Submit an analytical essay of 1000 words to your tutor for assessment and feedback.

The essay topics are designed to test your understanding of the material covered in the course and to see if you can communicate this understanding to someone else. You may read other texts or articles to assist you in writing your essay, but you are not required to use secondary sources, nor should you rely heavily on the commentaries in the Study Guides. Your essay should be primarily an expression of your ideas. If you do read other texts, you must cite them correctly and include them in the Works Cited page.

William Blake London

 

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

 

In every cry of every Man,

In every Infants cry of fear,

In every voice: in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

 

How the Chimney-sweepers cry

Every blackning Church appalls,

And the hapless Soldiers sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls

 

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlots curse

Blasts the new-born Infants tear

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

 

In “London,” the song-like qualities of the lyric are used ironically again—not to celebrate, but to condemn the suffering, cruelty, and injustice evident at the turn of the nineteenth century in “civilized” England. Every aspect of human life has been blighted by hypocrisy and ignorance, which have been legitimated through unjust laws—the “mind-forg’d manacles.” The innocence of the children employed as chimney sweepers has been blackened, as have the social and religious institutions which fail to protect them. Men die to protect the privileged positions and power of those who inhabit the “palaces,” and who are indifferent to the fate of those who serve them. A society in which women are forced into prostitution is also blighted by “dead” marriages of social or economic convenience. Blake observes the outward signs of a materialistic society as indicators of moral and spiritual dissolution. The repetition of key words and phrases conveys the oppressive, unavoidable reality of what he observes. The apparent paradoxes—like “marriage hearse”—expose the disease which riddles every aspect of social convention.

 

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

The poetry of T. S. Eliot, like that of Browning, is replete with allusion, that is, references, direct or oblique, to other works—literary, biblical, philosophical, or historical. Through these allusions Eliot points to the disparities between the rich, vibrant life of past cultures and the wasteland that constitutes contemporary society. The mood of his early poems, written after the First World War, is one of disillusionment as he regards the absurdity and triviality of human actions.

Eliot devised a form which would express the fragmentation of experience—the meaningless jumble of man’s life. His poems, then, are a series of disconnected fragments, a collage of images which he draws from all areas of experience. Like John Donne, whose poetry he greatly admired, T. S. Eliot yokes together dissimilar images to startle the reader into thought.

In his early poetry, Eliot created a series of characters through whom he voiced the spirit of disillusionment: J. Alfred Prufrock is one of his gallery of losers. In his monologue, Prufrock reveals, as do Browning’s characters, a mental outlook that typifies his society.

Reading

  1. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” 214-18.

 

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

 

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

 

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

 

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

 

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

 

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —

(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

 

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

 

And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I then presume?

And how should I begin?

 

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

 

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

 

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

 

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

That is not it, at all.”

 

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”

 

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

 

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

 

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

 

I do not think that they will sing to me.

 

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

 

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a complex work, with frequent allusions to the writings of others, particularly to a masterpiece of Italian literature, Dante’s Inferno. Eliot implicitly compares the state of hell depicted by Dante to modern urban life, which for Prufrock at least, is a living hell. Like the condemned man in Dante’s poem, Guido de Montefeltro, Prufrock exists in an eternity of torment with no hope of escape, and like Montefeltro, he is fearful of what people will say about him. Montefeltro consents to tell his story to Dante only because he believes that Dante will never return from hell to the world of the living; Prufrock tells his story to us for a similar reason. Prufrock is a fearful and paranoid anti-hero who knows that he will never play such heroic parts as even the prevaricating Hamlet. He is more like Polonius: a fumbling, interfering fool who talks in platitudes.

