Reading T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in the Age of Brexit

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle rereads T. S. Eliot’s classic poem about a Britain in decline

It’s nearly a century since T. S. Eliot, having just turned thirty, announced his intention to write a long poem about the contemporary world. Several letters he wrote in 1919 see him declaring this ambition to move beyond the dramatic monologues of his first volume (most famously ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ but also ‘Portrait of a Lady’) and the witty quatrain poems of his second collection (of which ‘Sweeney among the Nightingales’ is a notable example).

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A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Sweeney among the Nightingales’

A commentary on one of Eliot’s classic quatrain poems by Dr Oliver Tearle

‘Sweeney among the Nightingales’ is one of a number of quatrain poems which T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) included in his second collection, Poems (1920). Eliot wrote several poems featuring ‘Sweeney’ – a fictional modern-day knuckle-dragger, a brutish but also smart and dapper man, the twentieth century’s answer to a Neanderthal (if that’s not being too hard on Neanderthals).

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A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Gerontion’ is notable for being the only English poem in T. S. Eliot’s second volume of poetry (the collection also contained some French poems) which does not adopt the regular quatrain form found in ‘A Cooking Egg’, ‘Sweeney Erect’, ‘The Hippopotamus’, ‘Sweeney among the Nightingales’, and ‘Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service’. (There was another non-quatrain English poem, about a honeymoon night gone terribly wrong and titled simply ‘Ode’, in the original printing of the volume but Eliot was not happy with it and removed it from later editions.)

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A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’

A reading of Eliot’s early poem by Dr Oliver Tearle

Sylvia Plath once said that she thought anything should be able to be used in a poem, but she couldn’t imagine a toothbrush in a poem. Yet at the end of ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’, T. S. Eliot had used the toothbrush as a way of hinting at the workaday world (we brush our teeth every day, at least if we wish to avoid too many trips to the dentist), with it hanging on the wall, just as the shoes wait by the door, ready for the following morning when the world will once more spring into action.

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A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’

A reading of a classic early Eliot poem by Dr Oliver Tearle

‘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 1881 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.

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