Arnold and Eliot

         T.S. Eliot’s fragmented and broken poem, “The Waste Land” contrasts greatly with Arnold’s notion of culture as the “study of perfection” (Arnold 1596). While Arnold’s view of culture is based in his idea of the perfection of man through the “idea of the whole community, the State,” Eliot depicts in “The Waste Land” that there is “nothing” that is able to hold culture together, the individual nor the state, in the face of war. Eliot demonstrates that Arnold’s idealistic views of a culture not in the “bondage of machinery” and rather immersed in “sweetness and light” are not able to stand in the face of “the agony” brought by the machines of World War I (Arnold 1596, Eliot 324).
         In T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” Eliot illustrates the chaos and brokenness of England and English culture that has been brought about through the horror of World War I through a blending of high culture and low culture. Eliot takes lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night,” to illustrate  the insanity that has descended on the culture destroying the idealistic view that man should be in a constant state of striving for “sweetness and light.” Than Eliot also employs the low culture of an Australian war song, “O the moon shone right on Mrs. porter and on her daughter/ they wash their feet in soda water,” in his depiction of World War I’s trenches. Eliot’s blending of high and low culture contrasts with Arnold’s strong belief in the “lightness” of high culture.
         The contrast between Arnold and Eliot is also seen in their depictions of the individual. While Arnold believed that a subtle loss of individualism to form a more united state would spare the country from “anarchy,” Eliot’s poem suggest that the loss of individuality leads to anarchy and destruction.

The Waste Land

Everything that T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” describes the world to be  is completely opposite to Mathew Arnold’s notion as to what culture is. While Arnold preaches “sweetness and light” Eliot uses a fragmented, frenetic, style to show that the world is far from sweet and light, but full of darkness and deep despair.

A very important aspect of this poem is that there are several voices behind it which seems to project a schizophrenic, and paranoid feeling on to the reader. I wonder if Eliot is saying that we as people are culture-less in the fact that we can never achieve sweetness and light, or if he is simply redefining it and saying that darkness is our true culture. To me the best quote in the poem is at line 20-23 where he says, “Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,” This quote seems to describe the whole poem, a heap of dark, broken messages.

The Wasteland: Eliot and Arnold

The idea of culture proposed by Matthew Arnold is completely different than the kind of culture T.S. Eliot writes about. Arnold focuses on the lighter aspects of culture, while Eliot’s fragmented writing shows off the darker underbelly. Eliot writes of a desperate, hopeless time, that has no clear path. This contrasts wildly with Arnold who claimed that culture is sweet and light, and has one clear directional path. Arnold and Eliot have very different ideas on the culture of a society and how it should be written about. This is made known in the fragmented way in which Eliot writes. 

T. S. Eliot writes in what could be considered the opposite of Arnold. His style is fragmented with an unclear flow, showing the anxiety and hardship present in the people. Eliot’s use of references also calls to his exposure of the dark underbelly of the world. An example of this is shown, “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,/ Had a bad cold, nevertheless/ Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe”(lines 43-45). Clairvoyantes are thought to be suspicious and untrustworthy and certainly not what Arnold had in mind, but they are who some people turn to in times of trouble and uncertainty. This quote demonstrates both Eliot’s use of fragmentation and references as differing from Arnold completely and as a way to show how the people felt at the time. Eliot’s time was considerably darker than Arnold’s and it showed in his writings and fragmentation. 

the waste land.

Matthew Arnold, in Culture and Anarchy, said that culture is “the pursuit of sweetness and light”. The epigraph of “The Waste Land” translates to Sybil desiring her own death. Before the poem even really starts, it is obvious from the title and epigraph that “The Waste Land” is not light reading. The images presented are all dark and broken, “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief” (lines 23-24). T.S. Eliot is not striving to find the sweetness and light in the world and write about it. Instead he presents the world exactly how it is: ugly and broken. 

Eliot embodies the brokenness that is pervasive in his world by filling his poem with fragmented images and language. There are several images of disconnection, “I can connect nothing with nothing. The broken fingernails of dirty hands.” (lines 301-302). The parallel images of disconnection and brokenness create a hopeless mood. The poem is narrated by several different speakers it seems. The first stanza is told in first person by a person named Marie. Lines 35-40 seem to be told by a male narrator who is reminiscing giving hyacinths to a girl. There are several “characters” in the poem and also many points at which the speaker is a third person narrator not connected with the poem. The various viewpoints add fragmentation to the poem. The several languages are another tool employed by the author to make the poem more broken. The fragmentation of the poem does not really fit into Arnold’s idea of culture because it is not striving for perfection. Eliot is trying to write a difficult poem. His poems are filled with allusions and use several different languages. Is this not culture? Its intellectual and without a doubt forces the reader to think and will result in them learning after seeking to understand the poem. Matthew Arnold was not aware of how the world was going to change when he wrote his definition of culture. The world was not filled with sweetness and light at the time of the composure of “The Waste Land”. Eliot writing about sweetness and light would not be reflective of the times. If Matthew Arnold read T.S. Eliot’s poems he would agree that it exemplifies high culture, even if it somewhat contradicts his narrow definition. 