Contrasting with the pervasive imagery of hell in the poem is the image of the mermaids singing, suggesting a beatific state to which Prufrock aspires, but which he knows he will never attain. The mermaids also symbolize the love for which he longs, much like the knight in “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” But as does the knight, he wakes up to dreary reality and another death of the soul:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown. (129-131)

Eliot employs a stream-of-consciousness style in this dramatic monologue, tracking Prufrock’s impressions, thoughts, and feelings just as they occur to him, with no comment or explanation. The monologue is much more internalized than is the Duke’s in Browning’s poem, and there is no audience (other than the reader). Presumably Prufrock is on his way to a cultured tea party where high society ladies are circulating and discussing the great art of the past. Prufrock would like to enter this privileged world, and in particular to have a meaningful love affair with a lady who inhabits it, but he is afraid of being misunderstood and ridiculed. He is particularly sensitive about his appearance—his expanding bald spot, his inferior physique, his way of dressing; and he considers affecting the appearance of youth by rolling his trousers and parting his hair behind to cover his bald spot.

The poem begins with Prufrock’s exhortation to the reader to accompany him on his epic journey to the drawing room which offers such tantalizing promise. Notice how the poem commences in an elevated poetic style with a lyrical image of the sky and then immediately descends to the level of the mundane, with the image of a victimized patient (a fitting comment on Prufrock himself). This technique of bathos, the juxtaposition of the grandiose and the trivial, is one of the mock-heroic devices Eliot uses in the monologue to draw attention to the decayed condition of the present.

Eliot alludes to a love poem by the seventeenth-century poet, Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress,” in his reference to the abundance of time for trivial, meaningless things (37-48). In “To His Coy Mistress” Marvell argues that there is very little time available to him and the object of his desire, so they should act accordingly, an appeal to carpe diem similar to that in Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time.” (“To His Coy Mistress” is also in your text—page 64.)

An allusion to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night again underscores the ironic difference between the romantic yearnings of the Duke Orsino and Prufrock’s disillusioned state of mind:

I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room. (52-53)

Prufrock has even less hope of attaining the object of his desire than Orsino. Moreover, he fears the piercing, critical looks of the ladies, which will reduce him to an insect pinned against the wall (57-58). He also compares himself to a crab scuttling sideways through life (73-74); in other words, he cannot confront life directly. This image of the crab alludes, again, to Hamlet, where the prince compares Polonius to a crab because of the way he approaches a subject from the side, never saying exactly what he means.

Prufrock’s greatest fear is that he will be misunderstood, that he will expose himself to the lady in question, displaying his nerves like a light show on a screen (105), and then be humiliated by her bored indifference to his plight. The problem of lack of communication, of misunderstanding, is integral to this dramatic monologue, as Prufrock struggles to understand and be understood in a modern world which has lost its sense of continuity, of value, and of history and tradition. Without a knowledge of the past to inform contemporary life, the present becomes meaningless. Perhaps the “overwhelming question,” then, is the same one which Hamlet asks himself: “To be or not to be?”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is conversational in tone—an intimate confession of one individual to another. It begins with an exhortation, which appears decisive: “Let us go.” Like the invitation, “Let’s go” in Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play, Waiting for Godot, this is repeated, but never acted upon. The varying line lengths are appropriate for the sentiments they express; they are expansive in the case of “When the evening is spread out against the sky” (2), and truncated to suggest anti-climax, or the winding down of an idea in “of insidious intent” (9), for example. There are frequent endrhymescouplets, in fact, as in “My Last Duchess,” with varying effects: the rhyme may set up the expectation of order and harmony, which is then undercut by the next unrhymed line, as in the first three lines of the monologue; or the rhyme may have a comic effect, deflating any tendency towards pretention. This is particularly evident in the last line of each verse paragraph, in which there is typically a paranoid question. The most “lyrical” sequence in the poem comes at the end, in Prufrock’s escapist fantasy: the seductive nature of the “sea-girls” is conveyed through the repeated w’s and the open vowel sounds.

