EESE 1/2008


The Anatomy of Modernity:

Browning and T.S. Eliot

Ismail Baroudy
(Shahid Chamran University,
Ahvaz, Iran)



Every age has its preconceptions and assumptions regarding poetry. A major poet must confirm these. There are the essentially poetic subjects, the poetical modes which all claimants to first-rate poetry must know and understand even if it is only to break away from them. Browning and Eliot started injecting modernity in the poetical tradition they meant to segregate from. They violated the established standards and trespassed the deterring borders of the poetry they mastered as raw principles using their own predilections and preferences.



The Romantic Era and the Victorians

The preconceptions inherited by the Victorian tradition in poetry were essentially those, which were established during the period of the great romantics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. How unquestioned and universal these became in the Victorian era may be judged from the following verdict by Matthew Arnold:

Though they may write in verse [...] Dryden and Pope are not classics of our poetry, they are the classics of our prose.

So, following closely upon the romantic tradition, the Victorians felt a prejudice against the poetry which was not "simple, sensuous and passionate". But as the situation changed and the incidence of stress for the adult sensitive mind shifted, poetry strained to become partial to mind and its main concerns, and quite wary of any such thing as romantic dreams getting between them.

It is difficult to characterize, briefly and yet sensibly, a span of time known as the Victorian era - an age marking the beginning of new ideas, of a swift if silent revolution. In science and literature and culture, progress and freedom started to become the Victorian watchwords. But, as if ironically, the last literary years of the century were marked by reaction, resignation and disillusionment. Tennyson was discouraged; Hardy gloomy, Shaw cruelly critical, Wilde scintillatingly cynical, and Arnold lamented the age's "sick hurry" and its "divided aims". It was a sad day by which the Victorian era seemed to have gained the whole world but lost its own soul.

Browning and the tradition

Such were briefly the time upon which Browning impinged. The best poetry of the century, if we may generalize, had hitherto been characterized by great sensibility and favor, by a profusion of imagery, by the force and beauty of language, and by a versification peculiarly easy and adroit. It was conventionally rich in a kind of melody which by its obvious rhythm and cadence makes itself most pleasing to an unpracticed ear. Poetry then consisted of little more than a poetical diction, an arrangement of words implying a sensitive state of mind, displaying merely symbols or types of feeling which might exist in a being barren of understanding. To the poets then, feeling came more easily than reflection, and image was always at hand when thought was not forthcoming. It seemed either they did not look at mankind with observant eyes, or they did not realize it to be any part of their vocation to turn to account what they saw. But life and man's gruelling commitments to it were beginning to bring about a tussle between thought and the conventional limits to its expression in poetry. Browning standing at the threshold of this change wrote in Pauline:

I am made up of an intensest life,
                Of a most clear idea of consciousness.

And later, in the same poem, meditating on the value of poetry and his role as a poet, he wrote:

I turned to those old times and scenes, where all That's beautiful had birth for me, and made Rude verses on them all; and then I paused I had done nothing; so I sought to know What mind had yet achieved [...]
     And then I first explored passion and mind;
     And I begin afresh [...]

As can be seen, Browning's reflections on the significance of poetry were beginning to blend with meditations on the meaning of human existence. Pauline, however, was not an accomplished deed. It was rather a defensive and feverish attempt of a "soul in ferment", a character yet undecided, a way of life yet uncertain. Browning was to continue his exploration of the nature of imaginative life and the role of a creative genius in human society; and, eventually, make his escape into that territory of dramatic poetry of which he became the supreme master - a pioneer modernist whose originality and appeal, fully discovered only in the twentieth century, can easily compete with that of T.S.Eliot.

Browning's poetry and its earliest impact

When the Bells and Pomegranates was first published in 1881, the poems in this collection met an extremely hostile criticism from the Victorian literary circles who had obstinately stuck to the convention of staid Victorian poetry despite a tremendous revolution in thought insurrected by the Victorian philosophers and thinkers like Darwin, Carlyle, Pater and J.S. Mill. Browning, in these poems, had sought to introduce the new poetical style of the Dramatic Monologue as a leap forward into the new genre of English literature. The newness of this style lay in its "introspection and journey inward" which is the eternal odyssey of any modern Ulysses and an important characteristic of any major literary work. For the first time importance had been lent to the domain of human consciousness and the unexplored pristine self which has obsessed the creative effort ever since. To suit this idea, Browning indulged a style, which upset his contemporaries even more than his choice of the subject. Leigh Hunt commented:

Browning - lives at Peckham, because no one else does! A born poet but loves contradictions. Shakespeare and Milton write plainly, the Sun and Moon write plainly and why can't Mr. Browning?

