The Ultimate TS Eliot Cheat Sheet identifies the main themes and commonly used techniques in his Eliot's poetry, and provides you with examples of each from every poem.
Struggling to find common Eliot themes? Having difficulty with Eliot’s techniques? Don’t worry. This is the Ultimate TS Eliot Cheatsheet to help you prepare for and ace your exams.
Mod B requires you to closely examine your texts and evaluate its textual integrity and significance.
This means that you determine whether or not the text has a unity of form and ideas and whether the values and themes are still relevant today.
In our Year 12 Module B: The Critical Study of Literature Guide, we go through this in detail. Read this guide to see the breakdown of each syllabus dot-point in detail.
This is the list of TS Eliot poems that you are required to study for Mod B:
Understanding TS Eliot’s context will help you unpack his poetry and understand the purpose of his poems.
Having a strong understanding of Eliot’s context will also help you decide a text’s canonical status. If you need a refresher of canonical statuses, read our HSC English Study Guide: TS Eliot Part 1.
TS Eliot is one of the most renowned Modernist poets.
Modernism is a movement that arose during the 1800s and became popular after World War I. Modernists explored the individual mind and criticised rules, tradition and routines.
They broke out of traditional rules, and conventions, and were experimental. Modernist artists also found new ways to explore identity.
During Eliot’s time, the world was becoming increasingly secular. This means that people were rejecting religion for various reasons (eg. religion restricts and controls human feelings and actions).
There was also an increased understanding of individual psyches and psychoanalysis. People were beginning to understand psychic struggles, especially with the trauma of WWI.
Even Eliot himself struggled to find the right faith. It wasn’t until after the 1920s that he converted to Anglo-Catholicism. We can see this change in his poems.
The Second Industrial Revolution occurred during the mid-1800s – 1900s.
Factories began to use more efficient technology to mass-produce goods. There was a focus on productivity and capitalist ideals. And, people were expected to work long hours to earn money.
Eliot was highly critical of this lifeless routine.
Our Matrix English Advanced Module B Course for TS Eliot will give you an in-depth understanding of the text. You will learn from expert English teachers, have access to extensive resources and improve with in-depth feedback. Learn more.
You need to explore the themes to analyse whether or not a text has canonical status. If a theme is universal, then it will be universally relevant.
Let’s take a look at Eliot’s commonly explored themes.
[Note: You may find that not all poems are analysed under every theme. This is because the theme isn’t as strongly explored as the others.]
Eliot explores the subjectivity of time and how our actions are shaped by our perception of it.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; / There will be time to murder and create,”
The repetition of “there will be a time” highlights Prufrock’s perception that time is neverending; a detrimental thought as life is finite.
Preludes: “With the other masquerades / That time resumes,“
Eliot parallels time with a “masquerade”, criticising how humans shape their lives around an illusion; the clock.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: “The moon has lost her memory.”
Eliot explores how memory [and everything else] will decay over time as though they have a life of their own. Death is inevitable.
The Hollow Men: “Life is very long / Between the desire / And the spasm / Between the potency / And the existence”
The men are stuck in the place between death and the after-life. Time seems to go on infinitely in a state of desolation and despair.
Eliot explores how the modern world causes individuals to lose sight of their desires as they are so caught up in their monotonous routines.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “I do not think that they will sing to me…. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
These lines allude to The Odyssey; the sirens sing to Odysseus because he’s a hero. However, the persona is not a hero because he has no real ambitions and therefore has not achieved anything worthwhile.
Preludes: “You tossed a blanket from the bed, / You lay upon your back, and waited; / You dozed, and watched the night revealing“
The monotonous lines highlight how individuals are simply completing activities because it has become a part of their routine. They have no real desire for anything.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: “The last twist of the knife”
This is a bleak ending to the poem. It highlights how there is no real hope or desire left in a lonely world… only impending death.
The Hollow Men: “The eyes reappear / As the perpetual star… The hope only / Of empty men.”
The metaphor of the eyes being the perpetual star represents how the “eye”s are the men’s last salvation and hope in this desolate place.
Journey of the Magi: “Just the worst time of the year / For a journey, and such a long journey”
The Magi are searching for a sense of comfort and spiritual answer in Jesus and God… It is a long and painful journey.
