Death, Water, and T.S. Eliot

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Death, Water, and T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot is one of the leading poets in regards to symbolism. Water, one of his most common symbols is found in both "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Hippopotamus." At the end of "The Love Song" the narrator goes to the "sea" and "human voices" cause man to "drown." This poem associates water with Earth and death. However, in "The Hippopotamus," the hippo is "washed" and cleansed by water. This poem mocks the use of water to symbolize redemption and forgiveness. These are conflicting views that Eliot must have struggled with before his conversion to Christianity. Eliot also has reoccurring subjects throughout his texts. Death is found in both of these poems as well. T.S. Eliot fears death in "The Love Song;" he sees it as disintegration and the decomposition of the human body. But, in "The Hippopotamus" Eliot praises death as the hippo's way of "be[ing] washed as white as snow," but criticizes the death of the church by being abandoned on Earth.

These poems were both written before Eliot became a Christian, "The Love Song" before "The Hippopotamus." It is obvious in this latter poem that Eliot is sarcastic towards the view of life after death associated with Christianity. He is mocking the church and assuming it to false in its teaching and worthy of nothing more than being caught in the "miasmal mist" here on Earth.

Water, most commonly symbolizes renewal or redemption. It is meant as cleansing the body and soul or filth. People wash with water to get clean, same as they wash their souls to regain purity. Eliot uses water in a different sense. In "The Love Song," the character talks of the sea in the last two and a half stanzas. Mostly...