A Cooking Egg: by T. S. Eliot || Summary and Analysis

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       The poem was written in 1919 and was published in the volume entitled Poems-1920. A Cooking Egg is a stale egg which can be used only by cooking. It cannot be taken raw or used like a fresh egg. The poem contains the story of a person of middle age over thirty-who has to face a dirty and joyless present. He finds some relaxation in thinking of the joys of his childhood, the past appears slightly better than the present. The protagonist also thinks of his future of his life in heaven where he will have lot of comforts but where he will miss the joys of his childhood. He comes back to the real mundane world and finds life sordid and hateful. He is like a cooking egg-stale and unacceptable.

A Cooking Egg is a stale egg which can be used only by cooking. It cannot be taken raw or used like a fresh egg.
A Cooking Egg

      The epigraph : The epigraph is borrowed from Villon's poem The Great Testament. It means: "In the thirtieth year of my life when I drank up all my shame." It represents the condition of the protagonist who finds the present dreary and melancholy. However much he may reflect on the joys of childhood or the joys of the future in heaven, he cannot escape the shame of the reality of his current life. His situation is really deplorable and pitiable.


      The poem can be easily divided into three parts. The first part (L. 1-8) presents a real and current scene, the second part (L. 9-24) refers to the joys of heaven, and the third part (L. 25-33) re-collects the pleasures of childhood. So the present is compared both with the past and the future, and the conclusion is that the present reality is extremely filthy and disgusting.

      Pipit's Company : The protagonist is a man of about thirty years facing a woman, his friend named Pipit, in the room. She is a spinster and the poet speaks of her as the bride and spiritual guide of the protagonist. Pipitis the name of a small song-bird, but here it is the pet name of the lady. She is conservative and traditional, busy with her knitting. On the mantel-piece could be seen the pictures of her grand father and her great grand-aunts. There was also a book entitled An Invitation to Dance on the mantel-piece. The speaker also sees in the room a book entitled Views of the Oxford Colleges. This reminds him of his past and the hopes of the future.

      Life in Heaven : Finding his present unhappy and mean, the speaker thinks of his future. Perhaps after death, he will be able to get honour and happiness. In heaven he would be able to enjoy the company of great heroes like Sir Philip Sidney (of the Elizabethan Age) and Coriolanus and others of the same caliber. So he would get honour in heaven. Secondly, he would have a lot of wealth in heaven. He would be in the company of Sir Alfred Mond who was the President of Imperial Chemical Industries. He would be a co-sharer with this big industrialist and invest his profits in five percent Exchequer Bonds of the British Government. In heaven, he would have the society of aristocratic and sophisticated ladies. Perhaps he would marry a great lady like Lucretia Borgia who would entertain him with stories and anecdotes of high society. As compared to her, Pipit would be a plain and simple woman with a little experience of life. In heaven, he would get spiritual guidance from Madam Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society and the author of Seven Sacred Tances. As compared to her Pipit would be first an apology. He would also get benevolent guidance from Piccarda de Donati, the man mentioned by Dante in The Divine Comedy and who provided him a good deal of spiritual knowledge.

      The Past and the Present : Will Heaven provide everything for him? No doubt it can give honour, wealth, high society and spiritual knowledge, but it can provide the simple joy of childhood, as for instance, the satisfaction of eating sweets behind a screen unobserved by the elders in the family. Such joys were possible in the past, but they could not be repeated in the present or the future. The present reality is filthy. As one peeps out one sees the red-eyed scavengers coming from the London suourbs to clean the streets. The dreams and aspirations of the past are dead like the Roman soldiers buried under the snows of the Alps Mountains. The joys of childhood are no more. Only the stark present with its sordid realities faces the protagonist. He is fed up with the tensions of urban life. He is one of the multitudes of men who pass their times weeping in cheap restaurants. The reality is extremely menacing and grim. The protagonist feels inadequate and stale like a cooking egg.

      Style : The poem consists of eight stanzas of four lines each. Between the seventh and eighth stanza stands one line, rather meaningful and it undoes the monotony of the quatrains "where are the eagles and the trumpets?" The image of the Roman armies going out to conquer and dying in the snow-bound alps sums up the futility of the past. The contrast technique between the present and the past, the past and the future, the present and the future is used to good advantages. The poem adequately sums up the sordid mechanical routine of urban life and the misery and frustration of modern society.

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