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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: TS ELIOT

1. What does the prefatory quote from Dantes The Divine Comedy foreshadow in Eliots poem,
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock? What exactly is hell to Prufrock? Who are the you
and I in the poem? What does the simile in line 3 reveal about Prufrocks world view? Color
mark the images of decay, pollution and dissolution in the poem. What do they suggest about
the nature of the human condition? Color mark examples of synecdoche (sometimes referred
to as metonymy, although they are not the same). What do they suggest about Prufrocks
life? What does the comic couplet refrain, In the room the women come and go/ Talking of
Michelangelo (ll. 13 & 14, 35 & 36) reveal about Prufrocks predicament? Who are these
women? Why is he not in the room with them? What role does time and aging play in this
poem? To what does the allusion That lift and drop a question on your plate (l. 30) refer?
Where does this allusion resurface later in the poem? How does it apply to Prufrock? What
becomes of the simple pin (l. 43) later in the poem? What does this suggest about
Prufrocks life? What is the question (ll. 30 & 93)? Where in the poem does Prufrock reject
his own humanity? What does he fear will happen if decides To have squeezed the universe
into a ball (l. 92) and to tell you all (l. 95)? What does the allusion to Lazarus suggest?
How does it relate to the prefatory quote by Dante? Where is the climax or turning point in
this poem? Why isnt Prufrock tragic like Prince Hamlet (l. 111)? To what does Prufrock
look forward? Comment on the beautifully written romantic lines at the poems end. How
are their beauty and romance undermined by the final image of drowning?
2. How does the image of a scarecrow represent mankind in the Post-War world of The Hollow
Men? Describe the other imagery used in the first stanza. What do these images suggest
about the state of mankind? What is deaths other kingdom (l. 14)? What does this term
suggest about mans ironic condition in life? What do images such as sunlight on a broken
column (l.23) and a fading star (l. 28) suggest about the state of civilization in the PostWar Era? In Section III of the poem, what image defines the world as a place of waste and
decay? How is sexual energy and desire wasted in this world? What do eyes seem to
represent? In Section IV what image from Dantes The Divine Comedy is used by Eliot? How
does the nursery rhyme at the beginning of Section V illustrate the ineffectiveness of
traditional religious belief in the modern world? What is the Shadow (ll. 76, 82, 90)? Why i
The Lords Prayer incomplete and fragmented? Comment on the difference between
bang and whimper (l. 98). Which one is preferred? Why?
3. How does allusion to (and the statement from) the Apostle Pauls letter to Laodieceans
foreshadow The Hippopotamus? How is the hippopotamus characterized (ll. 2-6, 9, 13,
17)? What does the hippopotamus represent; what diction leads you to this conclusion? Color
mark images that represent the natural world and the church. What do they suggest about
the speakers approach/attitude regarding organized religion? What is the tone of the poem;
does it shift? Discuss Eliots use of syntax and structure; what does it suggest? How does this
poem relate to Eliots personal struggle with the church and organized religion?
4. The epigraph that prefaces The Wasteland describes the Cumaean Sibyl asdepicted in
Petronius Satyricon. The mythical prophetess was given the gift of immortality but not the
gift of eternal youth. Thus, the Sibyl will age but always remain alive. The epigram
expresses the Sibyls wish to die rather than to live forever and always to grow older. What
tone does this epigraph establish in the Wasteland ? Explain why April is the cruellest
month (l.1) as expressed in Part I, The Burial of the Dead. Why does the narrator read,
much of the night, and go south in the winter (l. 18)? From what is the narrator trying to
escape, or at least trying to forget? What is meant by fear in a handful of dust (l. 30)?

