A reading of a classic early poem by Eliot
‘Portrait of a Lady’ first appeared in T. S. Eliot’s first collection of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, which was published in 1917. The title is a nod to Henry James’s 1878 novel, The Portrait of a Lady, although this is a piece of misdirection on Eliot’s part, since the poem that follows will be much more about its young male speaker than it will about his older female companion. The poem is the other long monologue Eliot wrote satirising early twentieth-century society, alongside ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, the title poem of that debut collection. You can read ‘Portrait of a Lady’ here before proceeding to our short analysis of the poem below.
‘Portrait of a Lady’, in summary, charts the friendship between a man – though this time a younger man than J. Alfred Prufrock – and an older woman. In the first section, they attend a concert together; in the second, she talks regretfully of being old, and envies the young man his youth (he, meanwhile, busies himself reading comics and the sports pages of the newspaper); in the third, he tells her he is going abroad, and she makes him promise to write to her. After he leaves her, he reflects on how he has treated her. Does he have the right to smile? Has he treated her badly? Read the rest of this entry
How a little-known short-story writer broke new literary ground
‘A Cross Line’ first appeared in George Egerton’s 1893 collection of short stories, Keynotes. Egerton, whose real name was Mary Chavelita Dunne (she was nicknamed ‘Chav’ long before that word came to mean something else), has a claim to being the first female modernist writer in English. In ‘A Cross Line’ and a handful of other short stories from the 1890s, she pioneered an elliptical, impressionistic style of fiction that later writers such as Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf would bring to a wider readership.
‘A Cross Line’ is one of Egerton’s greatest triumphs. But since the story is relatively unknown, it’s worth rehearsing a brief summary of the plot before moving to a consideration and analysis of the story’s literary style and its key themes. An unnamed woman meets a grey-eyed man who is fishing, and the two strike up a conversation – and, possibly, a romance. We soon learn that the woman is already married, to a husband who fusses over hens and their chicks and wouldn’t let his wife ride the horse he once owned. Read the rest of this entry
The best poems of D. H. Lawrence
Although he’s best-known for novels such as Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and for short stories such as ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’, D. H. Lawrence was also a prolific poet whose work ranged from formally conventional poems to sprawling free verse influenced by Walt Whitman. What follows is our pick of ten of the greatest poems from Lawrence’s vast oeuvre of poetry.
‘Full Life’. We’ll begin with a very short D. H. Lawrence poem, which runs in its entirety as follows: ‘A man can’t fully live unless he dies and ceases to care, ceases to care.’
‘Snake’. This is almost certainly D. H. Lawrence’s best-known poem, written in free verse that echoes Walt Whitman more than the vers libre of Ezra Pound or T. E. Hulme. Lawrence describes seeing a snake coming to drink at his water-trough (the poem was written while Lawrence was living in Italy). He considers killing the snake, because it’s venomous, but in the end makes a lacklustre attempt to attack it with a log, while the snake is slithering away. He then rebukes himself for the lamentable quality of ‘pettiness’. Read the rest of this entry