Humanity, 1910

Virginia Woolf is famously quoted to have said:

“On or about December 1910, human character changed.”

This infamous quote is perhaps one of the best summaries of the modernist period; a period in which nothing was entirely certain, and a period which changed the future of English literature permanently. The catalyst for this cataclysmic change can be considered to be any number of things; from Nietzsche’s revelation that “God is dead”, to the emergence of Darwinism. One of the most important facets of this change however is perhaps the First World War, a topic that I have previously discussed, in relation to Wilfred Owen. The nature of this war was destruction, in return for precious little result; indeed it can be argued that the First World War served as a kind of epilogue to the destruction that was to follow, merely twenty years later. Nevertheless however, the First World War altered our perception of mankind, and of ourselves, permanently.

The aftermath of the war was that society had changed in dynamic due to the horrific death toll; hardly a woman in Europe was left with both husband and son. Men were either too old to have fought, or too young to remember. These children however, began shaping the future of literature in a dynamic way; the canon of war poetry was not shaped by its creators, but it’s critics.

This can be said for all forms of literature, however in this case, it is particularly important, especially when one considers society’s revulsion towards those who had been left behind. Society seemed to abandon the injured, favouring instead to embrace the period of extravagance that followed in the 1920s, before the wrath of the great depression. These factors culminate to a society that was somewhat frivolous towards its criticism of war poetry, especially in England; patriotism was far more popular than the shocking realities that the poems of Sassoon, Owen and their counterparts represented. No nation ever really wants to remember its blackest hour, or relive the memories of it.

However, the idea of the changing human character resonates in one’s ear; that society could change so completely in such a short space of time is shocking. Victorian reserve was abandoned, and staunch Christianity was deeply questioned. Of course, who could possibly blame them for wanting to disband the society that had created the war that killed millions?

However, Woolf explicitly states that this change began to occur before the war began; a mere four years before, but indeed it was before. This early change was perhaps less marked at the time it occurred, and we are all familiar with the power of hindsight in relation to history. Everyone has wondered, “what if I could go back, and tell myself this?”; this is the futile nature of humanity’s retrospect, however.

It is, to my mind at least, completely fascinating that these changes and discoveries across the board colluded to make such a vital, almost fatal, change. The poets, artists, and novelists of the modernist period were unsure how to approach the new attitudes towards society and humanity itself, and this is represented in the deeply experimental nature of their literature, and art. Poetry was no longer of a solid rhyming persuasion; it was chaotic, changing in form, and almost a form of anarchy, reacting to what they saw outside.

Trying to make sense of this anarchy then, was the only way for these poets to progress; they no longer had the certainty that had existed not twenty years before; they no longer had the factual basis that so many great writers before them had, to act as a template. Within this evolving society, they too had to evolve with it; there was no place for the old ways, when they represented so much fear and anxiety. They were forced to push forwards, off the edge of the world, if you like. They had to jump, to find an ocean to which they belonged.

I think it was rather courageous.

(:

*I was going to find some modernist art, but my image up-loader seems to be affected! I’ll try to edit it tomorrow (:.

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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

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Wandering Through “The Wasteland”: Part III

So, today I continue my wander through T.S Eliot’s poem, after a short hiatus, and a busy period of reading. Charles Dickens’ Hard Times was simply screaming for my attention. Part III of the poem then, is perhaps the pivotal point; the point at which the meaning within the poem shifts, and begins to take on a more complex one, moving beyond simple descriptions of degradation and corruption, to a kind of death; a death of the spirit. The title itself, “The Fire Sermon”, is inspired by the Buddhist scriptures, something that Eliot himself was very familiar with, because of his excellent understanding of Sanskrit.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium (1)

The beginning of this section very much focuses on sexual degradation, a theme that began to emerge in “A Game of Chess”. There are some hidden references to the lifestyles of “the bright young things”, for example, “the loitering heirs of City directors,”; they lived lives of such huge excess, based around material happiness. This crisis of human nature emerged in the aftermath of the First World War; these young men saw their fathers and brothers die terribly, and in huge numbers, causing a crisis of character, to a certain extent, and therefore their indulgences can be seen as a social reaction in their memory; making up for lost time, even.

