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A Section-by-Section Summary of T. S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday

A summary of a major Eliot poem

The following constitutes a very brief summary of the six sections of T. S. Eliot’s long poem Ash-Wednesday (1930), which was the first major poem Eliot wrote after his conversion to Christianity in 1927. (That same year, he wrote ‘Journey of the Magi’, but Ash-Wednesday was a poem on an altogether larger scale – so the following brief summary may help to clarify the ‘narrative’ of the poem and how it charts the religious journey of the poet.

Part I introduces the speaker, who is a person without hope, for whom the world holds few pleasures. Life has lost its meaning and joy because the speaker has lost his faith. There are echoes here of ‘The Hollow Men’: the idea of a person in a sense cast out from the world of life and growth. The speaker renounces all earthly and temporal things, and acknowledges the emptiness of worldly aspirations and ambitions (see the image of his ‘wings’ as merely ‘vans to beat the air’, rather than to soar up into higher things). Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of Ezra Pound’s The Cantos

A brief introduction to a modernist epic

Ezra Pound’s colossal work of modernist poetry, The Cantos, runs to nearly 800 pages and took him over half his life to write – and even then, he never finished it. Is The Cantos a masterpiece of twentieth-century poetry or an artistic failure? Is it sheer self-indulgent verbiage or an under-read and underappreciated epic for the modern world? We can hardly scratch the surface in this short introduction to Pound’s Cantos, but we’re going to address some of the key aspects of the poem and offer an analysis of its overall aims and features.

Ezra Pound referred to The Cantos as, variously, ‘an epic including history’ and, with more muted self-praise, a ‘ragbag’. Yet although it is undeniably a ragbag, there are a number of key themes running through The Cantos. Pound has started out with Imagism, in 1912, and the idea of ‘superposition’: placing, as it were, one image on top of another, so that in his most famous early poem, the two-line ‘In a Station of the Metro’, the faces of the commuters in the Metro station are placed next to the image of petals on the wet, black bough of a tree. Read the rest of this entry

A Summary and Analysis of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King

An introduction to a classic play

The plot of Sophocles’ great tragedy Oedipus the King (sometimes known as Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannos) has long been admired. In his Poetics, Aristotle held it up as the exemplary Greek tragedy. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it one of the three perfect plots in all of literature (the other two being Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones). Oedipus the King might also be called the first detective story in Western literature. Yet how well do we know Sophocles’ play? And what does a closer analysis of its plot features and themes reveal? Read the rest of this entry