Another critic, Thomas Powell, wrote:

If Mr. Browning wishes to make a smile, and illustrate redness, he will not take the rose, but selects some out of the way flower, equally red, but of whose name no one in thousand has ever heard.

Among a legion of anti-Browning critics the most angry was Charles Swinburne. In a rhapsody of rage, he wrote:

[...] shrieks of violated English, groans of grammar undergoing vivisection, gasps of expiring sense and moans of tormented metre [...] never surely did any wretched inoffensive dialect of human speech endure such unnatural tortures as those time after time inflicted with diabolic versatility of violence on our patient mother-tongue by the another of Sordello. [...] count the conjunctions torn out by the roots, the verbs impaled, the nouns crucified, the antecedents broken on the wheel, the relatives cut off by the neck or sawn through the middle, the entire sentences blundering, screaming, plunging, snorting, like harpooned whales or smashed locomotives, through whole paragraphs of mutilation and confusion [...] he cannot write a play, he cannot sing a song, he cannot tell a story; contemptible things no doubt, and insignificant enough, but which happen as yet to be fairest means of testing the capacity of dramatic, a lyrical or a dramatic writer. In the huge bulk of his lyrical baggage there is not one good song [...].

The following example will fully serve to illustrate the difference between Browning's way of thinking and the expectations of his age. A modern critic has remarked that one of the finest thoughts of modern times is embalmed in the following three lines by Browning:

There are two points in the adventure of a diver,
     First when a beggar he prepares to plunge,
     Then when a prince he rises with his pearl.

An eminent contemporary of Browning remarked that he had lost the chief force of thought by the first line, which he maintained was very prosaic. He suggested that it should be altered as:

There are two moments in a diver's life, etc.

The dramatic poetry

The early dramatic lyrics ("Cavalier Tunes", "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister", "Christiana", etc.) dealt with and expressed Browning's fundamental articles of faith: the doctrine of elective affinities; the doctrine of success through failure; the doctrine that time is measured not by the clock and the calendar, but by the intensity of spiritual experiences; and the doctrine that life on earth is a trial and a test. For instance, Christina is a celebrated coquette - one of the few queens ever to have the subject of a sexual assault by her prime minister. The lover says:

she should have never looked at me
     If she meant I should not love her!
[...] she has lost me, I have gained her;
Her soul is mine [...]

It is a poem about love at first sight in which the speaker maintains that the lady's failure to acknowledge her love is a failure in courage by which she has been the looser.

W.H. Pleps says: "what Browning had quietly introduced by his form of the dramatic monologue was an ethical revolution that totally disrupted the extremist infrastructure of the Victorian morals and climbed a century ahead." An outstanding example is the line marking the climax of My Last Duchess:

Then I gave commands and all smiles stopped.

It is a moment of particular human crisis, a dramatic crash of Wagnerian dimensions. A murder has been committed, and innocence that equates a bough of cherries with the Duke of Ferarra's nine hundred years' old name has been slaughtered, but the dramatic power of the act of murder renders it into an almost villainous heroism and, more important, subverts the very concept of an ethical axiom - a most shockingly modern notion where morality takes on highly subjective connotations.

Both Bells and Pomegranates and Men and Women are suffused with a highly modernistic interpretation of morality. Porphyra's Lover is a classic example of a just murder that subjects the reader through the force of the dramatic power to an Aristotelian catharsis. Andrea del Sorto deals with casual adultery, a contemporary phenomenon, and suggestions of blithe dishonesty - a subtle mixture of sensitivity and decadence that has a seething dramatic intensity and ends in a brilliantly evoked exhaustion of mental capacities:

There - the cousins whistle again. Go, my love.

Both Bishop at St. Praxad’s Church and Fra Lippo Lippi are candidly modern monologues reflecting with a rare honesty the promiscuous indiscretions of the orthodox Roman Catholic clergy. The modernity of Browning's psychological and ethical norms was bound to shock the Victorian sensibility; however, the most vital reason why Browning transcends his age and becomes a modernist is the importance he pays to the subtle detail while unfolding the consciousness of his characters. Psychological intricacies emerge in definite patterns and astound the behaviouristic analyst with their accuracy.

