April 1st, 2015
“Eliot to Whitman, Whitman do you copy?”
Dear Mr. Whitman
You do not know who I am, but my name is T.S Eliot and I am an American poet and have used your collections of literature as inspiration for my own poetry. The table you set for writers in the 1800s, especially here in America, by transforming the traditional author/reader relationship that was so popular at the time into a complex, yet artistic self-reflective journey through the reader's subconscious. It has completely changed the way myself and many others think and act and feel and even view other forms of art on a day to day basis. Your vision of America and the American poet has motivated entire generations to look deeper into your lines, whether it be regarding themes of freedom or self-actualization or our relationship with nature, your food for thought has kept readers well-fed for nearly a century.
I see your contributions to American literature and I see your vision of this nation, and I cannot help but conjure my own vision using my own experiences in my own voice, and this curiosity and creative nature has allowed me to examine issues ranging from isolation to humanity, and even death. Without your poems like “Song of Myself” and “Preface 1855”, I wonder where I would be today. Where this nation would be today. Would I be able to illustrate my vision as I have done? Would I even be a poet? The literary world and myself owes so much to you, and the only way I can properly thank you for your work is to build and evolve and advance on what you have given to us.
A few poets and I have developed what we think may be the next great age of American literature, and we call it Modernism. Using the literary devices that you pioneered in your collections, Modernism provokes the reader’s subconscious to reflect on similar themes that your work did, but in a way that represents the time-period that is the 20th century. Your ability to join hands, in a literary sense, with your audience is what I think separates you from other authors, and Modernism pushes that boundary at times between that author/reader relationship. For example, you ended “Song of Myself” by consoling the readers that if they do not understand the message you were trying to send, you would be there for them, acting as a guide through the complexity of your work;
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,/ But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,/ And filter and fibre your blood./ Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,/ Missing me one place search another,/ I stop somewhere waiting for you.
I wanted to do something similar in my work. I wanted to take the reader for a journey through my vision, interacting with him/her along the way. My take on this technique ended up forming parts of my introduction stanza to my poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, it reads “Let us go then, you and I,/ When the evening is spread out against the sky/ Like a patient etherised upon a table/...To lead you to an overwhelming question…/ Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’/ Let us go and make our visit” (368). Each line and stanza becomes more personal for the author and reader when our poetry is as if there is dialogue between the two. However, our execution of this technique is different. I want to be authentic, I want to be true to my audience, and if that means my poems are dark and emotional and grim at times, so be it. The era I live in now has been through much turmoil, the first World War being one of many mournful days for this country, I feel I owe it to myself and my readers to represent these dark times, but in a way that allows me to act as a helping hand as you did.
The difference in setting and place between your work and my own is one of my favorite things to compare. The time-periods are so different yet or poetry shares so much, and that parallel is so interesting to me because it shows how timeless your work is and hopefully how timeless mine will be in the future. In your collection of poems, “Song of Myself”, the reader is ushered through different snapshots of America, sometimes under the stars in grassy fields, and other times in the South during times of slavery. Your ability to illustrate such meaning through setting has been a guiding light for much of my poetry; “Falling asleep on the gather’d leaves with my dog and gun by my side”, your subtlety drags with it themes of freedom and one’s relationship with nature, all while again providing the reader with ageless scenery (33). The way you connect your readers and your nation to your vision is why I think the imagery you generate makes your work so relatable to people of all backgrounds and upbringings. You say that “[your] elbows rest in sea-gaps, [you] skirt sierras, [your] palms cover continents, [you are] afoot with [your] vision”, epitomizing your ability to connect the masses with with your words, as well as your ability to embody the multitudes that make up this nation (53). In much of my poetry the scene is set in a more modern America, in post-war wastelands and gloomy city streets. I learned from you that the backdrop in poetry can give each line more significance. I think you would appreciate the lines I wrote, “April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain…. In the mountains, there you feel free” (378). I try to paint a picture as you did, I try to expose the emotions that come with the changing of the seasons using similar literary devices you did, imagery, free-verse, elegy, and so on.
I want to build on your body of work. I want to have the same type impact on American literature as you have. I want to be the inspiration in a time where it is needed. I want to help people find inspiration in their lives, not for just literary use, but for anything, as you have. I can change the way people think and feel and act and view their surroundings with my poetry, and I want to explore that unique power literature grants us writers. It does not matter to me how I am viewed in the public eye, there will always be people out there who are not on the same page as I, but my real objective is to make whomever decides to pick up one of my poems to think, to become aware, to develop their own voice, that they could then use to influence and connect with others. And I know my poetry comes off as maybe dark or morbid, but beyond the shadowy vernacular that I tend to use, lies radiant meaning that challenges and dares the subconscious to view my world, my country, and my contemporaries in a new 20th century fashion.