A Blogging Hiatus

Dear Reader,

I return to my little blog today, feeling somewhat repentant, for being so completely neglectful of you lately. Unfortunately, I’ve suffered two main impediments to recent blogging. The first one being searching for a house, in which to reside next year.Working out the demands of both rent and bills are fundamental, and unfortunately, I’m not mathematically or financially blessed as yet. My job search has been as productive as using Dairy Milk as a fireplace, and the demands of adulthood seem to have overridden my aspirations within my life as a student. But no matter; we have resolved the crisis now, and hopefully, someone will one day employ me. At this juncture however, jokes about the employability of English Literature graduates can be made, but that’s another post…

My second impediment however was more serious, at least in my eyes, because, I lost my inspiration to a chronic case of writer’s block that seems to have lasted at least two weeks. It’s rare for me to be completely unable to write for this long; usually a day, maybe three; not usually weeks. I couldn’t even seem to manage a small poem, not even something crude, adolescent and unsophisticated.

I stood in the mirror one morning and said “I have nothing in my head to say. About anything at all.” This was strange, because we studied The Tempest last week, and I adore Shakespeare. We also studied James Joyce, a man I have a love-hate relationship with. Usually, I could have written a lengthy explanation for this feeling of repulsion and adoration that follows Joyce, but this week, I couldn’t do it. It seemed too hard to put fingertips to keypad, and make something coherent, even amusing. But today, it seems much easier, and I think I shall be tackling Joyce, Robert Louis Stevenson, and finishing my T.S Eliot series at least sometime in the near future.

So, dear Reader, I apologise for my lengthy absence; but I promise, I shall be back tomorrow, writing about literary type things, instead of rambling on about why I couldn’t write about them at all.



Wandering Through “The Wasteland”: Part IV

To my mind at least, Part IV of the poem, “Death by Water”, is the most beautiful. It is composed of only ten lines, divided into three stanzas. As is so common in Eliot’s poetry, there is a huge amount of allusion, primarily to Phlebas, the Phoenician Sailor. As a mythological character, he seems to have influenced authors across the ages, including Shakespeare in his writing of The Tempest; Phlebas as a character is comparable to Alonso.

The most meaningful element of Phlebas’s character however is the way in which he died; he dies as a result of drowning. T.S Eliot uses water as a subliminal metaphor throughout the poem, representing fertility and the ability to resurrect; the dry nature of the waste land as described represents the importance of water. Phlebas’s death therefore is representative of a deeply spiritual death; something that is lacking throughout the poem. There are numerous references to meaningful, spiritual deaths throughout literature; again here, we can consider Shakespeare. Hamlet’s Ophelia drowns herself, her final words having already been mentioned at the end of Part II.

Phlebas- the drowned sailor (1)

Eliot makes reference in this passage to the idea of wealth, and material happiness, the very idea of which he attacked in Part III. “Forgot the profit and loss” is very striking, and contains a kind of ethereal quality; this feeling of floating continues in the second stanza of this section; “he rose and fell”, for example. The idea of a spiritual death adds a feeling of gracefulness to the passage, instead of the previously decadent and yet acerbic tone that precedes this section. This passage really compounds the feeling of change that has been, slowly, creeping into the poem; the change of descriptions occurs very slowly,  creating something comparable to a phoenix rising from the ashes.

The final line of this part is perhaps the most important however, almost serving as a warning for how people are living; how they are neglecting their spiritual lives, and how they are no longer as human as they once were. They are being degraded and being eroded.

“Consider Phlebas, who was once as handsome and tall as you.”

Eliot’s warning reverberates in the air here, it is perfectly clear, and unlike Eliot’s usual style, it is not a riddle; it seems clear that Phlebas is the example; an example of a lack of spirituality, and what becomes of those who waste themselves. Eliot tended to feel as though society was, as a whole, neglecting it’s duty to a God.

And so it seems that we are coming to the end of our little exploration through The Wasteland; the final part, Part V, “What the Thunder Said” compromises the last piece of the puzzle.


(1) http://www.tendreams.org/gleeson/Phlebas%20the%20Phoenician,%201951%201ac.jpg


Wandering Through “The Wasteland”: Part II

A Game of Chess (1)

So, today, our rapid little romp through T.S Eliot’s most complex and challenging poem continues, with Part II: “A Game of Chess”. To my mind at least, this part is far more focussed on one issue, when compared with the first part; in this part, chess can be considered as a metaphor for the strategic nature of the relationships between men and women which become strategic, mindless, and devoid of soul due to the demands of society, or one’s financial situation.

This part essentially divides into two; firstly, the relationship between the unnamed, but obviously affluent woman and her husband and surroundings. This relationship is described in lines 77-138. Many critics have suggested that this part, which essentially focusses on falsity, and surface values, was based on Eliot’s own relationship with Vivienne Haigh-Wood, his first wife. The woman in the poem is described as being coated in “synthetic perfumes”, and concerned with the “glitter of her jewels”. This materialist attitude is something that Eliot was profoundly alarmed by, especially when he was married to the aforementioned; his issues with intimacy extended into his marriage, and slowly, Vivienne deteriorated mentally. It is however important to note that she had never been entirely mentally stable, often recognised as being a woman of fragile health. Despite her increasing instability, Eliot refused to divorce her; he put her into several care facilities, and only remarried after Vivienne’s death in 1947. Many have suggested that this was less out of love, than out of duty.