Browning's influence

Browning's invention, if we may use the word, predominantly influenced the English fiction of generation later with Dorothy Richardson and James Joyce. In Europe, where Browning had in fact discovered his dramatic form, it caused a revolution with Henri Bergson's theory of the stream-of-consciousness, which in turn influenced Marcel Proust and the French theatre. In American, Henry James worked on similar lines in his modern classic Portrait of a Lady and experimented to a much better result in Turn of the Screw. It was in the twentieth century when Browning’s verbs were officially placed in the category of "causal forces working on the dialectics of human psyche".

It's however, in the fields of English and American poetry, particularly among the modernist like Pound and Eliot, that Browning's influence is extraordinarily widespread. The early poetry of Ezra Pound is almost a slavish imitation of Browning's monologues. For example, the following paragraph from Pound's Indurance (1970):

These sell our picture!!! on well,
They reach we not, touch me some edge or that
     But reach me not and all my lye's become
One flame that reaches not beyond
     My heart's own hearth
     O, hides among the ashes there for thee.
'Thee?' Oh, 'Thee' is who cometh first
     Out of my own soul, kin,
For l am homesick after my own kind
And ordinary people touch me not.

There the eccentric observation and the oblique syntax characterize the 'approach' Pound had come to borrow from Browning. Eliot too did not remain uninfluenced by Browning. Eliot's Gerontion shows how fully he had assimilated the lesson from the most advanced of Browning's monologues such as Caliban and Childe Roland. Like the protagonists of these two poems, Gerontion exists in suspension, in moot point, a man out side normal space and time, released to be himself, and at the same line suffering from the horrors of disorientation:

My house is a decayed house,
And the Jew squats on the windows ill the owner
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Bilsteres in Brussels, Patched and peeled in
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, ruevds.

The last line summons up the whole landscape of Childe Roland:

     As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
     In leprosy, thin dry blades pricked the mud
     Which underneath looked kneaded up which blood
     One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare.
     Stood stupefied, however he came there:
     Thrust out past service from this the devil's stud!

Situation after the First World War

Browning defiantly stood at the threshold of modernity. But it had to have a genius like Eliot to lend it the pristine glory of a tradition. At the end of the First World War, three poets had found general acceptance and were being read and enjoyed by a comparatively large public. They were: Hardy, Yeats and de la Mare. Yeats had created for himself almost an infallible Church of poetic tradition - a bundle of stories, personages and emotions inseparable from their first expression passed from generation to generation of poets and painters with some help from philosophers and theologians. Yeats hated Victorian science. He resented a style so close to modern educated speech. He repudiated, in the name of poetry and of life, modern thought and the modern world because it was inimical to the hopes of the heart and delight of the senses and imagination. The Victorian romanticism of Yeats was, however, not the only answer to those conditions which Yeats deplored. If it were, poetry would cease to matter. Adult minds would no longer take it seriously. Losing touch with the finer consciousness of the times would be simply irresponsible.

De la Mare found the modern world, with its science and civilization, as uncongenial as Yeats had found it. His poetry was of withdrawal, cultivating a special "reality": his world of dreams nourished upon memories of childhood. Hardy was a naïve poet of simple attitudes and outlook. He accepted the conclusion forced by science that nature is indifferent to human values. There was little in Hardy's technique that could influence the younger poets. Without any degree of critical awareness, Hardy wrote with a naïve conservatism.

These three poets then form a bridge from the Victorian era to the Georgian movement in poetry, led by a galaxy of poets who believed that the Victorian age was over and that it was time for modern English poetry. They were convinced that English poetry was very good, but it was sadly neglected by readers. The chief characteristic of these Georgian poets was grasping at common and sordid things. They were determined to modernise poetry by bringing it closer to life - to reconcile the sordid facts of life with the rosy mists of poetical experience. This was briefly the situation upon which T.S. Eliot impinged.

Eliot's dramatic monologue

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which was printed at the beginning of Eliot's Poem 1909-1925, represented a clean break with the nineteenth century tradition. It defied the traditional canons of seriousness:

I grow old [...] I grow old [...]
     I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.