In his poetry, Eliot draws on traditional forms and images, but he develops his monologue in a free form of verse—one appropriate to the nature of his subject. He is aware that poets write out of a continuing tradition, but one that is modified by contemporary interpretations and contributions:

[Tradition] involves the historical sense . . . ; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity. (714-715)

Eliot, then, did not feel bound by traditional fixed forms, but adapted them to accommodate the thoughts and feelings of his own time, as did the American poet whose work and opinion he greatly esteemed, Ezra Pound. For Pound, the form should be determined wholly by the requirements of the idea or feeling:

I think one should write vers libre [free verse] when one “must,” that is to say, only when the “thing” builds up a rhythm more beautiful than that of set meters, or more real, more a part of the emotion of the “thing,” more germane, intimate, interpretative than the measure of regular accentual verse; a rhythm which discontents one with set iambic or set anapestic. (Pound, “Prolegomena,” in The Bedford Introduction to Literature 1888)

 

“ode to frank silvera”

Reading

bill bissett, “ode to frank silvera,” reproduced below.

ode to frank silvera by bill bissett, reprinted in Beyond Even Faithful Legends, Selected Poems, © 1980 bill bissett, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C. Permission for use in Athabasca Engl 212 granted by the publisher.

ode to frank silvera

yu might think that moving
silently thru th tenement
yr holsters bright nd lively
in th yellow colord air

yu might think that yr horse
kickin without sound at th moon
where sum say th faild souls
those who cant find bodies hang
out

yu might say movin soft on top
of egg shell tord yr path, karma
is will plus fate, th old time
blend

yu might hope there is sum one
to love yu at th end of th road
yu might see nothin can grow in
th dust of yr anxieties

yu might say that fate is whats left
aftr yu do nothing. yu can go on
alone with all th mysteries of being.

yu walk out of th town at sun rise
before there is sound th fields
maybe yu get rheumatism from too
much mornin dew maybe yr hungr gets
too deep to drink maybe yr holsters
get parchd maybe theres only silence

yu might say there is always
more love of dark and golden being

yu might say yul fly
more like th crow

yu cud say yu dont have to kill
yrself that’l be taken care of

yu cud say th mountain and love is
hard and eternal, never yields to
nothing. sumtime yu are th wind
racing green ovr th hairy fields

sumtimes yu are th blind eye
of th sun turning in yr belly

yu dream

yu move further out a town

 

bill bissett’s “ode” is almost a parody of the formal structure of the traditional ode and its elevated, rhetorical language. Although it begins in what appears to be quatrains, the stanzas assume different lengths to achieve particular effects. A visual artist as well as a writer, bissett combines the visual and spatial elements of drawing with the printed word to achieve a form of visual poetry which he calls concrete poetry: the way a poem looks suggests what it means. In one of his more recent publications, IBM (saga uv th relees uv huuman spirit from compuewterr funckshuns), he “draws” a poem for each letter of the alphabet. The poem of o is a page full of circles. For s he conjures the sun by repeatedly drawing the word, something like this:

Bissett approaches painting and writing in the same way, “feeling what can come through, . . . rather than directing it” (Twigg 75). His phonetic spelling is “simply to get words closer to the way they really sound,” but it is also an attempt to relate to the less literate members of society, the poorly educated and the children, and, perhaps, to annoy the more academic pedants. He always uses lower case letters, perhaps as an attempt at self-effacement or democratization.

“ode to frank silvera” was first published in bissett’s collection, nobody owns the earth, 1971. Like Pindar’s odes, it is written in honour of someone, a kind of urban cowboy whose existence is characterized by a lack of direction or meaning, a would-be hero who can find nothing to be heroic about, a wanderer and a dreamer. However, ironically, he is placed in a kind of mythic context, compared to the “faild souls of/ those who cant find bodies.” Like a classical hero, he is also on a quest—a journey to find some significance to his existence—although he is unsure as to where he is going, and his journey might be more of an evasion or escape than a quest.

The poem is a series of apostrophes or direct addresses to frank silvera. Each stanza but one begins with an informal and colloquial “yu.” The poem develops through a series of images, one for each stanza, each image illuminating some aspect of frank silvera: his hopeless dreams of being some kind of urban cowboy “hero,” his failed loves, his general lack of direction. But at least he still has visions; he is still free to imagine and to dream. The images are almost surreal—a collage of disparate photographs. Perhaps the poem itself can be seen as a montage or a dreamscape of modern urban life.

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How is urban life portrayed in “London,” “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and “ode to frank silvera”?
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