The 20th century was characterized by many innovations and new theories which led believe that the reason and the science could finally bring happiness to human beings. But when in 1914 and in 1939 two World Wars broke out, all certitudes felt and prosperity and stability became a privilege for high classes only. The Imperial hegemony and the white race superiority were the results of the dissolution of the English Empire in the free associations of Commonwealth.
The invention of the atomic bomb, of the psychology and of new communications and faster means of transport changed the world forever.
Of this crucial period were the fundamental discovers of some scientists as Sigmund Freud, Henry Bergson, Albert Einstein and the theories of the philosopher Nietzsche.
Freud published in 1900 his most famous work “The interpretation of dreams” where he spoke about unconscious and he described it as that irrational force that can create, in some cases, psychical disturbing. He spoke also about the presence of the super - ego as that man aspects composed of all moral and social constraints and laws imposed form the outside and that influenced the behaviour of everyone of us. This new view of investigation of the human mind brought to the method of analysis of the “free associations”.
Nietzsche reflected about God and he arrived to the conclusion that He was died.
Bergson was a philosopher who introduced a new concept of time, dividing into:
• “historical time” that’s linear, external and measurable with the special distance;
• “psychological time” that’s internal, subjective and measurable with the emotional intensity of a particular moment lived.
Eistein, on the contrary, was a physic and he exposed the important theory about relativity, giving to time a subjective and a relative connotation.
All these important revolutions influenced inevitably modern poets and writes like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, who developed in literature the interior monologue for bringing out the stream of consciousness of their characters.
In fact this new literary technique consisted on making not an external but an internal description (for this reason many stories developed only in one day) of confusion thoughts before they expressed in logical phases.
This period was called “Age of Anxiety” because of the general feeling of alienation in the society and a common attitude of isolation.
T. S. Eliot
Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, into a prominent family. His cultural background was English and then European, in fact, from his birth and at the university of Harvard, Eliot studied Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian, studying Dante. In the 1910–1911 school year, Eliot lived in Paris and he studied at the Sorbonne, attended Henry Bergson’s lectures, reading the works of French Symbolists and touring the continent.
When the First World War broke out he went to London, where he published philosophical essays, and then he went to Oxford.
In 1915 Eliot got married with Vivien Haigh - Wood. The poet edited an intellectual magazine of European literature (“The Criterion”) and became the editor of Faber and Faber, published his own works and encouraging the production of young poets.
Eliot spent a lot of time in a sanatorium in Swiss and in that period he composed his masterpiece, “The waste land”, because writing was his only way of escape from the reality of his unhappy marriage. In 1927 he became a British citizen and in 1932, he decided to separate from his wife. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature and he died of emphysema in London in 1965.
Eliot was influenced by Ezra Pound, the most important American imagiste.
Imagism was a movement in early 20th century Anglo-American poetry that favored a simple, sharp and essential language and a narration based not more on a chronological linearity but on continues movements in the time. The imagists used the free verse similar to the prose and a quotidian speaking. They rejected the sentiment and artifice typical of much Romantic and Victorian poetry. Group publication of work under the Imagist name in magazines and in four anthologies appearing between 1914 and 1917 featured writing by many of the most significant figures in Modernist poetry in English, like T. S. Eliot.
Since from his first works, Eliot mixed vacuity and frivolity of Boston and London societies with lyrical beauty visions. His political disillusionment was for having lost a young generation in the First World War.
Eliot wanted to recreate values in a world where they dissolved.
The Waste Land.
The “Waste Land” is Eliot masterpiece and is dedicated to the American imagist Ezra Pound.
This work is divided into 5 sections:
٭ The first one is called “The burial of the dead”;
٭ The second one is “A game of chess”;
٭ The third one, “The fire sermon” is characterized by the figure of Tiresias (a characters who belongs to “Le metamorfosi” of Ovidio) who represented all humanity in the past and present, man and woman for his capability to force the future;
٭ The fourth one, “Dead by water (10 lines)”, is important because it presented the literary technique of the correlative objective in the image of water;
٭ The last fifth one is called “What the thunder said” and here there finally was the possibility to overcome every problems.
“THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD”.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew and stopped him, crying:
“You who were with me in the ship at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“O keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur! - mon semblante, - mon frère!
This poetry belongs to the first part of “The Waste Land”.
Here, there isn’t the traditional image of April as the month of fertility who represented the beauty of life. Here, it’s presented as “the cruellest month” because, in the opinion of the poet, there is sterility in it.
On the contrary, Winter has a positive meaning because, with his trees riches of roots and his fog, it protects man.
At the ninth verse, Eliot speaks about an Unreal City (this expression is directly taken by “Fleurs du mal” of the French decadentist poet Baudelaire), identified in London. This city is unreal because it’s populated by dead: in fact, there are many people on the London Bridge at 9 o’clock in the morning. They are walking to work.
They are physically alive, but they are dead inside.
Also the clock has a bad connotation.
It’s like they be in the “Inferno” of Dante (there are citations of it:
“I had not thought death had undone so many” and “Sights, short and infrequent, were exhaled”).
At nineteenth verse, the author writes: “Stetson!”. This is a kind of heat used by Ezra Pound and it’s for this reason that many critics have identified it with the imagist.
At the next verse, he names “Mylae” that is a famous battle which Romans and Carthaginians took part in: there is no distinction between past, present and future.
The poetry ends with a phrase taken directly from “Fleurs du mal” of Baudelaire.
Eliot poetry is finalized to have a dynamic and active participation of the reader, thanks the mythological aspect for citations from classic texts, the use of many languages: the reader has to complete the poetry with his personal experience.