothing?
Do you see nothing?
Do you remember “Nothing?”
Death and fear of death are the favorite imagery of Eliot’s poems. The first session of The Waste Land is titled as The Burial of the Dead.
“A little life with dried tubers”
“A heap of broken images”,
“the dead tree”,
“the dry stone”.
“I had not thought death had undone so many”
– lines like that just express so much for the readers.
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout?
Will it bloom this year?
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
illustrates the fear of death again.
“those who have crossed…to death’s other kingdom”
These people are given life by Eliot’s repeated mention of their eyes – total surrender to the inevitable, unable to turn away. At the autumn of his life Eliot married his Secretary Valerie Fletcher. After his death Valerie said, “He felt he had paid too high a price to be a poet that he had suffered too much.”
To quote Eliot “Let’s not be narrow, nasty, and negative. Though he paints a tapestry of emptiness, a world of pain, suffering, desolation and despair. He believes “DA” as the key to new life. Datta (give), Dayadhvam (sympathize) and Damayata(control). People should learn to love and give, should be able to communicate and sympathize with each other and sex should not be a wild act it should be an expression of emotion to create an everlasting bond of love to enliven the spirit of true life.