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The Great War and the Language of Modernism$
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Vincent Sherry

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195178180

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195178180.001.0001

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Mr. Eliot's Wartime Services

Mr. Eliot's Wartime Services

(p.155) 3 Mr. Eliot's Wartime Services
The Great War and the Language of Modernism

Vincent Sherry (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter tracks Eliot's poetic development from his arrival in London in August 1914 until the publication of The Waste Land in 1922. The initial difficulties he experienced in composing poems are attributed to the oppressive hegemony of Liberal rationalist language in the capital, which Eliot records in letters and reviews. The poet breaks the blockage by writing verse exercises in French, indulging the sheer acoustic of the foreign language, and manipulating the sense-making gestures of French in creative play. This breakthrough initiative is developed in the pseudo-logical prosody of the major quatrain poems of 1917-1919, “Sweeney among the Nightingales”, “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar”, and “A Cooking Egg”, while the monologue of “Gerontion” exercises the new poetics in a vivid evocation of its founding historical context. The draft manuscripts and revisions of The Waste Land are discussed in relation to the same poetic principles.

Keywords:   T. S. Eliot, Great War, Liberal rationalist language, modernist poetry, pseudo-logical prosody, quatrain, The Waste Land, Gerontion

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