Modernism and Discontent
One of the complexities of modern life is the human struggle to reconcile the depression and the loneliness arising out of a spiritual barrenness with the materialist way of industrialized life. Man as a result has been divorced from the spontaneous joys of nature and often leads a mechanical life that has been thrust upon him. T.S. Eliot and W.B.Yeats have dealt with the problem in their own way. Eliot is more concerned with describing the joylessness of modern civilization objectively which makes life something to be tolerated rather than to be happy with. Yeats with his spiritual bent of mind explores the causes of unhappiness and offers his own observations.
In “The Hollow Men” Eliot writes about the “hollow men” and “stuffed men” of modern era. “In death’s dream kingdom/ Let me also wear/ such deliberate disguises..”(l.30-32) and “With alien people clutching gods./ I shall be glad of another death..”(l.42-43) In “The Preludes”, he writes of typical modern city dwellers with muddy feet at six o’clock hurrying to work. He lives a life of mad haste, yet he is not aware what he is living for. In “Journey of the Magi” we get a sordid picture of urban life though he is apparently writing about ancient times: “And the cities hostile and town unfriendly/ And the villages dirty and charging high prices.” (l.14-15)
W.B.Yeats writes about the spiritual crises of modern man who has not been happy in spite of multiplication of material comforts. In “The Wild Swans at Coole” he contrasts the happy swans with sordid men who watch them with sore heart. “I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,/And now my heart is sore.”(l.13-14) In “The Rose Tree” he talks symbolically: “But where can we draw water…when all the wells are parched away?”(l.13-15) To W.B.Yeats “Byzantium” is a private mythology standing for art, artifice and sophistication in contrast to the materialist world with all its drabness. The world of “Sailing to Byzantium” is “caught in that sensual music all neglect/ moments of unaging intellect.” (l.7-8) So he dwells on its beauty and compares with the imperfect human world. He makes his mission clear: “And Therefore I have sailed the seas and come/ To the holy city of Byzantium.”(l.15-16) “Consume my heart away; sick with desire” (l.21) Aldous Huxley also underscored the harmful effect of the industrialized society on the spiritual life of modern man in his essay “Time and the Machine”.
Abrams, M.H. and Greenblatt, Stephen (eds.) The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th Ed. New York. W.W.Norton & Co. 2001. pp.1580-0584
July 4, 2008