As this first section of Part II continues however, the density of allusion continues to increase; there are references to Philomel, a key character in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and also one of the Greek myths. The content of this myth includes rape and mutilation, specifically the removal of Lavinia’s tongue; this creates a sense of claustrophobia, and the idea that justice can never quite be accomplished, because nothing she says can be quite understood. As mentioned in earlier posts, the theme of miscommunication is central to Eliot’s masterpiece. An oblique reference to Vivienne’s interpretations of the world follow, during the somewhat disjointed dialogue that one can assume occurs between the writer, and the object of his writing; this could indeed have been a conversation between Eliot and his wife. Line 138 references “lidless eyes” which is a bizarre reversal of the previous interpretations of vision, and the ability to see; ‘lidless’ suggests something is not correct and despite the eyes being open, nothing is really being seen.

Lines 139-172 are in my opinion much more interesting, purely because they represent a more ‘realistic’ kind of social anxiety that would have been present among the working classes. The working classes of the time would have been affected by the changes that the industrial revolution, and changing attitudes towards behaviour had brought. This is represented by Eliot’s perception of the two women, discussing a husband; overall, the tone is highly derogatory towards the woman who has deteriorated in appearance, due to several pregnancies. The ‘friend’ (and incidentally, main speaker),  makes continual reference to Lil’s husband, and his attitude towards her physical appearance, whilst also alluding to the fact that “if you don’t give it him, there’s others will”. Whilst he has been away (as most men were, during the First World War), Lil appears to have been dreading his return somewhat. Line 164 however is the most telling, particularly of Eliot’s potential attitude towards the situation Lil finds herself in: “What you get married for, if you don’t want children?”. The idea that Lil is merely useful for fulfilling her husband’s sexual needs, and bearing him children, can be considered an enormous feminist statement, especially in conjunction with the degrading attitudes that surround it.

Oil Painting of T.S Eliot (2)

The final few lines present a bizarre ending to this second part; the friend, is asked to dinner with Albert and Lil, and the use of “get the beauty of it hot” suggests an underlying message contained within that social call. Philandering husbands have never been an uncommon phenomena, and post World War One was no different, because of the influence of “the bright young things” and the mantra of “carpe diem” that emerged as a reaction against the total destruction of so many young men. The final two lines of the section are also the final lines of Ophelia, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet; fundamentally, she drowns herself. Water, to Eliot is a key theme, representing spirituality and the ability to be reborn. The absence of water in Part I represent’s it’s corruption, and the final lines of Part II do begin to allude to the beginning of the end of this kind of corruption; the poem has not yet reached its true turning point, however the tension between the corruption and the resolution certainly begins to build, from Part III onwards.

I hope my T.S Eliot exploration is holding some degree of interest, although it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a useful revision for myself too! Hope you’re enjoying the blog series. The next post will, of course, be on Part III, “The Fire Sermon”.


(1) http://nettonet.org/Nettonet/101%20Painting/Studies/gris.jpg

(2) http://www.independent.co.uk/migration_catalog/article5081860.ece/ALTERNATES/w380/ts+eliot.jpeg


Wading through Shakespeare: “Othello”

Shakespeare’s collection of work is a vast and riveting one; however amongst the plays, I’d have to say that Othello  is my favourite. It has all the makings of a modern soap opera: the possibility of adultery, an impossibly attractive cast, the potential for racial abuse… it’s hard to know where to begin to count the ways in which I love this play.

I think my favourite element however would have to be the antithesis of the heroic protagonist; the unlikely military general, who emerges from royal obscurity, likely to be from southern Spain or northern Africa, who is well-known for his linguistic proficiency and the delightful nature of his metaphors. The plot is somewhat drastically altered however when the protagonist’s supposed friend (and haven’t we all got a “fr-enemy”?) seeks to usurp him from his position to become general himself. The ways in which he goes about doing this could alarm even the most devoted Hollyoaks fan, from deception of everyone in the royal court, to the assault of Cassio, the flirtatious nobleman, and finally, the ultimate refusal to confess:

“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak word.” - Iago’s final words

Othello and Desdemona (1)

There are few ways more stubborn to exit a play; the complete lack of remorse, and the ability to manipulate everyone in the vicinity of himself is worthy of applause. I consider Iago my favourite villain, purely because he is perfectly timed, in terms of placing tiny hints and clues across the landscape of what ultimately becomes destruction, despite its aesthetic beauty, in Cyprus. The juxtapositions found across Shakespearean literature remind the audience of the decadence of the Elizabethan period, and the rather beautiful paradoxes of circumstance that are symbolic of the nature of revenge tragedy.

Desdemona, in comparison with Othello, can be considered from a feminist perspective. Is she a passive character, playing more of a symbolic role than anything else, a possession to be passed about? Or is she a character who is completely instrumental in her own downfall? Personally, I find it to be the latter. The naivety of her character infuriates me, because looking back from a modern perspective, I feel as though she should have tried a little harder to understand why Othello was behaving in such a repulsive and cagey manner. She applies herself in no particular way, and so from my very modern viewpoint, I wanted her to look a little further, and put the jigsaw puzzle together, before she became a victim of her own circumstances. She is smothered, in a perversely kind way, by her husband. His unwillingness to break her skin or violate her in any way is symbolic of her purity and subsequent lack of progression into the adult world.

Tragedy tends to emerge from outside circumstance, sometimes not even in conjunction with internal factors. (Courtesy of Professor Nick Groom)

I hope you get to watch the adaptation and read the play, because it’s a brilliant example of the classic revenge tragedy.


(1) http://sarahalicewaterhouse.wordpress.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wpeditimage/img/image.png