The following stanza contains more obvious references to the trenches and battlefields across Europe; an example of this is “White bodies naked on the low damp ground”. Alongside the references to rats, there is a feeling of damp, dank, desperate places. The graveyards of the First World War are somewhere that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. However, juxtaposed against this rather dark image, is the reference to prostitution; this returns the theme of the poem to sexual degradation, positioned against the images of the Great War.

At this point however, a drastic change of pace occurs, because alongside the reference to the secretary (at the time, a secretary was a lower class worker, subservient essentially to all authorities), there is the influence of mythology, and Tiresias, a mythological character caught between two genders. This detracts from the distinct realism of the passage, and gives it an almost divine quality; a shift from the obvious ramifications of promiscuity towards the spiritual ramifications, something Eliot was supremely concerned by.

The passage is classically full of allusions; we have allusions from Greek mythology, The Tempest, Baudelaire, and the allusion to Tudor England. The allusion to Tudor England is significant in that Queen Elizabeth I was a virgin queen; she allegedly never engaged in any kind of sexual activity, because decisions were entirely political, even the business of love and marriage. Therefore Eliot returns to this period as a kind of juxtaposition; the Elizabethan’s also lacked the spirituality he coveted, but in an entirely different way to the twentieth century. They were simply mercenary, not necessarily corrupt.

The final stanza instigates the beginning of the theme of death, in order to resurrected; the word “burning” is constantly repeated, and the speaker in the poem asks “pluckest me out” of God. This is significant due to the strong theme of realisation; it is as though he has realised the importance of the social change happening around him. The finality of “burning” is also a reference to the Buddhist practice after a death; cremation is said to release the soul, into another life. By destroying this shattered world, there is space for it to be rebuilt. At this point, this part ends, leaving us on something of a cliff hanger, waiting to see what the outcome of this burning really is.

I hope you’re enjoying the series so far; Part IV to follow!

(:

(1) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/archive/

4/44/20111225171905!View_from_top_of_Tyne_Cot.JPG

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A Short Note On “Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

Now, ordinarily, I’m not a fan of William Wordsworth; the endless melancholy, the continual references to the sublime; it can become quite exhausting, fifteen pages into the Lyrical Ballads. However, one particular poem, “Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (often abbreviated to “Tintern Abbey”) is somehow rather different, because it moves, ever so slightly, away from the style of his earlier, rather introverted style of poetry, and focusses a little on the relationship with Wordsworth and Dorothy, his sister.

Ordinarily, I tend to veer away from the topic of feminist criticism, because it can be contentious, and not necessarily an objective approach when criticising the actual entity that is a text. In terms of cultural and contextual criticism, it’s a fundamentally necessary approach, however in terms of the text itself, it can be somewhat narrowing in terms of interpretation. However, “Tintern Abbey” differs from much of Wordsworth’s earlier poetry, because it focusses on someone other than William, and also on Dorothy’s position in his life.

The relationship between William and Dorothy therefore is one of paramount importance within Wordsworth’s writing, and can be examined in relation to feminism due to the prominence of Dorothy’s absence. Despite being such an important literary figure herself, she had little opportunity to express it, or develop her talents; it is possible to imagine the literary significance she would have had, had she not been bound by the expectations of her gender.

I like the subtlety of “Tintern Abbey”; it is reflective, calm, and far less melodramatic, when compared with much of the earlier poetry, for example The Ruined Cottage. The structure of the poem, in five stanzas that are irregular, shows a more meandering approach taken, almost as though it is a thought process, in the writing of the poem. The poem was written several years after he actually sat above the abbey he discusses; this is very important, because the time that has passed represents a growing maturity and a rather different perspective on the world; this would also include a change in the relationship he has with his sister. The early radicalism that Wordsworth had so heartily supported was firmly pushed away, in favour of calm, peaceful poems and a more contemplative approach taken within his writing.

