Academic journal article Yeats Eliot Review

More Than "Prufrock," Less Than "Gerontion": The Moment of Knowledge in Inventions of the March Hare

Academic journal article Yeats Eliot Review

More Than "Prufrock," Less Than "Gerontion": The Moment of Knowledge in Inventions of the March Hare

Article excerpt

The important theme of T.S. Eliot 's early poems is "observation," especially what the narrators fix their gaze upon, as we can guess from the title of his first collection of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations. (1) They observe and fragmentally sketch sterile daily scenes and people acting as clowns or in masquerades in urban cities. It is not clear whether the narrators wandering in urban cities know what they are seeking for and where they are heading. Their endless wandering is a process necessary for them to grasp their identity or gain self-knowledge. However, a barrier against this is their own know-it-all attitudes. Prufrock is afraid of establishing a real contact with other people and of facing his own inner self, while he pretends to have a perfect self-knowledge, saying, "I have known ..." or "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." The narrator of "Portrait of a Lady" is weighing the timing of breaking off the relationship with his woman. However, what he is actually interested in is just his masked self and his real self, though he is gazing upon her. His masked self appears to maintain his equanimity, have a sense of superiority and know everything perfectly. On the other hand, his real self is influenced and disturbed by her words and attitudes and afraid of admitting that he doesn't have perfect knowledge. Both narrators' glances are cast toward just themselves after all, though they face up to others. The narrator is trapped by his own extreme self-consciousness and can't face up to his true self. And he is tightening, loosening, manipulating and toying with a string tied to his masked self or his real self, as if he is a manipulator of a marionette. Like this, the narrator's self-consciousness never arrives at a true self-knowledge.

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Mask and acting are a way not only to conceal and protect a coward's vulnerable inner self and to release himself from painful self-restraint and self-consciousness, but also to keep him farther from a true self-knowledge. The narrators of "Prufrock" and "Portrait of a Lady" are escaping from intimate contacts with others and from looking into their own inner minds honestly. On the other hand, Gerontion staying in "a decayed house" seems to grasp some knowledge of the outer world as well as a kind of cool self-knowledge, saying "I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch," or "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?" In this article, I wish to search in the speakers of the poems in Inventions of the March Hare 1909-1917 by T. S. Eliot (2) for a missing link between these different stages of self-knowledge of Prufrock and Gerontion. I will consider it by mainly concentrating on "Prufrock's Pervigilium." (3) "The Little Passion from 'An Agony in " the Garret'" and the three martyr poems.

I.

Eliot wrote the first sixty-nine lines of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in the fall of 1910 and the last part of the poem in the summer of 1911. When he wrote them in the Notebook, he intentionally kept four blank pages between the two parts. "Pervigilium" (MH 43-44) was written on those pages in 1912 (Gordon 45), and the current version of "Prufrock" was published in Poetry in 1915. Why did Eliot finally delete "Pervigilium"?--this is my first question. "Pervigilium" was located almost in the middle of the current "Prufrock," or precisely between the 72nd and 73rd lines. The scenes of streets which Prufrock is wandering through are described in the current "Prufrock" with the word 'evening' repeated. The first half of "Pervigilium" begins as an extension of the former part of the current "Prufrock," from dusk to night. The "pipes / Of lonely men in shirtsleeves, leaning out of windows," "the children whimpering in corners," "Women, spilling out of corsets" and "boys smoking cigarettes, drifted helplessly together" (MH 43) (4)--these are the world observed through the eyes of Prufrock who is going "at dusk through narrow streets" (MH 43). …

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