Can this be poetry? The poem is the dramatic monologue of a man of uncertain age who speaks out of a life whose center is a society drawing-room approached through streets, the description of which provides metaphors for the squalor (and also the mystery and the beauty) of a city, unnamed but representative of other great cities. It is the universal temporal city of the modern civilization. The protagonist sees himself as existing passively in the minds of those whose society he frequents. His negative inhibition is that he dare not transgress the boundary of opinion which they have drawn around him. To do so would be to presume. So he dares not eat a peach, or ask a universal question or make a proposal of love. Prufrock, considered as a consciousness or imagination, situated in a world which has become phantasmagoric to him, negates negation. He has a positive aspect. He is more than the inhabitants of the drawing-room precisely because he knows he is less than they. He knows what he lacks. This is more than they know, because they are really incapable of knowing or experiencing what they have. He is like an eel at the bottom of a tank. He knows the depths and the darkness which the deceived creatures who swim around in their artificial light do not knew. This self-knowledge becomes realization of what physically he is:

     I should have been a pair of ragged claws
     Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Prufrock suffers, which means he is one of those who know that they are in a Baudelairean hell. He glimpses boredom and horror. He is a kind of person who might appear in a novel by D.H. Lawrence or Virginia Woolf. His failure, for which he despises himself, is a failure to relate with either another person or with the Absolute. He is isolated, he cannot communicate. Although the fact that he is conditioned by the society in which he lives may account for his spiritual or sexual enervation, this does not condone his moral cowardice. Where in modern poetry are there characters realized with such definiteness as Prufrock? In him 'life' has been put at the center of our time.

Dramatic poetry: Browning and Eliot

The dramatic power that lies concurrent between monologue of Robert Browning and the innovative dramatic content of T.S. Eliot draws an interesting analogue between the sphere of an explorative psyche. Both assume the objective perspective of a manipulator with intensely creative forces working on an introverted situation. Although Eliot has little to say in favour of Browning, the dramatic monologue has been the main form in his work until he assumed what appears to be personal voice in the series of religious meditation beginning with Ash Wednesday. The dramatic monologue is proportionately as important in Eliot's work as in Browning’s, Eliot having continued more to the development of the form than any poet since Browning. As F.O. Mathiessen Achievement of Eliot writes:

for the eventual writer of the literary history of the 20th c. Eliot development of the domestic soliloquy, a form that has been called in the most flexible and characteristic genre of English verse cannot be divorced from the impetus furnished by "Men and Woman" to 'personae'.

Profound in dramatic content, Prufrock, Portrait of a Lady, Gerontion, Journey of Magi, A song for Simeon and Marine do as much credit to the dramatic monologues as anything of Browning's while in the Waste Land Eliot has opened new possibilities for the form by constructing with juxtaposition and contraposition of dramatic voices the monologue of a modern consciousness that as Robert Langbaum writes is also a "cultural memory".

The perspective of objective observation of subjective detail is where Eliot and Browning diverge into dissimilar realms, for whereas the former bases his dramatic technique on the causative action of an objective co-relativity the latter excels only in a deep and penetrating study of the human psyche. While dedicating the new edition of Pauline to his friend Milsand, Browning wrote, "My stress lay on the incidents in the development of a soul, little else is worth study." The object of study is the same, only the mode of handling differs; Eliot explores the very same area of Human consciousness that becomes in Browning the obsessive quality of Andrea Del Sarto. However, where Eliot intensifies his indepth study projected through the mind of Europe—in other words like Virginia Woolf—Eliot firmly believes in motion objectified through the universal perspective of tradition. It is clear; therefore that Eliot takes off where Browning leaves his explorative inquisitiveness of the individual consciousness. The subjective perspective that Browning is prone to is an incomplete syllogism, which can be consummated only through the areas of historical preeminence. It is clear therefore that desire to overcome subjectively and achieve objectivity is a typically contemporary one and has precedence only in the age of Enlightenment. Eliot by working on the introspective arabesque of Browning's dramatic monologues is fulfilling a natural evolutionary process. Both the concepts of tradition and of "objective correlative" emerge as logical deductions to a complete understanding of consciousness that does not project its physical courses. As Robert Langbaum aptly says:

the objective correlative and tradition helps construct for us the image of ourselves which constitutes the modern pathos, the image of ourselves as emancipated to the point of forlornness to the point where each is free to learn for himself that life is meaningless with out tradition.

          I can connect
          Nothing with nothing

says Eliot's modern counterpart for Ophelia and the temper of the causative connection with the source of human consciousness is the exact point of continuity that Eliot forms after the unconsummated area of Browning's Men and Women.

