Eliot & Owen

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T.S. Eliot was a prolific writer who has been considered by scholars and critics alike to be one of the most significant poets of the 20th century. One of his most notable poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, written in 1915 has often been examined and esteemed to be a magnum opus of the Modernist movement. Wilfred Owen was an English poet who was known for writing poems regarding the horrors of war that were opposed to the currently perception of the public about war. One of Owen’s poems, Apologia Pro Poemate Me, provides a bittersweet literary framework on the joy and sorrow of battle. Each man expressed lives and thoughts of men living in the early 20th century in their writing through rhythmic verses and complete freedom in describing their subject matter.

'The Love Song' reveals the speaker, Prufrock, who is addressing a potential lover in an effort to consummate their relationship. Eliot allows the reader to gain a glimpse of Prufrock's thoughts as to whether he should approach the potential mate. Eliot begins the poem with an immediate description of the setting and scenery with the lines "let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky" (Eliot). Prufrock likens the potential consummation as a risqué experience as evident by the lines "let us go through certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats, of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels, and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells" (Eliot). Prufrock is in essence asking his potential lover to embark on a loving and exciting journey that will ultimately lead to a powerful night of passion.

To Eliot, it is important for the reader to understand the insecurities that the speaker faces. Hesitation is rampant throughout the poem. While Prufrock is contending with his thoughts in the let us go lines, he is wrought with some type of anxiety disorder, his agility as a man who is aging, and nervousness. "Oh, do not ask, what is it?" (Eliot) lets the reader understand this hesitation that Prufrock has and immediately pushes that to the forefront of the processes of many men during the 20th century. Prufrock's anxiety "lies not with the prospect of a relationship but with the acknowledgment of his aging self and of society's perception of what a full life coming to its end should entail" (Spencer). The fretfulness and vacillation continue to embody the motif of Eliot’s expression of the thoughts of Prufrock. Prufrock's "obsession with the time he has left to life is apparent in his insistence that he is an older man. His psychological and emotional traits find their roots in the physical and the visual because it is his outside layer which is exposed for judgment" (Spencer).It could be said that Eliot is making a mockery of our perception that as we age, we lose our luster and beauty. The central point of Prufrock’s disquiet is rejection from a budding lover.

Much of 'The Love Song' is viewed by the reader from the inside of Prufrock's head. Eliot is able to display a cognitive tapestry of Prufrock with his indecisiveness and precise dramatic monologue. Eliot seems bent on exhibiting the repetition of worry as both and, and all begin several of the lines in the poem. Prufrock's concentration seems to be working overtime as he is in pure misery over what to do. This is evident by the lines, "to wonder do I dare and do I dare, time to turn back and descend the stair, with a bald spot in the middle of my hair, do I dare, disturb the universe in a minute there is time, for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse" (Eliot). Prufrock is debating within himself as to whether he should tempt fate and destiny given his own self-consciousness about his agility and adequacies as a man.

Many of "Prufrock's other repetitions also uncover his concerns about time. The most obvious repetition concerning his feelings toward age is the repetition in line 120, I grow old, I grow old. Prufrock's insistence that he has time is a way of marking his procrastination excusable" (Spencer). Eliot once again is making a mockery of the human mind and its putting off of things. There is always an excuse, even within the thought of new love that we should put off tomorrow what should be done today. The proverbial time waits for no man argument. Prufrock in the end, allows his excuses and procrastination to gain the upper hand. Here Eliot is expressing the emotion of regret that many men of the early 20th century and even today feel regarding potential love that has escaped them.

Much like Thinly Veiled, Owen’s Apologia Pro Poemate Me describes the contrast of good and evil, within soldiers and in war as a whole. Owen begins the poem with the line "I, too saw God through-mud, the mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smile. War brought more glory to their eyes than blood and gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child" (Owen). With this line, Owen is enlightened the mindset of the soldiers at war who have to believe that they are the good ones and their foes are the bad ones. But what if that premise is false? This is the statement that Owen is making about the perception of soldiers and of war itself. What are we exactly fighting for? Owen, like Eliot is making a mockery of something and here it is war. Owen is showcasing war as a glory exercise rather than one of heartache and never-ending bloodshed.

Owen’s poem is about togetherness and the love the binds soldiers who fight alongside each other. Comradeship, “together with resentment constitutes the embodiment of [Owen's descriptions] in the poem" (Simcox). This is portrayed in the lines "by joy, whose ribbon slips, but wound with war's hard wire whose stakes are strong; bound with the bandage of the arm that drips" (Owen) as well as "I have made fellowships - untold of happy lovers in old song. For love is not the binding of fair lips, with the soft silk of eyes that look and long" (Owen). Owen here is describing the contrasts of war. That soldiers make comrades but also enemies. That soldiers often find themselves wounded but understand that that comes as a result of war as well. Like Eliot, Owen unearths the contrast of men of the 20th century and that contrast is undeniably echoed in today's atmosphere.

Owen paints both an optimistic and a pessimistic picture about war in 'Apologia.' "The regular stanzas, rhyme scheme, rhythm all help to life above the gravity of the characteristics" (Simcox) of war. The optimism of war is painted in the lines "I have perceived much beauty, in the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight" (Owen), while the pessimism of war is seen through the lines "nevertheless, except you share with them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell, whose world is but a trembling of a flare, and heaven but a highway for a shell" (Owen). With that line, Owen is both illuminating the optimism of war and the horrid acts that come as a result of battle while using heaven and hell as a metaphor.

It seems as if Owen hopes the reader understands why war is war. Like Eliot, Owen is depicting the mockery of the human mind. Eliot uses Prufrock to showcase our frailties as humans in putting off what can possibly be obtained today and Owen poetically unearths the good and evil conceptualization of men in the late 20th century, as it relates to war and the mindset that often occurs once war is over. The lines "you shall not hear their mirth: you shall not come to think them well content by any jest of mine. These men are worth your tears: you are not worth their merriment" (Owen) tells the reader that Owen feels we should cherish soldiers and the consequences of war for they fight for us in whatever respect deemed necessary. That the men who fought as soldiers in war during the early 20th century, and in general deserve our respect and contentment for doing so.

'The Love Song' and 'Apologia' protrude on our everyday understanding of human life because they are meant to cause us to look within ourselves. Eliot and Owen seem in their expressions of men in the early 20th century to embody a motif on life. That life is full of the good and the bad that come as a result of what we experience. Whether we are similar to Prufrock who could not get up the nerve to pursue a potential lover because of insecurities or soldiers at war who embody the tapestry of witnessed bloodshed and merriment, Eliot and Owen prove with their poems that life is an experience and that life is continually full of contrasts. 

Works Cited

Eliot, T S. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The Norton Anthology of English Literature . 8th. Vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Print.

Owen, Wilfred. "Apologia Pro Poemate Meo." The Norton Anthology of English Literature . 8th. Vol. 2. 2006. Print.

Simcox, Kenneth. "Apologia Pro Poemate Meo." The Wilfred Owen Foundation, 2001. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.wilfredowen.org.uk/poetry/apologia-pro-poemate-meo

Spencer, AD. "A Character Analysis from Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot - Prufrock's Hourglass." Yahoo Voices. Yahoo.Com, 8 Jan. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://voices.yahoo.com/a-character-analysis-love-song-j-alfred-prufrock-2431987.html?cat=38