Eliot’s world was becoming more secular. So, people began to question their religion and faiths, including Eliot.
Preludes: “His soul stretched tight across the skies / That fade behind a city block,”
Eliot refers to God being omniscient and omnipresent.
The Hollow Men: ” Here the stone images / Are raised, here they receive / The supplication of a dead man’s hand”
The stone images allude to the passage in the bible where the Israelites were punished by God because they began to worship the false Gods instead.
Journey of the Magi: “… this Birth was / Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.”
The Magi is questioning their religion. He likens Jesus’ birth to agony and death, as opposed to the supposed enlightenment.
Eliot believed that individuals are more isolated and lonely in the modern world because of the onerous social and labour demands. Think about the modernism movement.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.”
Eliot highlights how people are always coming and going in the modern world. No one stays for long.
Preludes: “And newspapers from vacant lots; / The showers beat / On broken blinds and chimney-pots,“
Eliot describes a desolate waste-city. With the increasing financial, social and mental burden of the modern world, no one has time to look after anything or anyone anymore.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: “Every street lamp that I pass / Beats like a fatalistic drum,”
The streetlamps are not beating. It is the persona’s heartbeat. As such, this highlights how the persona is so lonely, he can hear his own heartbeat and mistakes it for company.
The Hollow Men: “In this last of meeting places / We grope together / And avoid speech / Gathered on this beach of the tumid river”
The men are together physically together, but they are mentally isolated from one another. They “avoid speech”, so they can never connect.
Journey of the Magi: “With an alien people clutching their gods.”
The Magus believes that his previous religious peers are now “aliens” because he is questioning his faith. He is alone.
There was an increased understanding of psychoanalysis. So, Eliot explores the search for identity and the mental struggles of living in the modern world (especially after WWI) and the struggle to find one’s identity.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do”
Hamlet is known for his mental inner conflicts. By comparing the persona to Hamlet, Eliot is highlighting the persona’s existential questions.
Preludes: “The thousand sordid images / Of which your soul was constituted; / They flickered against the ceiling.”
Eliot highlights how individuals’ souls are suffering from their own thoughts and memories… which worsens because of their loneliness.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: “A broken sprig… rust that clings to the form”
The sprig represents the persona’s mind, and the rust symbolises the decaying of the mind
The Hollow Men: “We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men”
These men are empty and have no feelings or identity. They have lost themselves in the modern world.
Journey of the Magi: “I should be glad of another death”
The Magus seems to desire another “death” because he is now suffering from the realisation that his religion isn’t what he thought it was.
You can evaluate the significance of Eliot’s poems by analysing the techniques. These techniques reveal themes and underlying messages of the poem.
So, let’s examine Eliot’s most commonly used techniques in his poetry.
Metaphor is when one thing is said to be another thing.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”
This highlights Prufrock’s obsession controlling his life… even if it turns out futile.
Preludes: “The burnt-out ends of smoky days”
The end of a day is compared to the burning of a cigarette butt.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: “Dissolve the floors of memory”
Memory is being likened to dissolvable floors. This highlights the vulnerability of memory and how easy it is to forget things.
The Hollow Men: “We are the hollow men, / We are the stuffed men”
The men are likened to scarecrows. They have no emotions or real identity.
The Journey of the Magi:
The whole poem is an extended metaphor for the 3-wise men’s journey from the Bible.
When an inanimate object is given human qualities.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes”
Eliot gives the yellow fog cat-like qualities. This enhances the visual imagery of the smoke being alive and over-taking the city-life. The smoke is also symbolic of Prufrock’s desire to be loved. See Motif.
Preludes: “You had such a vision of the street / As the street hardly understands;”
This further emphasises how lonely individuals are in the modern world… to the extent that the streets can hardly understand them
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: “The street lamp said, “Regard that woman / Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door”
The street lamp forces the persona to view different perspectives. This highlights how lonely the persona is… he only has streetlamps and the moon to provide him company.
The Journey of the Magi: “The cities hostile and the towns unfriendly”
The cities are personified to show their hostility towards the magi.
Allusions are references to literature, historical events or religious texts.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;“
This literary allusion is ironic because the audience are able to clearly draw similarities between Prufrock and Hamlet’s self-consciousness and existential questions.