Eliot's poetry

Eliot's work is of four kinds: the poetry, the drama, the prose and the journalism. His poetry is of the greatest importance. It can be analyzed into four or five creative periods. Although his poetry is not always easy, his early poem can be identified as sophisticated observation of people, of social behavior and of urban landscapes. The last quality is most striking and the one, which marks Eliot off immediately from the rest of the English writers before him. The poetry is of streets and houses and people, not of woods and fields and flowers. The poems are satirical of society and whimsical or gently ironical on the themes of love, though not like any old-fashioned romantic love poetry. The lovers are generally disillusioned and their love unsuccessful. In the second group of Quartet Poems, Satiee is no more relieved by sympathy or compassion. The poems direct a ferocious irony towards people and institutions. The picture is one of a debilitated and rotten civilization. People are governed by selfish and self-seeking motives; and their institutions are corrupt or torpid. Money is dominant. Church is sleeping. In the third period, Eliot takes on a kind of poetry, which belongs with what is called major or great poetry. It may not be very successful, but it is the sort of poetry that attempts some over-all vision of man society and the universe. It used to be called epic poetry, and perhaps it is still called that, for The Waste Land is in many ways a compressed epic. It does for its period what Virgil and Milton did for theirs. It attempts to portray the state of the civilization out of which it grows.

Poetry of the technological age

For some time The Waste Land was regarded, quite wrongly, as an expression of the mood of the post-war Europe. Eliot's entire poetry in fact belonged to the history of the ideas and attitudes of his age. In Eliot's lifetime all thinking had been invaded by what might be called the scientific attitude. This attitude is now forcing us to a way of thinking which challenges a great many of our former assumptions. In Eliot’s lifetime scientific understanding had moved out from its position as an academic affair. It became commonplace to think of communication by language as an infinitely complex affair, involving what is usually called semantics, the study of meaning. Poetry is now being scrutinized scientifically complex affair, involving to say how it works in the same way as to describe how a machine works. We have also come up against the scientific analysis of personality, the scientific investigation of human behavior, the science of psychology.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, men attempted to reach an understanding of human nature through philosophy, theology and art, especially literature. The scientist then was very much less influential in a general way than he is today. Literature and the arts today have come under the sway of the gigantic technological advance, which has removed from the arts their all-important function of the previous century. A new attitude to personality, and a new way of presenting and recording what has actually happened have changed or way of thinking about the arts.

A discussion of modernity: Browning and Eliot

It is not in any identity of their message or observations on life that necessarily links Browning with Eliot in modernity. It is the oblique and the ambiguous manner in which they approach their subject. They exploited manifesting semantic effect by means of shocking combinations, incongruous fragments, unexpected flashbacks, seemingly incompatible couples, blind transitions, tolerable infelicities mutually exclusive ingredients, impermeable components defensive concepts and debilitating alternatives as unconventional priorities that can secrete and incorporate non-threatening otherwise esthetic obscurity in their literary products. Obscurity then here becomes a norm, an excellence, rather than a flaw. It is deliberately achieved by the introduction of unfamiliar, and sometimes very personal, symbols, metaphors, similes, allegory or fables, with absolutely no attempt at connecting them some where with more understandable parts of the work. Modern poets do not shoulder/ accept the burden or responsibility of clarifying or elaborating (and thus belittling) their personal vision or experience. Observe the following lines of Browning's parting at Morning:

          Round the cap of a sudden came the sea,
          And the sun looked over the mountain’s ruin;
          And straight was path of gold for him,
          And the need of a world of men for me.

Through compression of the narrative and metaphors in the last two lines, Browning has summed up his message. In a somewhat similar manner, Eliot compresses in four lines the beginning of a general sexual encounter in this endlessly purposeless act of living:

[...] the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at tea time clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
                              (Waste Land)

Eliot sometimes achieves obscurity through grammatical ambiguity as in the following lines from the Hollow Men:

[...] the perpetual star
Muitifoliat rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.          

We can see the use of 'only' after 'hope'. It could mean that only empty men hope and dream of the "twilight kingdom" after death; or, this hope is the only reality left to the empty men. We do not know which is which. It's all there as Eliot meant it and wrote it.

Abstract concepts produce in human mind shifting images. These images try to approximate the target concept, interpreting it but not quite, and quickly giving way to others and so on. Modern poets use a method of making pseudo-statements in abstract language, putting forward and then rejecting ready-made concepts "wrestle of words and meanings" (East Coker). For example, Eliot's following lines from the Four Quartets:

Neither from nor towards: at the still point, there the dance is
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.

