Easily as important, however, is the fact that Eliot’s theories go a long way toward explaining what he was trying to do in his poetry.
In his next major poem, and his most famous, these ideas were given full play.
Alfred Prufrock” was Eliot’s use of intensely urban imagery: Prufrock is a citizen of the modern city, an acute observer of its confusion, grime, and poignancy.
The poem’s opening lines are reminiscent of images that French readers had found in the work of Baudelaire.
is unquestionably one of the most important poems of the twentieth century.
Its importance lies in its literary excellence—its insight and originality—and in its influence on other poets.One last key critical idea of this period, introduced in “The Metaphysical Poets” and “Andrew Marvell,” was the “dissociation of sensibility.” A practical effect of Eliot’s emphasis on literary tradition was to give new importance to literary periods that had been neglected; one of these, in Eliot’s view, was the era of the Metaphysical poets at the beginning of the seventeenth century.He believed that English poetry had declined in the period following the Metaphysical poets, such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell, and that the cause of this decline lay in a “dissociation of sensibility.” In other words, thought and feeling in poems (sensibility) began to be severed (the dissociation).Although Eliot said that he always wrote with his mind firmly on tradition, broke with the look, the sound, and the subject of most poetry written since the early nineteenth century.In the poem, allusions to myth, religion, Western and Eastern literature, and popular culture are almost constant; in fact, many stretches of the poem are direct, and unacknowledged, quotations from other sources.Writing about the poetry of Eliot is difficult for a number of reasons.One major difficulty is that Eliot himself helped dictate the rules for how critics interpret poetry.He did this through his many influential essays on poetry, beginning with those in , and through the way he transformed the style of modern poetry.Every young poet writing in English after Eliot has had either to imitate or to reject him (often both).According to Eliot, the masterful poet, fully conscious of working within the tradition, is very much an instrument of the tradition; that is, he or she is in a way an impersonal medium for the common literary heritage.In “Hamlet and His Problems,” Eliot introduced the theory of the “objective correlative,” the idea that the words of literature should correspond exactly with things and with emotions.