Linguistic Analyses of Eliot's Poems

Categories: Poems

Abstract Thomas Stern Eliot (1888-1965) is one of the important poets and the most influential critics of English literature. He attempts to re-educate his readers through the use of languages and various other techniques. Many differences in interpretation exist for Eliot’s complex poetry. In this discussion I shall be examining Eliot's use of a range of linguistic devices. The discussion will focus on how T. S. Eliot employs the medium of language to parallel and reflect his observation of the recurring and repetitive patterns of the life and death process.

This paper evaluates the complex linguistic structure of The Waste Land, The Hallow Man, and The Four Quartets. Introduction The controversy whether or not poetic language is different from common everyday language started with I. A. Richards’s determining book, principal of Literary Criticism (1930), wherein he mentions two use of language. He argues that a statement is used either as a reference to a cause, true or false, or for the sake of producing emotional attitude.

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The former he calls the scientific use of language and the latter the emotive. He considers poetry as the supreme form of emotive use of language. Different norms operate in a social and poetic discourse. Deviation from the established norms of a linguistic system is not necessarily a requirement for poetic effect. Various linguistic items form an organic whole within the main body of a poem as these items have meaning within the broader context of the poem.

So, the poetic use of language is quite different from the social use because in the former the sound effects, such as assonance, alliteration, rhyme, meter, and even the onomatopoeic expressions are combined with lexical and syntactic arrangement to establish a specific code, whereas the later does not require all these delicacies for the transfer of message.

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T. S. Eliot’s choice of exotic words, the argot, and slang or vernacular words evokes a level of strangeness. Eliot also employs realistic language and nursery rhymes or nonsense verses, and makes his characters to raise countless questions, and offers open texts with plural meanings.

Through investigating these linguistic devices, we will find that Eliot's poetry catches the reader's eye by creating the effect of defamiliarization. The Waste Land is rather an obscure poem. A number of critics claimed that it was a fusion of five misappropriated poems, lacking coherence and thematic unity. The poem has lots of literary, anthropological, mythodological, and religious allusions that all shows the poets level of knowledge. This poem is one of the greatest poems in twentieth century, so through this work an effort has been made to focus the coherent pattern of the poem linguistically.

As Eliot usually intertwined his writing by having one piece related to another, The Hollow Men is sometimes considered as an attachment to The Wasteland. Trying to clear up all the figures, symbols and meanings that Eliot wished to transmit through The Hollow Men, we will work on an intensive analysis, describing and explaining as accurately as possible all the linguistic devices found in the text. Finally we shall be examining Eliot's use of a range of linguistic devices in The Four Quartets. T. S. Eliot uses language in a special way to mirror his insight of the repeated patterns of the life and death process.

In our discussion we will focus on the linguistic aspects of Eliot's poem. Linguistic analysis of The Waste Land A word may have several contextual meanings in non-poetic language, but still these various meanings are established by their syntactic usage in the conventional code. But in poetry one word may have several meanings, or it may be a fusion of various categories that may create even a new category with a totally distinct meaning that may have never existed before. So, words like “fog” and “smoke” which are inanimate nouns get a number of attributes of animate nouns in the following lines from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening. All the underlined expressions are deviant, as there is no specification whether “fog” and “smoke” are associated with animals of the feline family, or the poet is just visualizing sub-consciously the movement of an animal and attributing its qualities to the fog and smoke perceived in the immediate surroundings. For creating such a language, the poet is required to have a deep analysis of syntax and lexis. Personification is not the only way of creating poetic effects.

Contrary to it, there are opposite trends trough which human subjects are conceived in non-human terms. This trend is quite obvious in modern poetry, especially in Eliot’s poetry: At the violet hour, when the eyes and back Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine wants Like a taxi throbbing waiting. (T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land) A user of a language may naturally feel the oddity of a text, but he may not be able to have appropriate linguistic explanation for it. Therefore, it is useful to have an account of various kinds of derivation with special reference to Eliot’s poetry.

A discourse normally should have a proper beginning, but one notices numerous deviations from this principle in poetic language. Consequently, a poem may either start abruptly, or the opening may seem the middle of discourse. The normal discourse constitutes of three parts: the producer of the message, the message itself, and the receiver of the message. Normally poetic discourse observes this principle, with the only variation that the producer of the message is one but the receiver are many, and that the receivers are not provided with any situational context—a factor which provides poetic discourse open to more than one interpretation.

The producer of the message and his space and time are not the same as those of the receiver. The poet may also believe it is not important to adopt a direct mode of address, and thus a character may replace the writer. Sometimes, instead of one addresser, there may be more than one addressee. T. S. Eliot, in some of his poems, especially The Waste Land, adopts this mode of writing: And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s My cousin’s he took me out on a sled, And I was frightened. He said, Marie, Marie.

Hold on tight. And down we went. In the mountains, there you feel free. (II. 13-17) Another very prominent aspect of modern poetry is lexical deviation. Poets achieve foregrounding by mixing words of different variety that do not normally coexist. This aspect of Eliot’s poetry can be seen in The Waste Land. Register mixing is another feature of poetic discourse. This technique was operative even in the works of poets of the past, but modern poetry is replete with unusual expressions belonging to different registers.

Like other modern poets Eliot also borrows from different registers, thus mixing registers through juxtaposition of high sounding poetic diction and mundane trivial phraseology. The best example in this context is The Waste Land(III) The rivers bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers, Silk handkerchiefs, cardbord boxes, cigarette ends Or other testimony of summer night. The nymphs are departed And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors Departed, have left no addressees The catalogue given as indication for summer night is very unusual, bearing no correspondence to one another.

Then the three underlined lines, the first one being sublime in its effect, suggestive of the sublime Greek literature and mythodology and the second one just an ordinary, non-poetic indirect sentence thematically juxtapose each other. Eliot through juxtaposition of sublime and pathetic expression tries to show continuity of the past into the present—a notion which is the essence of his concept of tradition. Eliot uses an irregular language and form in his composition to make a new poem out of the inherited language of tradition.

The opening lines vary between five and nine syllables each. Five of the seven lines end with a single verb in participial form, following a comma (which marks a caesura, or pause, in the poem’s rhythm). These lines seem uneven—as if the poet had started to write iambic pentameter but not completed the lines or as if he had intended to write shorter lines with three or four beats each but felt compelled to add the words that appear after the commas. Linguistic analysis of The Hollow Men The poem starts with an epigraph, which contains two important references.

Mistah Kurtz –he dead A penny for the Old Guy First, Mistah Kurtz –he dead is an allusion to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Conrad in his novella tries to show the empty nature of men. Mister Kurtz, a European slave trader who had travelled to Africa in order to go on with his business. He is a character who lacks a soul, and is a true `Hollow Man?. Here the `phonetic? spelling of `Mister? changes into Mistah and, the verb `to be? is emitted in he dead. This confirms that the speaker is probably some kind of non-native English speaker who uses a pidgin or a Creole language.

It seems that this verse is the answer for a question like `Where’s Mister Kurtz?? , as if we didn’t know that he (is) (already) dead. This idea of `ignored death? related to `emptiness? will be subsequently developed through the poem. Repetition is the mostly used feature in this poem, which employs about 180 different words in a work 420 words long. Not only does it connect different sections of the poem, but it even appears within the same line (behaving as the wind behaves, line 35). In lines 1-2 we see the first repetition in the poem.

In this case, we’re dealing with a structural repetition (we are the hollow men; we are the stuffed men). This structure Subject + to be + copula will be used again in the first lines of part III (this is the dead land; this is the cactus land) and part IV (the eyes are not here; there are no eyes here). This proves that the author reinforces, through repetition, the description of states and existences using the verb to be in Present Simple. At the end of Part I, the first couple of verses is repeated again (as the hollow men, the stuffed men), enclosing the whole idea of hollowness and emptiness.