Ambiguity and paradox seem to be a way around the intolerable fact that in saying one thing you exclude other things, allied but different, that had equal claim to be heard in the same connection. This kind of poetry either creates imaginative chaos which slides through the reader's mind acceptability as a result of mere familiarization; or it ends up in extremely difficult statements inviting a challenge, defiance to cross-word intelligence. Observe again the following lines from the Four Quartets:

Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts
Not that only, but the coexistence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end
And all is always now.

Poetry, as Matthew Arnold puts it in timeless words is a criticism of life or "an evaluation, appreciation and appreciation and interpretation of life with moral earnestness." It must therefore develop, romantic poetry had set out, as we know from Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, to deal with the simple and beautiful aspects of nature, their influence on human life and mind. All written poetry was to be "a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" in recalling an earlier treatment of nature.

When oft upon my couch I lie
In vacant or pensive mood
They flash upon the inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

With Coleridge, the emphasis in rendering a poetic experience shifted from nature to man. Nature was only an externalization of human psyche. Moon became a symbol of what eternally exists inside a beholder. Coleridge declared:

          O lady, we receive but what we give.

Shelley explored themes like "the tempestuous loveliness of terror"; Keats sought a relationship between beauty and immortality; and Byron idealized love. The Victorians explored the realms of life "Beyond the Veil" of death and mourned the emptiness of life. Browning rebelled and introduced an ethical revolution justifying through powerful drama themes of murder, promiscuity, blithe dishonesty, etc. as in Porphyra's Lover. It is a breath-taking yet baffling combination of sensual love, aesthetic experience and murder lyricized aesthetically. It was one forward leap bridging the gulf between the old tradition and the modern poetry. Look at the difference in the very thinking processes Shelley wrote:

I fall on the throne of life I bleed.
          (Indian Serenade)

And Browning said:

Shall life proceed in that it seems to fail
     What I aspired to be,
     And was not comfronts me.
          (Rabin Bin Ezra)

And Eliot said:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing: wait without love
For love would be love the love for the wrong thing: there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in waiting
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing.
                          (East Cocker)

Not only themes, but the manner of rendering identical themes into poetry, are modernized. A comparison of Arnold and Eliot's trying to trace the idea of alternative life back to sources of experience is found in Arnold's "The Buried Life" and Eliot's "Portrait of a Lady". Arnold realizes the spontaneous lyricism when he writes:

Yet still from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul's subterranean depth unborn
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day
Only - but this is rare -
When a beloved and is laid in ours'
When, jaded with rush and glare
Of the interminable hours
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafened ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caressed -
A blot is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.

The same agony is conveyed, not logically at all, but in the pristine modern tones by Eliot in the following lines:

Among the winding of the violins
And the ariettas
Of cracked cornets
Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins
Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own,
Capriciousness monotone
That is at least one definite 'false notes'
     The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune
     Of a broken violin on an August afternoon;
     'I am always sure that you understand
My feelings, always sure that you feel,
Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand


The modern poet now belongs with those artists who are searching for what may be called the fundamental particles of their art. His poetry like other art forms is difficult, not only for the layman but also for the specialist. He is a part of thinking which has been looking into the myths, which underline the concept of culture or civilization and the way in which they may influence us now. And this is precisely what gets Browning aside from his own age making him the first pillar of modernity in literature of which T.S. Eliot righteously became the high priest.

Works cited

Ball, Patricia M. The Central Self: a Study in Romantic and Victorian Imagination. London: Athlone Press, 1968.

Browning, Robert. Poems, ed. by Douglas Dunn. London: Faber and Faber, 2003.

Eliot, T.S. Selected Poems. London: Faber and Faber, 1961.

Harding, D. W. Experience into Words. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.

Jack, Ian. Browning's Major Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.

Kenner, Hugh. The Invisible Poet. New York, 1964.

Langbaum, Robert. Poetry of Experience, The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.

Langbaum, Robert. Poetry of Experience, The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition. New Ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Leavis, F.R. New Bearings in English Poetry. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.

Litzinger, Boyd (ed.). Browning: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1995.

Miller, J. Hillis. Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966.

Pearce, T. S. T. S. Eliot, Literature in Perspective. New York: Evans Bros, 1967.

Spender, Stephen. Eliot. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1986.

Williams, Joan M. Robert Browning: ARCO Literary Critique. New York: ARCO, 1970.

Ismail Baroudy, Ph.D.
Department of English, Faculty of Humanities,
Shahid Chamran University,
Tel: + 989163114225