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Prufrock and Other Observations

Egoist, The Waste Land

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog to Rabbit Tetralogy

T. S. Eliot's first collection of poems, published in 1917 under the imprint of the Egoist magazine. Ezra Pound undertook arrangements for publication and assisted with the costs of printing. Its forty pages contained work Eliot had produced between 1911 and 1915 while variously resident in Paris, Boston, and Oxford. The following poems appeared in the order given: ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, ‘Portrait of a Lady’, ‘Preludes’, ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’, ‘Morning at the Window’, ‘The Boston Evening Transcript’, ‘Aunt Helen’, ‘Cousin Nancy’, ‘Mr Appolinax’, ‘Hysteria’, ‘Conversation galante’, and ‘La Figlia che Piange’. ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ offers the fullest demonstration of the radical newness of style and technique Eliot had achieved: like most of the poems, it combines the flexibility of free verse with a highly disciplined irregularity in the use of rhyme; it constitutes an encompassing projection of a sensibility defined through interactions of mood, perceptions, preoccupations, and other cognitive events. Although classifiable as a dramatic monologue, it breaks with the conventions of the mode by dispensing with orthodox narrative or thematic continuity, enacting Prufrock's incapacitating self-consciousness and intellectual doubt in the modulations of its mannered and artfully digressive development. ‘Portrait of a Lady’ proceeds similarly, transposing Prufrock's social anxieties into a darker study of disjunctions and superficialities in human relationships; both poems ironically subvert the traditions of lyric verse, a characteristic of the volume most evident in the treatments of romantic love in the humorously evasive ‘Conversation galante’ and the estrangingly detached ‘La Figlia che Piange’. Vividly economical imagery pervades the collection and is used to particular effect in the evocative urban realism of ‘Preludes’. The mildly satirical concern with order and morality in ‘Aunt Helen’ and ‘The Boston Evening Transcript’ anticipates the moral revulsion which culminates in The Waste Land.

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