The deictic marks indicate the space, the time and the person –or persons- taking part in a textual situation. The Hollow Men is completely full of them. Let’s look back again at the first couple of verses. The We mentioned, obviously refers to the speaker, but also to other people. However, its meaning is rather vague, as we don’t really know if it refers to `me and you and others? , `me and you but not others? or `me and others but not you?. In any case, the speaker is implied within the state of being a `hollow, stuffed man? , and so are all the rest of `subjects? to whom We refers.

In the last stanza of Part I, we find a Those which is clearly opposite to We as it says: Those who have crossed with direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom remember us not as lost, violent souls, but only as the hollow men, the stuffed men. This means that We are not remembered as lost, violent souls (Mistah Kurtz or Guy Fawkes) but just as hollow men, in relation to Those (who have crossed with direct eyes), implying as well that the hollow men do not possess those `direct eyes?. Even so, we cannot distinguish the complete meaning of We. Parallelism is a device which controls the reader’s understanding and reaction to the poem.

Sometimes the phrase and the clause level parallelism may be limited as the poet may extend it to the whole domain of a poem, and thus nothing seems changed. We can find the best example in this context: We are the hollow men We are the stuffed men ………………… Shape without form, shade without colour Paralysed force, gesture without motion …………………. This is the dead land This is the cactus land In the first two lines, the syntactic structure is identical, and semantically only two words have opposite meaning (hollow ~ stuffed); the reader is, therefore, attracted to this foregrounding to construct a parallel meaning relationship.

A man cannot be hollow and stuffed at the same time; so, the reader has to investigate metaphorical dimensions for these expressions, which mean people incapable of creativity. We are the hollow men S V C We are the stuffed men S V C The whole psychological notion of the foregrounding lies only in the antithetical adjectives used in the subject complement of both the clauses. Similar antithetical parallelism is not observed in the following lines from the same poem: Shape without form Shade without colour Paralysed force Gesture without motion. Shape is not possible without form, shade requires colour, whereas gesture requires notion.

The three phrases containing “without” show a clear balancing force of nouns equalizing nouns in opposite direction. But the noun phrase with adjective as pre-modifiers does not retain that equalizing balance, either syntactically or semantically. Although force is not associated with paralysis, it cannot be totally dissociated from either. The most prominent aspect of these two lines is that phrases in the first lines deal with static perception of things without physical form, whereas the last two phrases involve the negation of dynamic motion.

These lines show that parallelism can be extended from the narrow orbit of lexis to a broader domain of a complex kind of meaning. The last two lines are also syntactically identical, having an S V C structure with the only variation of the adjectives “dead” and “cactus” that modify the head of the noun phrases in the subject complements. This is the dead land S V C This is the cactus land S V C Dead and cactus seem semantically parallel but perhaps the poet is associating deadness with the place, which breeds cacti.

This brief analysis reveals how poets include paradoxes or semantic opposition in very simple lines to convey their philosophy of life, and also leave so much for the readers to infer. Linguistic analysis of The Four Quartets Here we are going to show how T. S. Eliot used the language to create cyclical images in order to impact on the reader’s perception of the division and unity between the physical and spiritual dimensions of human existence. To investigate the limitations and the extremities of human thoughts, conditions and existence Eliot tried to show the finite nature of language.

So he is not so much displaying scholarly references in The Four Quartets. In our argument we put language as the central critical theme of East Coker. Eliot uses language to reflect the finite nature of life and the infinity of existence. Life incorporates death because existence is universally ongoing and although individual life is transient it is perpetuated through subsequent generations in the evolution of our spiritual development. In his use of language Eliot juxtaposes the spuriously solid image of the 'house' with the enduring cycle of destruction

and restoration. A factory replaces a house and life replaces death but the individual life and the physical house are transient states and objects, which are built and born, destroyed and replaced by different objects and incarnations, and so the cycle is continued: In my beginning is my end.

In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass. [5] 'beginning/ end,' 'rise/ fall,' 'destroyed/ restored. ' are the linguistic opposites which Eliot consciously uses in this poem to show that the life and death cycle are interdependent on each other.