I like to read the Romantics only really in conjunction with aestheticism, however it is impossible to think that they were without literary merit, and their poetry is perhaps some of the most accessible ever written.

(:

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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”.

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(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

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Wandering Through “The Wasteland”: The Epigraph

For this week, I’ve decided to do a six part post on T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland, possibly the most famous of the modernist poems, and certainly of Eliot’s own collection. Eliot’s position as a critic and essayist almost prevails over his reputation as a modernist poet. T.S Eliot however was distinctly different from his modernist counterparts, such as Woolf and Joyce, in that instead of embracing the rejection of tradition, he found the lack of spirituality and social values abhorrent, and he himself struggled with issues surrounding intimacy and his own faith. In time, he converted to Anglicanism, however his discomfort with faith led him to write extensively about the subject in The Wasteland.

The epigraph as printed in the text (1)

The poem itself is also a product of Eliot’s extended intellectual life; he had studied Sanskrit at university and was well versed in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. An example of this is the title of part three, “The Fire Sermon”, which is a famous text in Buddhism. The final words of the poem, “Shantih, shantih, shantih”, also originate in Sanskrit, and translate to “inner peace.” Eliot was also very familiar with the Greek myths, and the Holy Grail myths. The Wasteland is primarily an inter-textual work, one that not only exists as itself, in its own right, but one that is deeply involved in texts spanning thousands of years.

Eliot believed that everyone should familiarise themselves with the myths and legends, especially spiritual and religious ones; The Wasteland is almost exclusive, because only those (at least at the time) who were well read would have understood the full implications of the poem. However, the poem is such that each time it is read, it is understood in a different way, and a number of literary critical schools have sought to examine the poem, however none particularly successfully; it stands alone, and is, in my opinion at least, unrivalled in terms of nature and style, by any other poem.

The poem’s creation was a lengthy process, because it was repeatedly edited by his long-term friend and renowned critic, Ezra Pound. The extent of Pound’s input can never be truly confirmed, however it is fair to suggest that to a certain extent, Pound’s style affected the way in which the poem was formed, and so could be considered not only a work of Eliot’s genius and intellect, but also in a small way, of Pound’s genius also. The poem and epigraph are dedicated to Ezra Pound.

The very beginning of the poem is the epigraph, an extract from Petronius’s Satyricon, and really summarises the nature of what is to follow. Petronius’s Satyricon is a Latin work of fiction, of both verse and prose. This in itself is a tumultuous combination and symbolises, at least to those who know of the text, that The Wasteland may also be tumultuous in style and structure. The epigraph reads:

“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo.” 

Roughly translated, the Latin reads:

“I have seen with my own eyes, the Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her “What do you want?”, she replied, “I want to die.” 

The Cumaean Sibyl wished for eternal life, and neglected to ask for eternal youth, and therefore as time passed, she was unable to die, and simply withered away, caught in a jar, almost like a gilded bird. This summarises essentially a spiritual withering, in a metaphorical sense; without youth and beauty, there appears to be no reason to live, and so she is caught in eternal suffering, because of her great vanity. Vanity and the superfluous nature of beauty are themes that run throughout the poem, particularly in the first three parts of the poem. Eliot was repulsed by the obsession of beauty and vanity and so sought to move away from this, wherever possible, especially since it was very much linked to the sexual, something Eliot was uncomfortable with throughout his life.

The conflict of religion, of modernisation, of industrialisation and of reformed society as a whole were all issues that Eliot  was deeply concerned with, however the most prominent of these issues was the issue of spirituality and sanctity of spirit. The issue of spirituality (something rather separate from religion) is explored in great detail throughout the following five passages. The poem is structured in five sections, although these sections can be considered poems of abstraction in their own right; they feed into one another and follow a progressive, reflective pattern.

