Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Using T.S. Eliot to Explain PTSD

East Coker is a village in Somersetshire. In 1667, Andrew Eliot emigrated from the village to the New World, and specifically the American colonies. A little more than two centuries later, one of Andrew’s direct descendants was born in St. Louis, and would grow up to write poetry. He would name one of his poems “East Coker,” for the village of his ancestors. The poem was one of four “quartets,” originally published individually as pamphlets in England during World War II. The four would eventually be published together in America under the title of Four Quartets.

The poet, of course, is T.S. Eliot, who is more associated with what we describe as “modernism” than virtually any other poet. (Other modernist poets include Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens.) Modernism has much to do with the changes that racked Western society and culture following the Industrial Revolution, the population shift from rural to urban areas, the scientific revolution, and World War I. Context had changed; culture had changed. Society was disjointed, a kind of “waste land,” to use Eliot’s phrase, collectively suffering what we call today “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” People had become “hollow men.”

It is these modernist images from Eliot that we find embedded in East of Coker, a novella-length work by U.K. writer Andy Owen.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph: T.S. Eliot in the 1920s, when he wrote The Waste Land.

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