Obscurity in T. S. Eliot's Poetry

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       Introduction : For one thing Eliot's poetry is not useful for the masses. It is for the learned few-the people with scholarly and cultivated taste in literature. His poetry makes great demand for the reader. He must be well versed for the literature of Europe, so that he may understand the poet's references found in his poems. Therefore, its appeal is sought voluntarily, in protest against the demands of a public kept in ebbing in England by Georgian poetry, and in the hope of finding or creating an audience which, though small, would at least realise that poetry makes demands of the reader as well as of the poet.

Depth of Thought : Eliot's poetry deals with the inner states of mind and systems of values.
T. S. Eliot

      Depth of Thought : Eliot's poetry deals with the inner states of mind and systems of values. He writes a complex thing and also about mental states. He not only deals with subtle human emotions but also with the sub-conscious and the unconscious. He implies the dramatic monologue in order to analyse the state of the mind or conflict within. Gerontion and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock are studies of different states of mind. There are sudden jumps and missing links with the ideas which makes the poem difficult to follow. For example, The Waste Land deals with problems of the post-war civilisation while Four Quartets is concerned with time and eternity. Such difficult subjects and study of states of mind are not easily intelligible to the modern reader.

      Poetic Shorthand : The difficulty of Eliot's poetry also arises from his borrowings from many literatures and may philosophies. His wide reading extended not only to the study of Christian mythology but also to the Hindu and the Buddhist philosophies.There are references to several books and sometimes lines are taken bodily from different important classical works to support his ideas. Quotations and allusions are found in "God's Plenty" in The Waste Land. I.A. Richards call this device, the poetic shorthand. Sometimes a quotation is modified so as to fit into his context. All these things render his poems difficult for the average reader.

      Brevity : Ezra Pound acquainted Eliot with the technique of compactness and compressions in poetic technique. The connecting link, the punctuation and the grammatical conjunction are eliminated for the sake of compression of the subject matter. He is able to condense "great riches in a little room." Look at The Waste Land, its subject matter is so vast that it is covered in four hundred and thirty three lines. Another poet would have expanded it into an epic of sizeable proportion. Moreover, the poet jumps from one concept to another, his transition from one idea to another, is quite sudden. This accounts for his brevity and flexibility. He is keen to omitting what can be left out. The logically links are purposely omitted. This renders him difficult and obscure.

      New Technique : Eliot draws largely on the technique of Laforgue and Baudelair. These French Symbolists supplied him images and symbols. The imagists like Ezra Pound showed him the use of concrete images to capture fleeting experiences. The metaphysical poets sharpened his wit and enabled him to make his own conceits and ironic contrasts. Eliot's conceit of the fog being a cat reminds one of Donne. Moreover, myths borrowed from ancient cultures and literature makes his poetry difficult to follow. So, all these things put together - images, symbols, myths and the creation of new rhythms render his poetry difficult for the lay readers.

      Complexity of subject-matter : Eliot's poetry does not deal with the commonplace subjects like the Nightingales, Cuckoos and Daffodils. He deals with the harsh and complex reality of modern urban life. As the subject is complex his poetry cannot be easy. He poses the problems of the modern civilization, its survival and its system of values and above all man's moral progress. All these are complex and almost insoluble problems and as Such his poetry is difficult to follow.

      Music of Ideas : Another element that contributes to the obscurity of his poetry is what I.A. Richards calls "the music of ideas." Eliot's words are chosen with reference to their sense and sound. He picks out the vividly memorable phrase. He squeezes words to extract full juice and shades of their meanings. One has to read his poems two or thee times in order to fully understand the meaning of his poetry.

      Conclusion : Some critics feel that though Eliot's poetry is difficult, yet it is not obscure. It contains fundamental brain-works. It requires the conscious effort on the part of the reader to understand the under currents of thought in his poems. The lack of connecting links is not a serious hurdle. George Williams writes in this connection: "Eliot has sequential logic, that is, he employs rational connections, writes in accordance with the inferences which are probably to be drawn from certain situations, characters, actions, objects, response or relations."

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