Experimentation in Literature in the 1920s
The year 1920 opened a decade that proved to be like none other before it, a decade that was to shake the world. The 1920's changed the way the world worked, for it was a time of discovery and achievement through improvisation and experimentation, when in the past everything had been carefully labored over, and thought out thoroughly. A few of these discoveries and achievements, and the men who accomplished them, stand out from the rest. With James Joyce and the publication of his massive masterpiece Ulysses, T.S. Eliot, and the publication of his brilliant and stunning poem The Waste Land, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and the publication of his complex and tragic The Great Gatsby, the 1920's were indeed a time of amazing discovery and achievement through experimentation and improvisation.
T.S. Eliot published The Waste Land in 1922, and the world of poetry changed forever. Yet his experiments in form and style began long before The Waste Land was ever published. Eliot was developing his unique style, as demonstrated in several of his early poems. Noticeable among these poems is the powerful work The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which received much critical acclaim after being published in America. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, or just Prufrock, as many critics called it demonstrated his combination of blatant pessimism and withering hopes and desires with the sterility of modern life. Another shocking feature in the poem was the juxtaposition of the brilliantly original verse with the cliched, something that made his style very unique; never before had anyone so daringly put the common language and the esoteric together in such a fashion. Prufrock effectively presented Eliot to the public, but there was one facet that the public did not see: his friend and mentor Ezra Pound. Pound was a well known and significant poet in his own right, but he helped Eliot edit his work. Pound spoke at least seven languages fluently, and was regarded by many as a brilliant manipulator of poetic rhythm and meter (Ellman 550). He used these skills to help T.S. Eliot, and the two got along marvelously well. Though the two had almost nothing but poetry in common (Pound was a fervent Fascist, Eliot a conservative Royalist), they still managed to complete several works together. And it was Pound who cut and slashed The Waste Land, severely editing many parts (Anderson 68). Pound and Eliot, though rooted somewhat in the past, both flourished in the modernist atmosphere of the twenties, because for the first time experimentation was allowed and encouraged, and both enjoyed experimenting with word placement, as well as symbolism and imagism, both experimentalist movements in poetry in the twenties. And so, through modernist technique, and with help from Ezra Pound, Eliot was able to develop a technique that was highly original, a shown in Prufrock. But the best was yet to come.
Eliot had been searching...