It is however important, I think, to remember that The Wasteland is not just an intellectual work, and nor is it purely autobiographical. It certainly contains elements of autobiography, however like all texts, there are an infinite number of interpretations that can be applied to it, and it can translate in a number of ways for different people. It is also something fundamentally beautiful, poetic; something that can be enjoyed as well as analysed. It’s probably the poem that confirmed my desire to study English Literature, and the poem that confirmed my love of modernism.

This image shows the first page of Part One, with the original title: "He Do the Police in Different Voices", the original transcript. As you can see if you read closely enough, this version retains little of the finished version, except the section title: "The Burial of the Dead" (2)

Tomorrow I shall be writing about Part I: The Burial of the Dead, which is the beginning of the exploration of spiritual corruption as Eliot sees it.

(:

(1) https://sarahalicewaterhouse.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/thewastelandepigraph.jpg?w=250

(2) http://media-cdn.pinterest.com/upload/22377329368218787_D5HthlbB_c.jpg

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On the Predicament of Routine

I’ve ever so slightly fallen in love with Microsoft Office Outlook, something I’ve never been able to use properly before. The calendar function is excellent; you can colour code every element of your life, scheduling yourself in until your heart’s content. The search for a job however is prevailing; I am simply desperate for a job at university, if only to find myself some structure within this abyss of living in toy town; university day structures just don’t suit me. Arising at two in the afternoon and eating supernoodles on a regular basis is now a banned practice: I will not arise any later than eight in the morning on any given weekday. On Sundays however, I’m allowed a concession: nine am, but only if I’ve been out late the night before. The general “feeling” and routine of university life makes me feel unproductive, and I can’t stand feeling so completely swamped in apathy, so I have to try to get up and out and get things done during daylight hours, to the best of my ability. And unfortunately for students everywhere, alcohol does not make a person any more mentally efficient.

The Microsoft Outlook Icon: A Symbol of Hope For the Fundamentally Disorganised... (1)

You see, all I can think about at the moment is changing things about myself; starting an exercise routine, a better skin routine, a new part-time job. I feel as though I need a complete change, in order to see a complete physical change. Having begun changing my routine in mid-December, I’m already starting to feel the benefits of a regular sleeping and waking pattern, and the lack of junk food and excess alcohol makes a huge difference: I feel far less sluggish, and I have a plethora of energy I didn’t know existed. I’ve gone so far as to start looking at spinning classes and gym membership, and purchased cropped leggings for the purpose of attending the classes. Once the money has been spent, I feel too guilty not to make the most of the service I have paid for.

On a general point then, I’m hoping that this endless amount of energy will fuel not only the functional elements I’d like to change; hopefully it’ll move to me maintaining my blog a little better, and writing a little more, and forming ideas for novels, pictures, and plays. At this point however I digress, into the land of the optimistic, romantic artist. I like to inhabit this beautiful land, because it’s full of hyper enhanced colours and diamonds in the sky. It’s far nicer up there.

And so in this vein, I venture to share another of my works with you;  again, I’d love to hear what everybody thinks of this poem. Since it is loosely related to the theme of writing, and seeking publication in general, it would be interesting to hear what people in a similar predicament think of a poem that could potentially relate to them personally. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Letter to Talent

There was never a chance this would work. Well,
Competition, was inevitable.
There is a large, empty space, on the floor.
Scorch marks, by the fire. My carbon footprint.
The empty bottles, clink. Shame, floods my face.

The letters, the postcards. The newspaper.
Inky reminiscent. They smoulder, underfoot.
Smoke from our forefather. He founded the
Words, and songs; the poems, the plays, to us.
Dedicated literature, burning.
Scorch marks into the hardwood flooring.

Memorandum arrived, all from London.
Messages; Dear Sir; Dear Madam; Truly.
Bundles of new paper, new ideas, all
Etched into fresh, shiny ink. Sketched our words.
Seeking approval, we bid for our place.
A place in time, a magazine. A book.
A place, somewhere, anywhere to belong.

