The problems of City life in Thomas Stearns Eliot’s poetry

Shamsi farzana


An Anglo-American poet, critic, dramatist, and editor, Thomas Stearns Eliot was a major innovator in modern English poetry, famous above all for his revolutionary poetry. Eliot has in many of his poems, portrayed as hero that man who feels a sense of his own inadequacy and impotence, and who is painfully aware of the banality and futility of his own life as well as of life in general. In his poems, Eliot points out that the degeneration of modern civilization is caused by loss of faith in religion, lack of human relationship, commercialism of love, mental tension and politics and wars. This paper highlights on his view about the futility of the 20th century people in the cities. The alienation of the conscious individual among the unthinking masses is seen as responsible for the sordid loneliness of city life ,as is the break down of family relationships ,religion and morality. The poet calls the city London an unreal city because lust, cheating-go on freely. In this paper, I would also like to highlight the problems of city life in T.S.Eliot’s poetry.


Introduction: Modernist writers like T.S.Eliot lived and wrote in the capital cities of Great Britain and Europe, using the city as a source of inspiration and research tool. The poetry of T.S. Eliot has a direct relationship to modern life. The agony, horror, spiritual sterility of modern life are represented which are so inevitable that any human being does not wish to deceive him with systematic lies. In his poetry he leaned towards a pessimistic sense of urban failure, and a feeling of mixed fascination and revulsion which are discernible in his writings. My aim is to reveal the personal disaster, loneliness, dejection, alienation and spiritual sterility that are experienced by everyone in this city which evolved problems while living in this city life. The Waste Land sees history as a spiritual epic. Therefore Eliot highlights the ugliness of the present in relation to the past. This is an important land-mark in the 20th century literature and it reveals the disillusionment caused by the First World War. It also shows dissatisfaction with the scientific achievement and industrial progress in Europe. Therefore it ushers new values of modern society. The epigraph to the poem suggests the death wish of modern European people. It also points to the theme of death and decay in the waste land. It is based on the story of the Cumae, a Sibyl who was the beloved of Apollo. She asked Apollo to grant her as many years as the grains of sand in her land but carelessly she forgot to ask for eternal youth. Hence she became old and finally shrank so small by her age that she was hung up in a bottle and could only say: ‘I want to die. ‘The sibyl links the medieval legend to classical myth. Her misfortune to be shut in a cage and to wither away indefinitely being preserved from death condemned like Tithonus. To grow old symbolizes the condition of the people of waste land. It also points to the theme of death and decay in The Waste Land. Furthermore it also suggests the death wish of modern European people. The poet sees the modern world as a waste land in which every experience is colored by the feelings of death in life. This poem is a social document. It throws light on the living condition of people belonging to different section of society in the modern world. It is a representative of the Aristocratic class in the German Princess of the section I. She is fond of travel. She is an example of a rootless modern person. She has no connection with her family, community and nation. She is a kind of International traveler, fond of the physical comforts of life. As she and her lover go through Munich, they face a shower of rain. As they do not realize the purifying power of rain rather they try to avoid it.

There is another roman representative of high society called ‘the Lady of Situation’. Her drawing room is all with beauty, glamour and synthetic perfume. She is a neurotic, waiting for lover at night. Both these ladies are over sensual, over sensitive, and suffer from nervous breakdown. Among the males of the upper executives, having funs with the girls at the picnic spot near the Thames. There is the rich merchant; a representative of the commercial section of the society full of sensuousness. Eugenides is fond of perversity of sex. To the middle class society belongs Madame Sosostris, the fortune- teller who entertains people with all kinds of tricks. Among the lower classes is Lil whose husband has just returned form army and wants to have a good time. Albert went to war four years ago, giving her a lot of money for her dental treatment but she misused that money in sensuous enjoyment. But the pills have ruined her health. All these point to the inconstancy in the married life of the lower people. Then there is the typist girl who wants mechanical life and does not crave for love.

Finally, we have the song of three daughters of the river Thames who lost their chastity at the hands of several people. Eliot suggests that the same sense of sensuousness which dominated Queen Elizabeth I and Earl of Leicester is found among the poor classes on the banks of the river Thames.

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