The word “houses” is a word that gives double meaning and Eliot introduces human existence into this dichotomy. People who are mortal build the house which is material and will perish with age. We find that Eliot uses outdated language an opposite parallel to the destruction and regeneration of our physical existence. He adds in a range of different forms of language, which he uses to varied but intended effect.

He is as concerned with the use and resurrection of language as he is with the life and death cycle of mortality. For example he integrates lines from Spenser's Epithalamion into East Coker: In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie - A dignified and commodious sacrament. Two and two, necessary conjunction, [7] Leech (1969) maintains that through broader use of language, poets do not care for dialectical and register restrictions — so much that they do not deem themselves restricted to the language of their own particular period, and thus extend the domain of their linguistic choice to the past.

This is truer about T. S. Eliot, in particular as he says in one of his essays, “Tradition and Individual Talent” that no poet has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to dead poets and artists. Eliot considers the three divisions of time — past, present and future — as one whole, and just as a creative artist is influenced by his predecessors, he may influence others of his own succeeding generation.

This has been succinctly put forth in the opening lines of Burnt Norton: Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. Eliot illustrates his parallel between the restrictions of life and limitations of language in Burnt Norton: Words move, music moves Only in time; but that which is only living Can only die. Words, after speech, reach, Into the silence. [8] Eliot's use of 'only' reinforces the notion of the single, insignificant acts of birth and death in the sweep of the relentless but repetitive panorama of existence; 'that which is only living/ Can only die'. Thus life fades into death and words fade into silence.

Life's natural processes, like the language used to express them are part of the 'dung/death,' 'eating/drinking,' 'end/beginning,' cycle. In Burnt Norton Eliot reminds the reader of the pertinacious and dynamic yet frail nature of language: And all is always now. Words strain Crack and sometimes break, under the burden Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still. [9] Difficulty of both language and content is the most outstanding characteristic of The Four Quartets.

This poem has no objection and conclusion: 'In my end is my beginning' is the resounding message which, if unraveled, only serves to send the reader round in ever widening circles. The construction of the poem provides an explanation for the apparent lack of linear progression. Conclusion T. S. Eliot states that the poet does not influence the poem with his personality and emotions, but uses language in such a way as to incorporate within the poem the impersonal feeling and emotion common to all humankind. Poetry is not then, the freeing of the poet’s emotions, but an escape from them.

Because a poem is an impersonal formulation of common feeling and emotions, a successful poem units the poet’s impressions and ideas with those common to all humanity, producing a text that is not simply a reflection of the poet’s personal feeling. According to Eliot, the only way of expressing emotion through art is by finding a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events, or reactions that can effectively awaken in the reader the emotional response the author desires without being a direct statement of that emotion.

When the external facts are thus presented in the poem, they somehow correlate, immediately evoking an emotion. Eliot employs realistic language and nursery rhymes or nonsense verses, and makes his characters to raise countless questions, and offers open texts with plural meanings. Through investigating these linguistic devices, we advance the idea that Eliot's poetry catches the reader's eye by creating the effect of defamiliarization. T. S.

Eliot was innovative in his use of language and developed unique methods for evoking emotion in the reader. The repetition of ideas and words is numerous all along the poems of Eliot. He uses different literary mechanisms in order to foreground items. Repetition may be considered as a way of emphasizing of his ideas and foregrounding. The formal strategy of Eliot’s poems, like their thematic contents, seems designed to demonstrate how effectively the Shadow of the inarticulate falls between the conception and the creation of an artistic work.

Formal aspects of the poems imitate the characteristics which they portray. Bibliography: Conflicts in Consciousness: T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Criticism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984. T. S. Eliot. Four Quartets. London: Faber and Faber. 1986 T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956. Williamson, George. A Reader’s Guide to T. S. Eliot: A Poem by Poem Analysis. New York: Octagon Books, 1979.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Linguistic Analyses of Eliot's Poems. (2016, Sep 12). Retrieved from

Linguistic Analyses of Eliot's Poems essay
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