Style and Diction in T. S. Eliot's Poetry

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       T. S. Eliot is a great craftsman with words. He was a great reformer of the English language like Wordsworth and John Donne. Eliot started writing in the beginning of the twentieth century. The English language became very poetic, very formal and very remote from the language of everyday use at this time. The language was vague and imprecise because of the influence of the romantics and other decadent followers. T.S. Eliot reformed the English language by bringing it once more into contact with everyday usage. In this manner, he tried to impart to its life and energy once again. He expressed his ideal in the following words:

the main characteristics of T.S. Eliot's style and diction
T. S. Eliot

"An easy commerce of the old and the new

The common word exact without vulgarity

The formal word precise but not pedantic

The complete consort dancing together."

The following are the main characteristics of T.S. Eliot's style and diction:

      Power of phrasing by means of Auditory Imagination : A poet's greatness is determined by the sort of words he uses and the manner in which he puts them together. He can achieve this greatness by power of phrasing which is determined by auditory imagination. Auditory imagination implies "the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious level of thought and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primitive and torgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back seeking the beginning and the end."

      The poet was an embodiment of this type of imagination. His words are chosen both with reference to their sense and sound. As Helen Gardner remarks: "Mr. Eliot was from the first, a poet with a remarkable range of diction, and with a natural gift for the vividly memorable phrase." His gift of phrasing is appreciated by all the critics. He had the aptitude to squeeze words till they yielded their full juice of meaning. He was fully alive to the potentialities of words as well as to their associations in various contexts.

      Eliot's classical style : T.S. Eliot was a conscious and painstaking artist. He would revise and re-revise he would polish and re-polish what he attempted. In this manner, he acquired precision and exactness. Thus his ideals were based upon classical dogmas. He followed the foot-steps of Horace and Virgil who sed to revise their verses constantly. In this manner, he imparted new life, new form and new colour to the words which he used. He achieved perfect order of speech. Thus, he has been appreciated immensely because of these ideals of art.

      Eliot's variety of diction : Eliot mixes unexpected and common-place phrases and words which immediately startle and surprise the reader. His colloquial beginnings are very effective. He immediately arrests the attention of the reader. for example, The Love Song of J. Alfed Prufrock has a direct, straight-forward and colloquial opening. He immediately plunge into the topic by saying, "Let us go then, you and I." Similarly, in Gerontion, he is straight-forward and conversational throughout. In The Waste Land the style is very straight-forward as the poet uses the phrase 'Unreal City' in the beginning of the passage.

      His variety of diction can be noted by the use of phrases and images taken from the sordid realities of every-day urban life. Sometimes, he uses the non-poetic words and phrases which are not used in poetry before. It is not easy to assimilate the diction of everyday speech but Eliot uses this technique successfully. He has acquired that variety of diction, that union of the poetic and the prosaic, of the common world and the formal, the colloquial and the remote, the precise and the suggestive which is the achievement of a great order. There is a dramatic element in T.S. Eliot's style. He achieved this dramatic art because of the immense range and variety of diction. He uses the words and phrases according to the characters and the status of the speaker. Sometimes, he varies his style with parody. A Game of Chess opens with as direct parody of a famous passage in Antony and Cleopatra.

      Economy and preciseness of Eliot's style : His use of language is characterised by economy, precision, variety, and appropriateness. He would not use two epithets where only one can serve his purpose. His use of concrete, vivid and pictorial words, his power of selecting the right and the precise word, the handling of pronoun, adjectives and the various tenses of a verb, the conversational tone, 'a return to common speech,' are some of the distinctive features of his poetic diction. Eliot has also the knack of making powerful effects by the repeated use of a single word, such as, "Thinking, thinking, thinking, nothing, nothing, burning" in the third section. The absence of fertility and peace is indicated by the repeated use of the negative "no" in the opening section of The Waste Land:

"And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And dry tones no sound of water."

      Living Language : Language changes with time and age. The language proper for an industrial and scientific society must differ radically from the past. Eliot makes use of the language and idiom of modern age. His imagery is derived both from living scene and its parallel or echo of the past. Another peculiarity of T.S. Eliot is his effort to use the potent word. A word is like the juicy fruit. In order to get the utmost out of the word, we must extract and squeeze the full juice of the word with its nuances of meaning. It is this device which makes Eliot's poetry difficult to understand.

      Change in Technique : Eliot reacted against the traditional rime-scheme, particularly the iambic measure, because he wanted to make it  flexible enough to explain the complexities of modern mind and the conflict of ideas. He, therefore, prefers the use of free verse which can give him both freedom and flexibility according to his thought-content. He alternates formal rhythm with speech rhythm in order to make it life-like and modern. The flexibility of words can be noticed particularly in The Waste Land where the variations in rhythm echo the transition from one mood or emotion to the other. The experiment with the free-verse marks the renovation of the technique which is one of the strong points of Eliot's poetry.

      Conclusion : Eliot is not merely a theoretician. Whatever he wrote in his critical works, he practised as a poet. He amply showed that whatever critical principles he enunciated in his essays, could be translated in actual practice. His greatness as a poet lies in giving practical shape to the concept mentioned in the critical canons.

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