Why has T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations been regarded as marking a radical break from poetic tradition?
‘Yet 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 success, ‘tradition’ should be discouraged’ (Eliot, 1982).
This essay will discuss why Eliot has chosen to make this radical break from poetic tradition in Prufrock and Other Observations and what was influencing him at the time. The quote above from Eliot’s ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1982) is Eliot himself making clear that if he was to follow the works of his immediate predecessors, which at the time would have been the Victorian and Romantic era in poetry, then his work would have not been what it was. Instead Eliot moved forward in his writing and supported the birth of the Modernist Movement which was a radical break from the traditional poetic values of Victorian poetry. This essay will focus on the form Eliot used, his influence from pre-Victorian writers and how he moves away from traditional Victorian topics such as nature and beauty to show something new and how each of these shows why Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations has been regarded as making a radical break from poetic traditions.
Imagism came slightly before Modernism and this was all about stripping poetry back and allowing more of a freedom unlike the Victorians (McGuinness, 2007). Eliot picked up where imagists left off and saw no reason in sticking to the Victorian poetry as he saw it as being in the past. His collection of poems entitled Prufrock and Other Observations showed a radical break from poetic tradition. Instead of being interested in beauty and nature and expressing emotional life Eliot was interested in the detached observers which we see clearly in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.
At the end of the nineteenth-century and start of the twentieth-century the deaths of great Victorian poets such as Arnold, Browning and Tensing impacted poetry and that it was described as lacking in progression. This left a void in literature during this time and allowed room for new poets to emerge. This break from traditional poetic values introduced new ways of seeing the world especially as it was the years leading up to World War One. Eliot was instrumental in the Modernist Movement and had little care for what the Victorians and Romantics were writing about as he saw it as outdated and mainstream. Pericles (2007) says that ‘Modernist writers’ view of the modern world has often of its own being already and exhaustingly overwritten.’ Modernists had a hatred for the literary techniques of the last century due to this. However, they were still interested in French Symbolism such as Laforgue as they believed they were ahead of their time.
In ‘The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ we see Eliot explore this idea of the detached observer. In the lines ‘Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?’...