T.S. Eliot's Change in Poetic Style, Pre and Post Conversion

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T.S. Eliot was and remains renowned for his disheartening poetry and bleak outlook on life. His modernistic poems were centred on ideas of despair, futility, decay and general disappointment of what life has provided. It can be argued, however, that his poetry evolves into a more hopeful form of expression after he became a Christian. Of his renowned poems, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘East Coker’ are two comparable pieces that, together, provide insight to Eliot’s life, values and styles both pre and post conversion.

In ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, Eliot has a cynical, pessimistic understanding of the world. In it, he writes of regret, longing, decay and despondency. Given the author’s milieu and context, ‘Prufrock’ is a poem which encompasses the desolate feel of America during the early 20th century. Prufrock’s focus on life’s futility and his awareness of mortality act as an unintentional foreshadowing to his life post-conversion. His dissatisfaction with the world around him, a world of “sawdust restaurants” and “cheap hotels,” compels him to believe that there is more to life as he sees it, that there is something he’s missing.

The epigraph from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Inferno,’ a poem in which the protagonist travels down the sequential levels of Hell, suggests a lowering of Eliot’s life’s value, a descent into the saturnine, the dark. Indeed, ‘Prufrock’ takes responders on a largely downward ride, from the skyline in the first stanza, to street life, down stairs during a party, and ending the poem on the sea floor. Prufrock gradually feels worse about himself in these situations; the reference to "Scuttling across the floors of silent seas" is the ultimate in melancholy, but they have more resonance when the Dante epigraph is considered. Prufrock, and by extension, T.S. Eliot himself is descending into Hell.

‘East Coker,’ like his pre-conversion poems, does not stray far from T.S. Eliot’s morbid writing style. He insinuates...
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