Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot on Modernism
On Ezra Pound?s quote on modernism, he claims that ?the modern age wants a literature that reflects an image of itself: ?accelerated? and mass produced (?a mould in plaster/Made with no loss of time) as well as superficial.? This means that today?s society wants a literature that resembles itself, fast paced and shallow. Society want literature that is direct and straightforward simply because people find it too ?time consuming? to think for themselves. They would rather resort to the ?work? already being done for them. Instead of experiencing the true beauty of literature and the arts, they would rather use ?Cliffs? Notes (?the classics in paraphrase?).? As a result of various ?time savers,? the people of the modern age are left without the feelings that only reading the literature itself would provide. The people are hollow, dehumanized, and utterly superficial. Society lacks creativity and originality. The people are left numbed in the sea of clones. They fail to give acknowledgement or praise to those who do dare to be different and unique. Instead, they are cast out from society for being different. Ezra Pound states that, ?Introspection (?the obscure reveries/of the inward gaze?) in this age is unthinkable.? This means that the people are afraid to examine their own thoughts and feeling because they are afraid of what they will see. T.S. Eliot?s works, ?Preludes,? ?The Hollow Men,? and ?The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock? substantiate Ezra Pound?s statement.
?Preludes,? by T.S. Eliot, is a literary work depicting city life. Although it was written some time ago, it contains a universal theme and is applicable even in today?s world. Eliot expresses the lonely, isolationist environment of the city. The people of the city seem dull, dreary, fatigued, and lifeless. The city dwellers repeat their daily mechanical routines; there is no change or break in the cycle. They come home tired and worn out from a day?s work, sleep, wake up, head towards coffee stands for a jolt of energy, and off they are to work again. Eliot expresses that people put on false fronts so that people do not feel the hostility or alienation that is present. They have a need to conform, ?With the other masquerades/That time resumes.? The people live sordid lives, filled with corruption, and distorted morals. The mention of the prostitute in stanza three, shows that lack of love in the city. In addition, it illustrates the filth and corruption of the city. There is no depth of passion in anything. The city dwellers are treated as one in this poem. This shows that there is a lack of originality. This is emphasized by Eliot?s use of synecdoche, such as: ?With all its muddy feet that press/To early coffee-stands? and ?One thinks of all the hands/That are raising dingy shades.? Everyone is the same; they are all clones of each other. There is no depth or feeling in this society. Everything is mechanical or physical, there are no connections established between the people. Just as Ezra Pound claims that ?Introspection (?the obscure reveries/of the inward gaze?) in this age is unthinkable,? there is a loss of identity and the depletion of moral values in the city. As a result of the world?s harshness, innocent children are forced to suffer as Eliot expresses, ?The notion of some infinitely gentle/Infinitely suffering thing.? The monotonous tone contributes to the dreary, lifelessness of Eliot?s city. The city dwellers are perpetually empty. They are truly the living dead because their life consists of the same daily mechanical actions.
In ?The Hollow Men,? Eliot expresses that ?We are the hollow men.? He conveys the emptiness of people due to their lack of souls in today?s world. The hollow men are superficial and have no depth. When the hollow men say, ?We whisper together/Are quiet and meaningless,? it shows how they are afraid to show how they feel. Like the city dwellers of ?Preludes,? the hollow men do not make connections with other people because they fear people will be troubled at what they really are. The hollow men are afraid to reveal their true being; this is parallel to ?Preludes.? Eliot states that,
?Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat?s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
This means that the hollow men wear disguises and try to behave as everyone else behaves to conceal themselves. They have the desire to be creative, knowledgeable, to be loved, to love, and to communicate. However, Eliot states that there is a barrier that stops them, ?Falls the Shadow.? This barrier is their lack of soul, their fear of rejection, and their lack of will power.
Eliot perverts a church rhyme into
?Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o?clock in the morning.?
He also separates the Lord?s prayer into various parts, such as, ?For Thine is the Kingdom.? This shows that although the hollow men (or people in general) look to religion for comfort, religion will not save or help them. The ambiance that Eliot creates gives emphasis to the lifelessness of the hollow men. Ezra Pound states that modern age wants a literature that is ?prose rather than a poetic picture.? This shows that there is a lack of creativity and individuality. Eliot states that there is a lack of substance in the hollow men by saying, ?Shape without form, shade without colour, /Paralysed force, gesture without motion.?
There are strong uses of synecdoche present in ?The Hollow Men.? The most evident and vivid use of synecdoche is in his description of the eyes, ?Those who have crossed/with direct eyes, to deaths other Kingdom,? and ?Eyes I dare not meet in dreams/In death?s dream Kingdom.? The use of eye synecdoche represents the fear in the hollow men in revealing themselves. They hollow men have no eyes because of their lack of souls. There is no love in the city, ?lips that would kiss? shows the emptiness of the hollow men and their lack of emotions and feelings. This substantiates Pound?s statement because it shows modern age?s superficiality in the hollow men.
Prufrock in ?The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock? by T.S. Eliot expresses his need to conform at a social event. He is afraid to show his true self, ?To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,? and wants to blend in at the social gathering. He shows that the people at this gathering are superficial because they judge him by his appearance. In the seventh stanza, Prufrock expresses his self-consciousness, ?With a bald spot in the middle of my hair?/ [They will say: ?How his hair is growing thin?]?, and ?[They will say: ?But how his arms and legs are thin!]? ?And time for all the woks and days of hands / That lift and drop a question on your plate;? shows that the conversations that are present have no depth or meaning. According to Pound, modern age wants literature that is superficial like the people at this event are superficial. The conversations present are similar to ?better lies than Cliffs? Notes,? they are insignificant and Prufrock is unable to make connections with anyone. Prufrock says, ?I have measured out my life in coffee spoons,? showing that his life is meaningless, small, and insignificant. This substantiates what Pound stated that ?the modern age wants literature that reflects an image of itself: ?accelerated? and mass produced (?a mould in plaster / Made with no loss of time?). It shows that modern age wants literature that is insignificant just as modern age is insignificant.
Ezra Pound expressed that instead of thinking for themselves, people of the modern age would prefer literature that is in plain, and regular speech that is vague and without meaning. Today?s society does not think for itself. The beauty, emotions, and feelings are taken away from the arts by the superficiality of modern age. With T.S. Eliot?s works substantiating Pound?s statement emphasis is put on our society being filled with hollow, soulless people.