Thursday, July 9, 2020 | ePaper

Two Modern Priests

Eliot And Auden Walked Divergent On Modern Footing

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Abdur Rahman :
The woe of every generation crucifies their Tiresias first as his prophetic felicity journeys advanced than his generation anticipating the echo of looming wave several centuries ahead brewing to ripple its coast. As Arnold breathed the prophetic chronicle in his Dover Beach where he heard the flow and the ebb of human misery which his predecessor Sophocles heard it long ago on the coast of Aegean, as Elizabethan Shakespeare could anticipate the echo of modern man's indecisiveness and colonialism several centuries ahead of his time which he embodied several centuries early through Hamlet and Caliban respectively. Similarly, Browning, Arnold,Tennyson, Dickens could sense the Victorian wave of tri-faced (Religion, Science and Industrialism) conflict. As Browning blew the whistle in optimistic tone, Arnold in pessimistic tone, Tennyson in symbolic tone and Dickens juxtaposed the both (It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …………..we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way-A Tale of Two Cities) to give a clarion call to the Victorian people. So were T.S.Eliot and W.H. Auden as our (Modern) Tiresiases harpooned advanced with isolation, indifference and self-fragmentation brewed from world wars, the worst seminal catastrophe for the mankind. Albeit modern woes and pangs oozed out from both of the souls(Eliot and Auden) , they walked divergent on modern footing. Auden's experience was highly embittered by wars - Spanish civil war, Second World War, making him an avid observer of wars. Auden waded through such an anxious age when trusted systems paid a deaf ear to individual cries. Being an individual, Auden voiced his concern in his poem revolving wars and ravages committed by a belligerent and jingoist group.
"Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives" (September 1, 1939)
Wars have killed human soul,emotion, love, fellow-feeling, sense of humanity more than the human bodies. In other words, wars have killed the humans but the horror of wars has killed the humanity because experiencing excessive horror and bloodshed of wars, the tears in human eyes has dried and man has forgotten to cry for his own loss, for the loss of his fellow man. Thus humanity has been split and degenerated by the poisonous talon of wars. Moreover, another brunt modernity is harpooned with is industrial or mechanical life fuelled by money making and routine bound life which very thinly allows one man to feel his fellow man. In spite of being the member of this age of human barrenness, Auden's soul keeps alive to be wounded at any human suffering. Auden further extends his concern and manifests the forsaken cry of individual to mankind in his poem Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) citing Peter Brueghel's work based on the well-known Greek legend, "Fall of Icarus."The Renaissance artists excelled in their sensitive representation of human suffering which 'ironically occurs in the daily rounds of everyday life, but remains unnoticed ignored, or uncomprehended but that does not reduce the experience of suffering.
"That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturers horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."(Musée des Beaux Arts)
Auden also hints at the animal - like existence of human beings who are insensitive to those elevated moments of martyrdom. The juxtaposition between individualised personal suffering and the drift of surrounding life by examining Brueghel's painting, titled 'Fall of Icarus',a boy falling out of the sky", both seen, heard and registered, but the "sun shone as it had to; …. And the ship "had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on". Icarus was a lonely sufferer, alone in his "failure" which was not important for the ploughman. The "forsaken cry" was heard but the suffering was a solitary experience. The cue of such harsh incidents extends and overwhelms around our daily life. Last year, Times of India reported a piece of news that detailed an old beggar carried the corpse of his wife on his shoulder for seven kilometers on foot being unnoticed and unhelped by any human in a busy street. It's also the nearest and latest example of Auden's kind.
Eliot, another modern Tiresias, observes modern isolation, fragmentation and degeneration on a different footing through his poems. He has projected claustrophobic and self-introspective modern man through Prufrock in his poem, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. He portrays the city roads as "half deserted streets" (4) which might have been filled with multitudes of people but as they all appear strangers, he finds the streets deserted and lonely. Prufrock, the representative of modern man is isolated from the community in the city streets. Even he is isolated from himself because Prufrock is divided into two selves- social self and own self which are always struggling within him. Modern man's failure to communicate his fellow men myriad though they be in number around him is the Hallmark of spiritual bankruptcy and self-centeredness evidencing everyman for himself. "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" (26-28). The modern man prepares himself differently to encounter different people. He changes his face very often. He uses his brain instead of heart and is money minded. As one cannot present his real face to others due to the fear of being outcaste from city society, he loses his real self and becomes an indifferent, alienated figure. Prufrock maintains distance from the girl he loves. Modern man has introverted personality and has tendency to conceal his emotions in his heart. Embittered and diseased with hollowness, brutality, corrupt nature, greed, mechanised and robotic attitude of city life, modern man like Prufrock turns self-introspective, claustrophobic and paranoid which moulds him unaware to the pain and pangs of the mankind he beset with. Auden shows mankind's indifference to individual's cry through Icarus while Eliot shows individual's indifference to mankind's cry through Prufrock. Though they are divergent on the mode of modern indifference, they are convergent on the spiritual degeneration of mankind as a whole in modern age which led to the graver version of this modern spiritual crisis brought by Beckett in Waiting for Godot that displays a motionless civilisation, a motionless mankind- "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!"
(Abdur Rahman, Lecturer in English, Birshreshtha Noor Mohammad Public College, Peelkhana, Dhaka; email:

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