The Confusion of T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot writes in a style that greatly contrasts with Matthew Arnold’s notion of culture.  In “Culture and Anarchy,” Arnold describes what culture really is in his eyes.  He claims “Culture is then properly described not as having is origin in curiosity, but as having its origin in the love of perfection, it is a study of perfection.”  He also says that it is not just “the scientific passion, the sheer desire to see things as they are,” but a perspective in which the “desire for removing human error” make the world a better place.

When first reading “The Wasteland,” my immediate reaction was to think “T.S. Eliot’s poem makes no sense at all.”  He constantly jumps from idea to idea which makes it very difficult to even know what he is talking about.  Although the language itself is much simpler than what we are used to reading in this class (shorter sentences and less complex words), it is just as difficult to understand because of the constant change in plot and the lack of description of what is actually going on.  For example, in the second section, Lil says, “I can’t help it…It’s them pills I took, to bring it off.”  Eliot does not describe her situation any further and the reader is supposed to understand that Lil is talking about getting an abortion.  It is this style of writing that throws me off.  I had to look up online what the story actually talks about, and even that was confusing.  Much of this confusion is due to the fact that the story is broken up into five different sections or fragments, many of which are composed with quotes from other writers.  “The Wasteland” is far from Arnold’s idea of perfection and “seeing things as they are” as it is not a complete piece of literature, but rather a combination of different pieces, much like Frankenstein (the character, not the story).  In my opinion, it is much more enjoyable to read something that is concise and complete rather than something that looks like it was thrown together from five different stories.

When one associates something with “culture” often what comes to mind is something which connects or brings a group together. It is the notion of allowing many smaller pieces to connect and form something much larger. T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” exemplifies this sense of a culture in the way in which the pieces make up its entity. However, in comparison to Matthew Arnold’s perception of culture, Eliot’s poem could not be more drastically different from his claim.

Arnold views culture in a way that it is thought to be full of perfection where as Eliot sees it in more of a dark and broken sense with a primary focus on death. It is as though Eliot stresses the idea of death because it plays a key theme when associated with the idea of renewal and growth. Although much of his poem is in a sense dark, the theme of renewal is found when he discusses the idea of something blooming. Going back on the theme of culture, ultimately something must lose all of its feature before it can be renewed.  

The Modern Waste Land : Eliot’s Perspective after WWI

“The Waste Land;” a difficult read indeed! I was driven up a wall by the amount of times I had to read it just to get a vague sense of its meaning. It is to be expected, however—after all, Eliot did say “it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results” (2297). This civilization, “our” civilization, is complex because of the effect that advancement, progress, technology and the like has had on humans, not the advancement itself; WWI, using modern technology in a world that was still behind a century or so in its thinking, decimated a people that were not prepared for the dramatic effects progress and advancement had on them. The loss, the confusion are all evident in Eliot’s poem, as is the change that has occurred between his time and Arnold’s.

Matthew Arnold, when he wrote his Culture and Anarchy, was working in a time where machinery, progress, and technology were becoming more and more prevalent. Arnold told us that culture is “properly described” as “having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection,” and “The pursuit of perfection… is the pursuit of sweetness and light” (1596). Arnold states that the use of machinery is a means to an end “which machinery is valuable,” and end to “put in practice an Englishman’s right to do what he likes” (1598). This, Arnold says, “tends to anarchy” (1598), and men must “find our centre of light and authority there [in the state]” (1599). “We want authority, and we find nothing but jealous classes, checks, and a dead-lock; culture suggest the idea of the State” (1600). The use of machines as a means to an end, that end being freedom, the ability to do what one wishes, results in anarchy, which is in opposition to his idea of culture, the “sweetness and light,” the “study of perfection.”

What does Eliot’s “The Waste Land” say about Arnold’s “culture”? In “The Waste Land,” Eliot describes the destruction of culture, the removal of “sweetness and light” that results from the “anarchy” associated with machinery. The technology and progress that WWI implemented for such destruction resulted not in anarchy, however, not in freedom to do what one wants, but rather in a destruction of the “sweetness and light” that Arnold calls “culture.” Rather than doing whatever one wants, the use of machinery has resulted in a kind of indifference among people. We see this in part three, the Fire Sermon. After a sensual scene between a typist and her lover, the man leaves and the woman says “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over” (line 252). There’s a mechanization of people, where they go through the motions of their lives, the pursuit of machinery resulting in a machine-like trance for those that pursue it.