To exist, in the world of creative
Integrity, is a paradox;
Constantly, overshadowed, by bigger,
More powerful talent than your own being.
Carcinogens curl around your pale throat.
Inhaling: Have you found the mystique of
Post modernism, existing beyond
Your own suffering body? Searching for
A reason to stop stamping envelopes…

…The posting out of the charred paper: What’s left?
What is left of soul? You would (screw) everyone.
If everyone was asphyxiated
In your soulful, poetic arms,
Their charred bones. Mind.

*
(But for this agony, of attempts and failure,
Whatever is truly owed to us,
Whatever will become of us.)

-Sarah Alice

(1) http://www.medlineschool.com/Portals/12654/images/outlook.gif

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The Beginning

So, this is the first poem I’ve published on this blog myself, and I’m curious to know what everyone thinks. I’ve been somewhat nervous about doing it previously for fear of being thought pretentious and rather adolescent in my approach! Feel free to give opinions, criticism (positive!) and so forth! I hope you enjoy.

 

The Beginning

Singing. Sweetness, floral
The tiny, pink hands curled, into
Tiny fists, holding
The petals of a violet rose.

They want to have rerouted, her neurone
Route map, into thousands of minuscule
Back alleys.
The tiny pink fists, stretched upwards, reaching
For the caress of total surrender
Violet rose.

Warm, breathing on your skin.
Oxygen, condenses against the frozen glass.
The heart, remains beating.
The soft pink orb sways, every time…
You laugh- the sun, smiled down- laughed.
Violet rose.

(That, for everything, but for nothing, is beautiful.)

-Sarah Alice

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A Stroll Across the Somme with Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1)

Following on from the theme of yesterday, I began having a think about the First World War, and the implications it had culturally for England and Europe more widely. The poetry that emerged from this cataclysmic event shaped my own perception of “great” poetry; it was not complex in the same way as the modernists were, such as Eliot, and nor was it especially experimental, in the same way as Woolf. What it was, and remains to be, is simple and beautiful in its own way, something I think largely owed to the proficiency of its structure and the almost divine beauty of the metaphor and imagery used. Nothing so profoundly shocking had before been made so beautiful; consider the early murder ballads, and the unrestrained violence and depravity. It is shocking, but it is not made beautiful by the poetic forms imposed upon it.

Wilfred Owen was responsible for the war poem that perhaps epitomised the war for all: Dulce et Decorum Est. This poem was fundamentally an assassination of the meta-narrative that was behind the war, and the blind pursuit of false glory is striking when the imagery falls into place. And all of a sudden it is strikingly obvious that the life of a soldier ended, all too often, face down in a shell mutilated field somewhere in northern Europe. To a modern-day reader, it seems absurd, horrific even, that no one seems to have realised before it was too late, the total futility of the fight; perhaps however it was not futile. It’s result, when considered on a global events scales, was to create the Treaty of Versailles, which led to the gargantuan German resentment of Europe, and thus began to grow, from this political arsenic, Nazism.

That is not to say however that the individuals who fought nobly and honestly should be discredited; they succeeded in winning the war. It’s consequence is irrelevant when examining this from a short-term point of view. It is often forgotten that each individual person who died there had a family, was loved by somebody. They were not statistics. This I think is forgotten, in the same way that we attach very little individualization to the victims of genocide as a whole; they become statistics and examples, however not real lives that were lived. They are remembered as numbers as opposed to people. This is possibly what makes Owen’s poetry (and others, such as Sassoon’s) so poignant; it attached, and still does attach, a very real experience to those soldiers and avoids the broad and sweeping statements. The dead poet, who died on the fourth of November, 1918, precisely a week before the armistice was signed, allowed others just like him a voice. His voice became in many ways their voice, essentially because he was one of them.