Preludes: “His soul stretched tight across the skies”
This is a religious allusion to God himself, being omniscient and omnipresent.
The Hollow Men: “For Thine is the Kingdom”
This is an allusion to the Bible. This particular line references the belief in redemption and the birth of Jesus.
The Journey of the Magi
The whole poem alludes to the 3-wise men from the Bible. It tells the story from a less common perspective. In addition, it begins with the opening of Lancelot Andrewes Christmas sermon to James I and his family from 1622.
A motif is an image or idea that consistently reoccurs throughout the text.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “yellow smoke” / “yellow fog”
The yellow smoke appears consistently throughout the poem. It can also represent Prufrock’s desire to be loved or wanted. As such, when it nozzles at the windows, it is illustrating how Prufrock fails to take any real action to make connections.
Preludes: Time eg. “Six o’clock”, “At four and five and six o’clock”
Time represents the rigid routines and structure of the modern world.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: The lamp and moon
The streetlamp and the moon provide the only source of light in the persona’s life. In other terms, he is so lonely, that these 2 inanimate objects are his only source of solitude.
The Hollow Men: Dry eg. “As wind in dry grass”, “In our dry cellar”, “This is the dead land/This is the cactus land.”
The dry land represents lost faith, as it has lost all water. Water is symbolic of hope and faith.
The Journey of the Magi: Cold winter
The cold winter is a motif used to represent hardship.
Eliot explores inner conflicts and mental deterioration. As such, his narration is often unreliable, as we don’t actually know what is truly happening. We only understand what the persona believes and thinks.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
Prufrock is written in 1st-person language as a stream of consciousness. Eliot shifts from one idea to the next without any common associative link or thought.
Preludes is written in 1st person language by an omniscient voice. Eliot also uses second-person language (“you”) in this poetry too.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night:
This poem is written in both 1st and 2nd person language. The narration is quite unreliable because they are unstable and alone in their own thoughts. This is especially shown through the rhythm and musicality.
The Hollow Men:
The Hollow Men is written in 1st person language in a very experimental free-verse style. This highlights the instability of the mind.
The Journey of the Magi:
The poem is written in 1st person language. This creates a more personal journey.
A short quotation, usually used at the beginning of a text to suggest the theme.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse / A persona che mai tornasse al mondo, / Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse. / Ma percioche giammai di questo Fondo / Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero, / Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.”
This is quoted by the character Guido in Dante’s Inferno. Guido shares his insecurities and sins to Dante. This epigraph draws parallels between Prufrock and Guido’s; both are sharing their deepest insecurities.
The Hollow Men: “Mistah Kurtz-he dead / A penny for the Old Guy”,
Eliot refers to Guy Fawkes and the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
The Journey of the Magi: “A cold coming we had of it, / Just the worst time of the year / For a journey, and such a long journey: / The ways deep and the weather sharp, / The very dead of winter.”
While this is not strictly an epigraph because Eliot doesn’t quote Bishop Lancelot Andrewes’ Sermon word-by-word, he did adapt it into the poem. As such, Eliot is reaffirming his search for faith and the hardships that follow.
Musicality refers to the stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry. It is similar to a music bar.
For example, JOUR-ney. “JOUR” is the stressed syllable, whereas, “ney” is the unstressed syllable.
Rhythm refers to the pace and beat of your poem.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
Eliot writes in a stream of consciousness in this poem. There is no regular rhythm. Instead, the pace quickens and slows down depending on Prufrock’s thoughts. For example, his repetition of the extended metaphor of the cat (“yellow fog”) throughout the poem enhances the musicality of the poem and feelings of anxiety.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night
This poem has a very irregular rhythm and musicality. This is representative of an unstable mind as the persona is slowly losing their memory and thoughts. As such, the poem creates high tension and anxiety.
The Hollow Men:
Each section of The Hollow Men has a different rhythm. It starts off repetitive and dry and becomes much more intense and mechanised. The last section (Section V) is especially different from the other Sections as it is very, very repetitive. The beginning of each line alternates from “Between the…” to “And the…”. They also end with “Falls the Shadows”. The final stanza repeats “This is the way the world ends” 3 times. This highly repetitive section creates an autonomous and intense feeling.