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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

10. Rhythms
in Poetry

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
- Overview Questions
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- Author
- Context
- Creative Response
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Activities: Author Activities

T. S. Eliot - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: How would you describe the speaker in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? What are his fears? Is he a sympathetic character? Why does he ask so many questions? What is the significance of the title? How would you describe the tone of this poem?

  2. Comprehension: Some readers have argued that Tiresias is the narrator of The Waste Land, a voice behind all the other voices. When he appears in "The Fire Sermon" in line 217, he says "I, Tiresias." Who is this figure in classical mythology? Why might Eliot choose to invoke him here? How does he relate to other themes in the poem?

  3. Comprehension: In "Tradition and the Individual Talent" Eliot writes: "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality." What does Eliot mean here? Does he follow his own dictum? What would he say of other poets in this unit?

  4. Context: "Learning of German Retreat from Her District," in the archive, depicts some of the devastation inflicted upon the European landscape. In the video, critic Lisa Steinman argues that, like the war-torn buildings, The Waste Land "is, in fact, a kind of rubble of stuff that used to have meaning and used to go together and that doesn't seem to go together." What are the fragments from which The Waste Land is composed? From what cultures do these fragments originate? What sorts of images would you use to illustrate this text?

  5. Context: Many readers have noted that The Waste Land is written in an apocalyptic mode; that is, it functions as a work of crisis literature that reveals truths about the past, present, and/or future in highly symbolic terms, and it is intended to provide hope and encouragement for people in the midst of severe trials and tribulations. What crises do the characters in The Waste Land face? Given this context, how do you read the ending of the poem? Is the final line triumphant or apocalyptic?

  6. Context: How does Eliot's brand of modernism differ from Williams's? Do they share any ideas, beliefs, or techniques?

  7. Exploration: What is the effect of the host of esoteric allusions in The Waste Land? Why do you think Eliot chooses the kinds of references he does? Why does he draw from so many different religions?

  8. Exploration: In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Eliot argues that "if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, 'tradition' should positively be discouraged." What keeps Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" from merely "blindly" or "timidly" adhering to the tradition of dramatic monologues? What is uniquely modern about Eliot's innovations?

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