The Great War, and the subsequent Second World War, had a rather profound and unexpected effect on society; they created “the bright young things”; people who felt as though they had been incapacitated by their lack of fathers, brothers, and uncles and instead became part of the high society whirlwind; they sought to be superficial, and extravagant in the wake of wartime severity and rationing. Religion began to fail people; Nietzsche declared that “God is dead”. And thus an almost pivotal change occurred. Consider works such as The Great Gatsby again; an immortal example of this superfluous society that lacked the artistic and moral depth of its predecessor, however made way for a new movement, in modernism and subsequent postmodernism, which really sought to prove the superficiality of the world, and to continue this premise of a lack of truth and absolute reality; without this, one’s actions can be justified regardless of what they are, and as such, lacking philosophical meaning simply means that you seek pleasure at face value, and nothing more. Nothing could stray further from the reality of Wilfred Owen.

If you haven’t had a chance thus far to have a look at Owen’s work, there is an excellent website  with all his work on. Reading them really does alter one’s perception of the experiences of the war, and of a lost generation as a whole; all remaining veterans of the First World War are now sadly deceased. The Somme itself, as well as Ypres, and other memorial sites are very moving; the images don’t do them justice.

(:

(1) http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/resources/images/1267632/?type=display

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T.S Eliot’s “The Wasteland”: Creating an Elite Literary Club

Since I began studying T.S Eliot for A level coursework last year, I have begun a long-enduring love affair with a man who could be considered modernism’s most reserved man. He belonged to the Bloomsbury group alongside others such as Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and Clive Bell. These academics were renowned for being sexually liberated, and experimental in every approach to life and literature they took. They took the traditional and destroyed it, and reformed it to the style we now know as modernism, and in this sense, Eliot was no different.

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T.S Eliot: A Literary Hero (1)

His poem, “The Wasteland” is written in five books, describing the spiritual journey from corruption to the potential for being reborn and rejuvenated. The essence of Eliot’s genius here however does not lie simply in the poem’s construction, and continual changes in narrative; the true depth and substance of the poem is contained in the intertextuality which serves to create an exclusive club; Eliot uses allusions to Greek mythology, Roman mythology, the Bible, Buddhism, D.H Lawrence, James Joyce, Augustine’s writings, Spencer’s works, to name a few. And in order to understand all these allusions, then surely, you’d have to have read widely and voraciously for all of your literary life. The depth of these allusions show just how educated Eliot was; for all his personal and social misgivings, he was perhaps the most inspirational literary critic and author of his time, purely because he deigned to read everything that had ever been written; nothing that had been written was deemed too insignificant, because as Jacques Derrida says: “there is nothing outside of the text.” Everything is a part of the poetry Eliot created, in the same way that he became a part of everything he read.

A major part of Eliot’s poem is the allusions to religion; Eliot spent much of his life in religious turmoil, and in this way looked into many types of religion including Buddhism, and had a deep fascination with Christianity and it’s origins in Latin and Greek. He felt it was extremely important to read the original texts in order to connect with them on a personal level. He later converted to Anglicanism, which seemed to provide him with some comfort, despite his personal struggles with sexuality and human relationships.

The poem itself formed the beginning of my fascination with modernism; despite my interest in Renaissance literature, the poem seemed, to me at least, to transcend literary periods due to the density of allusion. The poem is hailed as one of the cornerstones of 20th century literature, and rightly so; the spirituality presented is rarely explored in poetry to the level that it is, and because of this, I think it relates to everyone in some way or another. The explorations of love especially fascinate me, because the poem rejects physical love as something some people need, however that spirituality and an understanding of faith is something that people crave more. The idea that those who read it belong to a ‘club’ of elite literature is also very appealing; there is the implication that you belong to something inspirational and special; it is not accessible to all, and for those who wish to, the reward of understanding is very much an intellectual and emotional one.

I’m hoping to look into T.S Eliot in more detail, and hopefully write a thesis one day on his life and works. It is not an exaggeration to say that “The Wasteland”, alongside Wuthering Heights is my favourite work of English literature of all time, and I implore those who haven’t had the pleasure yet to delve in, accompanied by Google and a companion to T.S Eliot, and enjoy the roller-coaster he writes, perhaps unintentionally.

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(1) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/87/T.S._Eliot%2C_1923.JPG

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