What is ironic about the Tarot card of the drowned Phoenician Sailor (l. 47)? What has
replaced religion in the post-war world of The Waste Land? Why is London unreal (l. 60)
to the speaker? What does the crowd flowing over London Bridge (l. 62) represent? Explain
the irony in the planted corpse reference (l. 71). How does this image of an exhumed corpse
contrast with the conventional Christian image of resurrection?
5. Part II, A Game of Chess, opens with rich and sensuous imagery depicting Cleopatras
barge as described in Shakespeares Antony and Cleopatra. Color mark the opening stanza.
How does the modern dialogue that follows contrast to the previous scene? What is Eliot
saying about the modern world, or, as the speaker calls it, rats alley (l. 115)? What
complaint does the first speaker make about the second? Is the second speaker alive or
not (l. 126)? If yes, how alive? If no, how not? According to the poem, what do modern
people do with their lives? Are they meaningful? Characterize the relationship between
Albert and Lil. Upon what does it seem to be based? What did Lil bringoff (l. 159)? Note
the final lines of this section of the poem and the allusion to Ophelias farewell to the ladies
of Elsinores court. What does this suggest about love, romance and fulfillment? What does
the refrain, HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME (ll. 152, 165, 168 & 169) suggest?
6. In Part III, the Fire Sermon, what does fire represent? Why have the nymphs departed?
What image confronts the reader at the end of the first stanza? Who is person fishing and
what legend does he represent? Note the reference to Andrew Marvells To His Coy Mistress
in line 196. What images in Eliots poem replaces Times winged Chariot in Marvells poem?
What is the effect of this substitution? With what kind of weekend invitation does Mr.
Eugenides proposition the male speaker? Who is Tiresias? What effect is achieved by his
narration of the sexual liason between the typist (l. 222) and the young man
carbuncular (l. 231)? What has replaced love and romance in Eliots vision of the world?
What does the pollution of the Thames River (ll. 266-269) suggest about society, in general?
Why does Eliot juxtapose this scene with that of Elizabeth and Leicester (ll. 279-291)
rowing on the same river centuries before? How do the three daughters telling how they lost
their virginity (ll. 292-305) contribute to Eliots statement on fire or passion? Why does
Eliot end this part of his poem with burning (l. 311)? What is ironic about fire as a medium
of purification?
7. Part IV, Death by Water, begins with the story of Phlebas, the same drowned Phoenician
Sailor (l. 47) to whom Madame Sosotris (l. 43) referred. What consumed Phlebas life? Why
are these things now meaningless? What is ironic about Phlebas death?
8. In the final section of the Waste Land. Part V, What the Thunder Said,what recurring
image begins the section? What features characterize the landscape of the Waste Land? Who
is the third being, who walks beside you (l. 360)? What images of collapsing civilizations
does Eliot use? What term does Eliot use once again to describe London? How does the image
of a woman drawing her long black hair out tight (l. 378) contrast with the voices singing
out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells (l. 385)? To what does the empty chapel in the
next stanza refer? What familiar imagery describes this legendary place (ll. 389-391)? Why do
people think their lives as prison only at night fall (l. 416)? Who sat upon the shore/
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me (ll. 424 & 425)? How have these fragments (l. 431)
the disconnected allusions, dialogue, images, and musings helped to sustain the speaker?
What does Shantih (l. 434) mean according to Eliots notes? What possibility does this
Sanskrit word, repeated three times, suggest?

9. What type of poem is The Journey of the Magi? What kind of lifestyle did the Magi enjoy
before their historic journey? What are the reasons given by the Magus narrator that made
this particular journey so difficult? In the second stanza what images of rebirth are present?
Point out allusions to the life of Christ found in the second stanza. In the third and final
stanza what unanswered question still perplexes the Magus these many years later? Why?
How was Christs birth both a birth and a death? Why does the Magus end his narration with a
death wish?
10.Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting, penance, self-sacrifice, and renunciation of the material
world as the devout turn toward the spiritual world of God. How does the first stanza of
Ash Wednesday reflect this turn for the narrator? What famous Shakespearean sonnet is
paraphrased in line 4? Why? What part of the speakers past seems to be over according to
stanza 2? What new acceptance does the speaker reflect in the third stanza? For what does
the speaker criticize himself in the fourth stanza? What does the speaker mean by his
paradoxical prayer, Teach us to care and not to care? Note the use of the
Catholic/Anglican liturgy at the end of Part I. In Part II who is the Lady whom the speaker
addresses? What do the leopards represent? For what does the speaker wish at his death? In
Part II What does the shape twisted on the banister represent? What do the stairs
symbolize and to where are they leading? In Part IV notice how the narrator characterizes
himself as One who moves in the time between sleep and waking. Who is this person?
What do the verbs, restoring and Redeem suggest about the speakers
life? In Part V what significance does spent word have in Eliots life? How does it compare
to The Word? In Part VI what is the speaker hoping to lose as the years pass by? How do the
images in the third stanza of Part VI reflect on a more positive memory of the past? Whom
does the speaker address at the poems conclusion? Why? For what does the speaker pray?
11.In Gerontion how does the preface establish the tone of the poem? Describe this tone.
What standard Eliot imagery is employed in the first stanza? What aspect of his character
does Gerontion acknowledge in lines 3-6? Explain the image of Christ the tiger (l. 20). Why
is May depraved (l. 21)? Who are the people mentioned in the fourth stanza what do they
collectively represent? How has history helped create Gerontions dry brain (l. 76)? Whom
is Gerontion addressing in the poem? What was his former relationship with this person?
When Gerontion is dead will anything else change in the world? Why not? How does the
speaker characterize his reflections? What does his description of himself and the season
suggest about his life?
12.The poem Marina is based on Shakespeares Pericles. Still, Marina offers the reader its
own sense of understanding without the reader necessarily being familiar with Shakespeares
play. Comment on the rich imagery in the first stanza. In the second stanza to what does the
speaker associate all of the various people? What device is used by Eliot in the fourth stanza
to suggest the contradictions of existence? What has the narrator made in the fifth
stanza? What is he willing to do for his creation? Whois represented by the old ship and who
is represented by the new ship?
13.What do the animal references in stanza one of Sweeney Among the Nightingales imply?
What kind of atmosphere is created in the second stanza? Who is The person in the Spanish
cape (l. 11)? What is her condition? Who is the silent man in mocha brown (l. 17)? Why is
he referred to as The silent vertebrate in brown(l. 21)? What are Rachel Nee Rabinovitch
and the lady in the cape plotting (ll. 25 & 26)? What does The Convent of the Sacred
Heart (l. 36) imply about Sweeneys sexual life?