Symbolism and the Unified Sensibility
THE Augustans helped Eliot to formulate his traditionalism. With their temperament and their attitude to the problem of writing poetry he has much in common. Those characteristics of his verse experiments which excited the most voluble early comment derive, however, from two schools widely separated from the Augustans: the Jacobeans and the French symbolists. The Jacobeans lived in a time which seemed in many ways to parallel our own; the French symbolists were the first to show any awareness of the poetry of the city. Both expressed their sensibility in methods having a great deal in common, and both were innovators in reintroducing to poetry the colloquial idiom.
It was Eliot in his essay on the metaphysical poets who first commented on the similarities between the English metaphysical and the French symbolist poets. And it is in Prufrock and Other Observations that the methods of these two schools are amalgamated, adapted and extended. The first simile in 'The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock' --
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;--
is a metaphysical conceit, an intellectual or 'wit' image, elaborated later in the poem: