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Gerontion

Project submitted to project submitted by

Mrs. Alka Mehta Pankaj sharma

(Faculty, English) B.A.LLB (Hons.)

Sec- A Roll no. 100

English Project

Date of submission – 07.04.2015

HIDAYATULLAH NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY,


RAIPUR

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Declaration

I, Pankaj sharma, hereby declare that, the project work entitled, “Gerontion”
submitted to H.N.L.U., Raipur is record of an original work done by me under the
able guidance of Mrs. Alka Mehta, Faculty Member, H.N.L.U., Raipur.

Pankaj sharma
Roll No. 100
Semester II

Sec. - A

Serial no. 36

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Almighty who gave me the strength to accomplish the project with sheer hard
work and honesty. This research venture has been made possible due to the generous co-
operation of various persons. To list them all is not practicable, even to repay them in words is
beyond the domain of my lexicon.

May I observe the protocol to show my deep gratitude to the venerated Faculty-in-charge Mrs.
Alka Mehta, for her kind gesture in allotting me such a wonderful and elucidating research
topic.

Pankaj sharma
Section - A

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Declaration

Acknowledgements

1. Introduction……………………………… …………………………........... 5
1.1 Research methodology

1.2 Objectives of study

2. Major works of the poet ….. ………………….. ……………………….….7

3. Summary of poem…. . …….. ……..………………………………… ……..8

4. Critical Appreciation of Poem ...….. . .. . ………………………………11

Conclusion

Bibliography/ Reference

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Introduction
Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (26 September 1888 – 4 January 1965), usually known as T. S. Eliot,
was an essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and "one of the twentieth
century's major poets". He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, an industrial city in the center of the
U.S.A. to an old Yankee family. He was the seventh and youngest child of Henry Ware Eliot
and Charlotte Champe Stearns. His period of active literary production extended over a period of
forty-five years. He was profoundly influenced there by two of his teachers—Irving Babbitt and
George Santayana. Round the year 1908, he read Arthur Symon’s book The Symbolist
Movement in Literature which stimulated his interest in the poetry of the French symbolists,
specially Laforgue. It was from his reading of some of the works of Baudelaire there that he
learnt how to reconcile in literature the real and imaginary worlds. He immigrated to England in
1914 (at age 25), settling, working and marrying there. He was eventually naturalised as a British
subject in 1927 at age 39, renouncing his American citizenship. He was awarded the Nobel Prize
in Literature in 1948, "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry."

"Gerontion" is a poem by T. S. Eliot that was first published in 1920. Eliot’s poetical
career has been divided into five phases: in which gerontion comes in third period of eliot from
1918-1925, which is a matter of belief, and of the attenuation of belief .The work relates the
opinions and impressions of a gerontic, or elderly man, through a dramatic monologue which
describes Europe after World War I through the eyes of a man who has lived the majority of his
life in the 19th century. Eliot considered using this already published poem as a preface to The
Waste Land, but decided to keep it as an independent poem. Along with "The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock" and The Waste Land, and other works published by Eliot in the early part of his
career, '"Gerontion" discusses themes of religion, sexuality, and other general topics
of Modernist poetry. The work relates the opinions and impressions of a gerontic, or elderly man,
through a dramatic monologue which describes Europe after World War I through the eyes of a
man who has lived the majority of his life in the 19th century. I do not necessarily mean religious
belief, but perhaps it was so for Eliot, even for the an attitude to the Christian doctrine of the
Word made flesh, an attitude implicit in its allusions to Lancelot Andrewes, as I shall contend.
This could be thought of as a stage in the ‘scepticism . . . which leads to faith’ that he spoke of in
his essay on Pascal, though I make this suggestion tentatively, aware that to read the early work
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in the light of what came later is to impose a context which the poem seems to obscure, to
swaddle with darkness. ‘The contexts of a sentence are best portrayed in a play. Therefore the
best example for a sentence with a particular meaning is a quotation from a play’. In
"Gerontion", Eliot writes, in the voice of the poem's elderly narrator, "And the jew squats on the
window sill, the owner [of my building] / Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp." Another
well-known example appears in the poem, "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar". In
this poem, Eliot wrote, "The rats are underneath the piles. / The jew is underneath the lot.
/Money in furs." Interpreting the line as an indirect comparison of Jews to rats, Julius writes,
"The anti-Semitism is unmistakable. It reaches out like a clear signal to the reader."

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The paper is descriptive in nature and doctrinal in approach. It is largely based on secondary and
electronic sources. The researcher has mainly resorted to several online articles for the
completion of the project. However the documentary material in the form of books and articles in
the library has also been referred to for the subject matter at hand. The mode of citation used in
the project is Bluebook (19th Ed.) Citation Format.

OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

The objective of this project is to examine about the poet, summary of poem and critical
appreciation of poem.

 To analyze the major works and life sketch of T.s. Eliot


 To examine the summary of poem and critical appreciation.

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Major works
The dramatic monologue "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), an artistically fresh,
visually inventive work, is a landmark of emerging modernism. Composed during the poet's
period of casting about for a career and lifestyle, it blends the Victorian forms and rhythms of
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Robert Browning with the disdain and self-doubt of Charles
Baudelaire. Eliot prefaces the poem with an epitaph in Italian from Inferno, Dante's epic journey
into hell. The 131-line main text opens in a seedy part of London, a modern parallel of hell in its
joylessness and perpetual torment. Propelled by the walk of the speaker and an unidentified
"you," the action moves over doubts and questions neatly unified by rhymed couplets,
interspersed in lines 3 and 10 with the odd incidents of unrhymed endings. Surreal and
menacing, the skewering of the protagonist Prufrock on a surgical table terrorizes at the same
time that it draws the viewer to a subject pinned down for study like an insect in the lab.

The theme is an overt admission of weakness: The speaker confesses an inability to commit to
sexual love. Prufrock has become a twentieth-century cliché for the prissy, conflicted bachelor
obsessed with a balding head and prim wardrobe and mannerisms, not unlike Eliot himself. Like
the sinuous fog, his gaze glides indoors, then outdoors, from surgery to street, social gathering,
storm drains, terrace, and back into the "soft October night," another reference to his flaccid
character. The juxtaposition of trivialities with life-disturbing doubts stretches out the tedium of
modern life over "a hundred visions and revisions," an internal rhyme with "decisions." Unlike
the outward control of selecting a tie pin or creasing his slacks, Prufrock's inner turmoil threatens
to "disturb the universe." The pathetic hyperbole frames his chaotic thoughts, which swirl around
the unexpressed question that dogs him.

Also from Eliot's initial burst of brilliance, "Sweeney Among the Nightingales" (1919) features
the opposite of Eliot's refined Englishman in a laughable, working-class buffoon. The poem, a
sharp, cold satire that Stephen Spender labels "a violent cartoon," pictures its characters in
animal images of an ape, zebra, giraffe, and Rachel Rabinovitch's "murderous paws.1"

1
T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound. The Waste Land: The Original Facsimile of the Original Drafts Including Annotations of
Ezra Pound Ed. Valerie Eliot. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (1974) p.127

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Eliot loads the poem with mounting menace. End words are predominantly monosyllabic,
producing a stabbing series of moon/place/above/gate and wood/aloud/fall/shroud. Through
enjambment, the ten stanzas present a running account of Sweeney threatened by a "gambit," the
trickery of bar girls. The poet shifts to dark humor by depicting Orion and his dog, the prophetic
constellation that takes the shape of the stalking hunter. The point of the plotting is unclear. Like
Agamemnon, the Greek king whose murder is recounted in the epigraph, Sweeney is sappily
drunk and unaware of any sinister intent, whether to rob him or do bodily harm. Amid the omens
of Death and the raven, he merits no pity from nature, as depicted by wisteria vines trailing
around the framed face of an observer and the songs of nightingales, or from divine intervention,
as implied by "The Convent of the Sacred Heart.2"

"Gerontion" (1920) is more universal in meaning as a bleak meditation prefiguring the symbols
of dry sterility that dominate Eliot's later work. The poem was intended as a preface to The
Waste Land. The title means "little old man" in Greek and introduces the text with a suitable
epigraph from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. In the action, a lifeless, uncommitted old
man lives out his declining years and ponders the erratic gifts of history. In a series of dense,
interrelated images, the speaker regrets the worldwide decline of Christian faith. The images are
the "hot gates" of Thermopylae, "Christ the tiger," and a slate of fictional characters, Mr. Silvero,
Hakagawa, Madame de Tornquist, and Fräulein von Kulp, followed in line 68 with De
Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel3. The names imply human faults: Silvero (money), Hakagawa
(violent hacking), Tornquist (torn by quest), von Kulp (from the Latin culpa for fault). Like
Gerontion's elderly body, exercising the remains of his withered "sight, smell, hearing, taste, and
touch," current generations seek escape in crass pleasures. Driven by nature — that is, the Trade
winds — they age toward "a sleepy corner," their final resting place.

Summary of the poem

"Gerontion" is Greek for little old man (the disrespectful form)... The poem is a conglomeration
of the old man's memories of his unimpressive past, and his speculations on the meaning of life
and how people act. This is a foreshadowing of the persons lament over age that is present
2
Eliot, T.S. "Gerontion." Collected Poems. Harcourt, 1963.
3
F. W. Bateson, ‘The Poetry of Learning’, in Eliot in Perspective, ed. by Graham Martin (London: Macmillan,
1970), pp. 31-44.

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during the entire piece. Eliot is making a statement on how the greatest wisdom and observations
go ignored, dismissed due to the superficial values of our culture, and how often we don't really
understand the meaning behind our experiences until much later... when those around us no
longer care to listen. This poem is a dramatic but interior monologue in which the voice of the
narrator is distinctly realized, and his words reveal his character and the dramatic situation or
scene in which he acts. A difficult poem, it may be approached as a collage, entered as one
would a stream, in this case the stream of consciousness of the narrator, who is, literally, a “little
old man.”

The narrator weaves personal history with more universal themes to form a meditative reverie of
remembrance interspersed with remembered fragments from the Bible and from the Elizabethan
and Jacobean dramatic poets William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, George Chapman, Cyril
Tourner, and Thomas Middleton. Other dramatis personae are the Jew, Christ, Mr. Silvero,
Hakagawa, Mme de Tomquist, Fraulein von Kulp, De Bailhache, Fresca, and Mrs. Cainmel, as
well as the anonymous boy who reads to the narrator.

Like the Fisher King of The Waste Land whom he prefigures, Gerontion is an old man waiting
for rain, for rebirth in a period of aridity. Yet since the juvenescence of the year brings Christ the
tiger who is eaten and who devours, there is some ambiguity and possibly some ambivalence
about a rebirth that leads to death in a recurring cycle. There is also the equally large concern
about action, phrased by one who denies that he has acted:

‘Gerontion’ begins, accordingly, with a quotation from a play, from Act Three Scene One of
Measure for Measure: ‘Thou has nor youth nor age/ But as it were an after dinner sleep/
Dreaming of both’. On the whole the contexts of Shakespeare’s sentence are effectively
portrayed in Eliot’s poem, whose opening lines dream of youth and age as an ‘old man in a dry
month,/ Being read to by a boy’.

Background/Approaches: Eliot had considered using “Gerontion” as a preface to The Waste


Land, but ultimately decided to separate the two. Thus, you may find it useful to consider the
poems together and to have students examine the old man’s voice as one singled out among the
cacophony of voices in the longer work. The epigraph for “Gerontion” is taken from Act III,
scene I of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, a play concerned with duplicity,

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hypocrisy, and shame. In this particular scene, the Duke addresses Claudio, imprisoned and
sentenced to death for impregnating a woman to whom he is not married. Cunning, blind, foolish
vanity and futility color Shakespeare’s play, but Measure for Measure ultimately ends in
forgiveness and reconciliation. No such possibilities seem to exist in “Gerontion.” “Christ the
tiger” appears in “depraved May”, suggesting that “April, the cruelest month” in The Waste
Land gives way to still more desolation; salvation is denied, impossible. Gerontion lives among
waste and ruins, in “a dry month”; he may well wait for rain, but his thoughts are the “thoughts
of a dry brain in a dry season” and no rain comes. This “little old man” surveys the barren
landscape, reflects on his wretched neighbors, remains immobilized and ineffectual. Like
Prufrock, he does not act, and like Prufrock, he is confronted by a woman in the face of whom he
is powerless. Gerontion’s “woman” is History; “she” leads only to corruption, to still more
decay. In the face of “her” labyrinthine twist and turns, Gerontion does not, cannot presume,
does not and cannot dare. This figuration of history offers a chance to discuss the poem’s vision
of women. Students should be asked to consider what is suggested by this representational
strategy, as well as asked to pay attention to the portrayal of other women in the poem. What part
do the women play in the barrenness of the setting? The portrayal of Gerontion himself may also
present a point of interest. Is this old man a well-rounded character, one whose thoughts and
feelings are points of empathy for the reader? Or is he a stock character, akin to a figure in an
allegory whose name alludes to an abstract concept, a metaphor rather than an individual? How
does our view of the speaker affect our perception and interpretation of the poem? Still another
consideration is the use of language in “Gerontion.4” John Paul Riquelme argues that the poem’s
language, “which is full of dislocations, tends to float; it refuses to be tied to a limiting scene or
to a limited meaning” (Harmony of Dissonance: T.S. Eliot, Romanticism, and Imagination).
Riquelme further suggests that the poem’s conversational tone is not sustained past the opening
lines, and that, stylistically, the poem is more akin to composed, written lines than “the
spontaneous utterance of an ‘I’ with a personal voice.” In attempting to understand Gerontion’s
statements and proclamations, it may be helpful for students to focus on how these statements
and proclamations are made. How does Gerontion’s incoherence, his manner of addressing the
listener/reader contribute to his message? Connections: “Gerontion” is perhaps most obviously
connected with Eliot’s own The Waste Land. It is possible to use “Gerontion” as a means of

4
Denis Donoghue, ‘On “Gerontion”’, The Southern Review, 21.4 (1985), 934-46 (p. 934).

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preparing students for the arguably more difficult reading of the longer text; it is also possible to
read the two poems in conjunction with each other. Gerontion’s question, “after such knowledge,
what forgiveness?”5,may also be related to the idea of Yeats in “The Second Coming,” with its
vision of the “widening gyre” and “mere anarchy.” “Gerontion” and “The Second Coming” share
a concern with the return of Christ, though this return seems to offer little by way of salvation
and hope. William Blake’s “The Tyger” considers God as the creator of death and misery in the
world, contrasting the tiger to the lamb, both creatures of God. You may find Blake’s poem
useful in considering the appearance of “Christ the tiger” in “Gerontion.”

Critical Appreciation

In critical consideration, “Gerontion” has been identified as one of the poems of the so-called
Waste Land cycle of poems, the others including “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
(1917), The Waste Land (1922), and “The Hollow Men” (1925). Like these other works,
“Gerontion” explores the hollowness of the modern age, the failure of human history to provide
firm direction, and the vacuity of a life without passion or belief.

The poem casts the title character, Gerontion, a name derived from the Greekgeron in its
diminutive form, suggesting “a little old man,” as reflecting in his room while being read to by a
young boy. The name is apt, for Gerontion is an old man who has shrunken in upon himself by
virtue of his need to think through, to analyze and scrutinize, all options rather than act upon
them. As the boy reads, Gerontion’s mind wanders6.

Eliot scholar Grover Smith says of this poem, "If any notion remained that in the poems of 1919
Eliot was sentimentally contrasting a resplendent past with a dismal present, Gerontion should
have helped to dispel it." It contain anti-Semitic sentiments. In the voice of the poem's elderly
narrator, the poem contains the line, "And the Jew squats on the window sill, the owner [of my
building] / Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp." “Gerontion” has drawn the most scrutiny
from critics and scholars. Because it is the only vers libre poem in English in the volume, and
Eliot had established himself as a vers libre poet in Prufrock and Other Observations in 1917,
“Gerontion” appears to be the poem that links Prufrock and one of the most important poems in

5
Michael Edwards, Eliot/Language (Isle of Skye: Aquila, 1976), p. 15
6
Ayaz, Nasreen. Anti-T.S. Eliot Stance in Recent Criticism.Sarup & Sons (2004)p.17

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the twentieth century, The Waste Land. Even though Eliot was only 32 at the time of the
publication of “Gerontion,” artistically he worried that he hand entered a metaphorical old age.
The inscription and the first two lines of the poem alert the reader that this poem is about the
contrast and struggle between youthfulness and old age. The inscription from Measure for
Measure suggests there is no distinction between “youth” and “age,” but the image of the old
man being read to by a boy in the first two lines emphasizes a tension between these two periods
of life. Additionally, the contrast between the “dry month” and the anticipation of rain
establishes a tension that will never be resolved. The boy, a Percival, will not free this Fisher
King from his dry and decaying place.

Bernard Bergonzi claims that "Eliot's most considerable poem of the period between 1915 and
1919 is 'Gerontion'.Kirk believes that "To me, the blank verse of 'Gerontion' is Eliot's most
moving poetry, but he never tried this virile mode later." At the end of stanza one, Eliot
introduces the motif of wind and whispering. The old man is “[a] dull head among windy
spaces” and “in a draughty house/Under a windy knob” where “[v]acant shuttles/ weave the
wind”. In stanzas two and three, Christ the tiger is “[t]o be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk/
Among the whispers”. Stanza four presents a personified and feminized “history” who “deceives
with whispering ambitions7”. The poem ends with an image of a “[g]ull against the wind, in the
windy straits of Belle Isle” and the gerontion taken far away by trade winds.

Stanza four may seem to be the most problematic of all of the stanzas, but in it Eliot is able to
express the tension between his attraction to and repulsion of the past that has paralyzed him as a
poet, making him feel like a gerontion. The opening phrase of the stanza is seemingly oblique:
“After such knowledge, what forgiveness?”.The knowledge the old man has gained is
indeterminate, as is the provider of forgiveness. Yet, in stanza three, the old man has made the
strikingly bold and arrogant claim that “I have no ghosts.” This statement is the knowledge the
old man has gained, but he recognizes so quickly that this knowledge is false, that he indeed does
have “ghosts,” that he must ask for forgiveness. By no coincidence, then, does the old man begin
a long metaphor comparing history—the past—to a seductress. She is something that is craved,
yet she “gives with such supple confusions/ That the giving famishes the craving”

7
Sigg, Eric Whitman. The American T.S. EliotCambridge University Press (1989)p.171

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For a poet to lose his senses and not be able to create imagery means the end of his poetry.

There is hope for the poet at the end of the poem. The landscape may be bleak, Eliot’s
“delirium” may be “chilled,” but the strong sensory imagery of stanza seven indicates the loss of
his senses was only temporary, as will be his case of writer’s block. Eliot may not be any closer
to a “conclusion,” because he still is in a wild, fractious “wilderness of mirrors” where the
representative Europeans (De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel) are “whirled” to a far corner of
the universe, out beyond the constellation Ursa Major “in fractured atoms”, and the old man poet
is whirled by the ever-present wind to a far corner of the earth, but the situations in stanza seven
are so fragmented that they can not be real. Instead, Eliot realizes, they are merely “thoughts in a
dry brain in a dry season”. The thoughts that have invaded the corridors and have filled the
rooms of his brain are paralyzing, but fortunately only seasonal.

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Conclusion

In the end Christ the tiger comes for the aging protagonist mired in decadence and lost passion,
Gerontion asks then if redemption of the world is still possible. Desolation reaches an apex and
the houses are multiplied. In his anguish the detached Gerontion has considered the pollution of
windward punishments and his guilt is not passive, but as in the Dante’s Purgatory he suffers
perhaps to purify.

The finest of Eliot’s poems have an amazing ability to reveal a man who was not only an
inspired artist but also a keen observer of culture. His work encourages readers to re-examine
their ideas of literature. The impenetrability of Eliot's poetry comes, I think, from the difficulty
of his world: that heap of broken images. Even so, in the entirety of his poem, Eliot comes to
reaffirm an image steeped in the recovery of the integration of religions, philosophies, and
politics. His answers may not belong to us all, but still, who can resist the command of his
nostalgia for a world that is whole. the moment when a condemned man is told that life is not
really worth living and that, besides, it is never actually ours to handle as we wish. Life just flits
away as insubstantially as a dream. From this very motto, therefore, the downward, descending
mood that reigns over Eliot's sensibility is introduced. That life is a trap, because most often than
not it turns against the being who thinks himself its owner, is Eliot's most recurrent complaint.

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Bibliography/ Reference

 http://www.enotes.com/topics/gerontion/in-depth

 http://www.studymode.com/essays/Critical-Appreciation-47848254.html
 everything2.com/title/Gerontion

 Bergonzi, Bernard. T. S. Eliot. New York: Macmillan Company, 1972.


 Childs, Donald J. and Eliot, T.S. Mystic, Son, and Lover. Continuum International Publishing
Group (1997)
 Kirk, Russell. Eliot and His Age. Wilmington: ISA Books, 2008.
 David C. Martin (1 July 2003). Wilderness of Mirrors: Intrigue, Deception, and the Secrets
that Destroyed Two of the Cold War's Most Important Agents. The Lyons Press.ISBN 1-
58574-824-2.
 Montgomery, Marion. T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the American Magus. Athens: University of
Georgia Press, 1970

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