Book or Movie Review English Studies

How to Read T.S. Eliot in Today’s World

TS Eliot-052721
Credit: Julian Peters

Most people I know only read poetry because they were assigned to in class; however, poetry is the form of literature that allows for your freedom of interpretation and subjectivity. So unlike a math course there is more than one “right” answer. A former British Literature professor of mine once reminded me that even though these poems are written from periods long ago they can still be contemporary and relevant because of our crucial roles as the reader. All forms of literature give us a lot of insight and wisdom of multiple themes and issues that are relatable to our lives today because of our intertwined experience as an individual living in today’s world.

T.S. Eliot

Our discourse in language is an essential part of our everyday living so it makes sense that it not only gives us our voice but allows us to communicate with others, and therefore, grants us the ability to try to understand these underlying messages and meanings that can only come from reading a poem ourselves. I chose to discuss T.S. Eliot‘s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” because the writing and choice of language are the essential elements that set it apart from most other poems from its time period that it was written in when it was printed in 1915, and then published in 1917 through the urging of Ezra Pound who had sent the poem to be published in the journal entitled: Poetry. Eliot’s first published work, entitled Prufrock and Other Observationsimmediately established him as a leading poet of the avant-garde” (poets.org). Another reason this poem caught my attention is because of the relevancy it has to each of us living in today’s society and culture. Even though it was written more than 100 years from now its themes and dialogues are still consistent and applicable to the struggles and insecurities people face today. Communication has altered much from Eliot’s lifetime to the present. Today’s communication involves social media platforms and instant messaging, which is constant and prevalent in society’s present setting. There is a certain number of both advantages and disadvantages to these applications. Just as Eliot describes his challenges with vulnerability and communicating face to face with another person, overuse of social media and instant messaging can also act as a tangible hindrance toward living in the present moment, and interacting with those around us. Even though we can have so many “friends” and followers online we can also be simultaneously very isolated from our culture of phones and laptops that are such a primary element of our day to day lives. Because we have them with us everywhere it is that much more of a challenge to make authentic connections and relationships with the distraction and loss of the practice of socializing verbally solely, it is quite difficult while in the moment to be attentive to one another especially during our day to day interactions with one another.

Source: https://8tracks.com/glitchedplant/do-i-dare-disturb-the-universe

A personal example of when I myself, faced this most strenuous challenge that T.S. Eliot emphasizes through his prose such as exposing oneself to the vulnerability of opening oneself to either acceptance or rejection from those people we meet, who can also transform to new relationships or friendships, if we can decide to take that first necessary step of introducing ourselves or to not do anything at all. We, as human beings, have such fear of the unknown, a lacking of  a sense of agency, as well as many insecurities on whether we will be liked that we each question ourselves:

“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” (Eliot, 45-48)

I experienced this decision especially during my time spent abroad in Madrid, Spain, where I was faced with the daily decision to choose a place to eat, what I would eat, then to finally decide if I would dare to engage in conversation with a complete stranger or to simply allow myself to seek the comfort and security of just looking at my phone the entire time I had lunch. It was one of these afternoons when I made the choice to just eat from my host university’s cafeteria, and came upon an available spot to have my lunch. I was feeling homesick and nervous to not only put myself out there but to do it in a language I was not fluent in but all the while I was only hoping for the best. Thankfully, the person I did chose to start a conversation with inconceivably was a fellow American exchange student. It was quite funny to learn who I originally thought was a local Madrid born student was actually a person going through the same struggles as me; such as picking up a new language, learning about a new place, and additionally, who shared the same goal to satisfy her wanderlust of the fabulous city of Madrid.

Cristina and Kathryn Whitaker

Her name was Mary Kathryn Whitaker, a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, and she was really passionate about blogging about her discoveries of special unique places in her hometown and the places she found while on her travels. We learned we shared an affinity for ex-boy-band members’ solo careers, specifically Harry Styles, appreciating the arts (we attended a ballet show at the Teatros del Canal to see the contemporary ballet performance entitled: Boleró), and we ended up traveling together through the travel agency Smart Insiders to go on a trip to Cordoba to experience their annual Los Patíos de Las Flores. I would probably have had a much different experience while abroad if I did not take the chance, or rather dared to “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” (Eliot, 27). It is often these chance encounters that reveal who we are underneath our pride and caution—simply people who seek to truly “see” one another, to then be understood, which can also lead to a strong yearning to share life’s delights with another individual.

Therefore, the primary lesson I have learned from reading and re-reading this beloved T.S. Eliot poem is to take that leap of faith, otherwise you may miss out on some profoundly spectacular moments and connections that you can only gain from living. For that reason, we have to take action rather than lie “Like a patient etherized upon a table” or else we may miss the opportunity to make ourselves known, and are therefore not available to that other person to aid them in their quest for community and comradeship so “Let us go then, you and I” and make beloved memories on this shared journey (3,1).


CCisnerosCristina Cisneros
Associate Student Representative, Far Western Region, 2018-2019
Epsilon Rho Chapter
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV

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  • Dear Cristina: I enjoyed your Sigma Tau Delta blog post about the T.S. Elliot poem and meeting a new friend in Spain. I don’t have trouble striking up a conversation here at home, but I’m not sure how I would be in another country, so “Bravo” to you. Years ago my sister-in-law and I, both from N.C., were having lunch during a visit to New York City. Three older ladies were seated nearby. When we heard the ladies talking in a familiar accent about canning tomatoes, we looked at each other wide-eyed. It turns out they were from a town about 10 miles from from where my sister-in-law lives in the mountains. The fun chance encounter made our lunch memorable. Thanks again! Pam

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