A New Culture

In Culture and Anarchy, Matthew Arnold states that culture is “a study of perfection,” and “the pursuit of sweetness and light.” However, if one applied that simple description to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” he would quickly come to the conclusion that Eliot’s poem is anything but an example of culture. Brokenness, confusion, and darkness reign in “The Waste Land;” this poem is certainly not a study of perfection. If anything, it is a study of the widespread imperfections in 20th Century Europe. The dark subject matter, fragmented language and use of quotation all contribute to the notion that though “The Waste Land” is far removed from Arnold’s idea of what culture should be, it remains culture.

Throughout the poem, Eliot quotes from a wide variety of famous literary works, writings that Matthew Arnold would certainly consider “culture.” For example, he often quotes and references ancient Greek and Latin stories, sometimes using the original language. Arnold absolutely loved the Greeks; in fact he considered the Greeks the grandfathers of all western culture, and their Hellenistic society something to be desired by Victorian English society. However, rather than using this classic culture to add clarity to his poem, Eliot uses it to add confusion and fragmentation. The epigraph is composed of a mash-up of Latin and Greek, giving the poem a jarring jumble of two different languages. The actual translation of the epigraph is equally unnerving; it consists of the Sybil’s request to die, a feeling mirrored by many WWI soldiers plagued with PTSD. Within the epigraph, Eliot sums up modern culture. He emphatically states that culture is not all about sweetness and light. Rather, culture is a fluctuating concept that changes with the prevailing mood of society. For post-World War I Europe, culture is darkness, fragmentation, and despair.

Culture as the powder behind all the annihilation of WWI

T. S. Elliot uses fragmentation and quotation as his weapons to critique modern views of culture and how these views led to WWI and the hopelessness that society feels now in the aftermath.  After WWI, people were left to wonder how so much destruction could have come about from their hands.  The war ended November 11, 1918 and Elliot believed that “April [was] the cruelest month (Elliot 1).”  Although April flowers were starting to bring about May flowers, only snow was able to cover up the devastated landscape.

Elliot blames modern culture as the powder behind all the annihilation of the war.  Culture is defined by Arnold as being the study of perfection and described as presenting the best that has been thought and said.  That idea has only led people to be too powerful for their own good.  Elliot tells an anecdote of the wisest fortune teller in Europe (Elliot 43-55).  Even though she is very sick people still come to her religiously to have their future predicted.  By the end of the reading, all the fortune teller predicts is death.  Just like the story of the fortune teller, society believes in a culture that is off target.  In the end, believing in this culture leads to death.  Elliot also points out how the greatest cultures in history have fallen to their death; “falling towers Jerusalem Athens Alexandria Vienna London (Elliot 374-376).”  Just like how London is in ruins from the war now, the other great cultures of the world have fallen.

T.S. Eliot and the Fusion of Culture

T.S. Eliot’s style of quotation and fragmentation create a natural conflict with Matthew Arnold’s notion of culture. Arnold writes that “culture is then properly described not as having its origin in curiosity, but as having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection” (1596). He believes that individuals should seek and find culture on their own, in sweetness in light, rather than eat the “intellectual food prepared and adapted in the way [organizations] think proper for the actual condition of the masses” (1596). Eliot takes in the intellectual food of past literature, and creates a feast.

Eliot quotes from many popular sources to add value to the poem. He refers to Dante’s Inferno when describing the walking dead, “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many / I had no though death had undone so many” (62-63). This dark reference provides the previously dark and hypnotizing scene with a hellish sense of reality, one void of hope and freedom. He even fuses Western and Eastern aesthetics when he quotes from both St. Augustine and Buddha, “To Carthage then I came / Burning burning burning burning / O Lord Though pluckest me out / O Lord Thou pluckest / burning” (307-311). Using these quotes, much less even combining them, goes directly against Arnold’s views that culture comes from within. Next is the fragmentation of The Wasteland. First of all there is no continuous, central speaker in the poem like Romantic or Victorian literature. Eliot even sometimes switches languages, such as when he quotes from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, “Frisch weht der Wind / Der Heimat zu / Mein Irisch Kind, / Wo weilest du?” (31-34). Although this would jumble an English speaker’s mind, the powerful theme of Tristan’s loss of hope when Isolde does not return. Finally, Eliot even brings the reader into the same shame as the narrator, “You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!” (76). This fragmented form leaves no room for one, perfect answer as Arnold suggests. There are many possibilities, making T.S. Eliot a true modernist.

Arnold vs. Eliot

Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” promote contrasting views of culture.  Matthew Arnold advocates a culture in which people think individually without the aid of other ideologies. Culture is the “pursuit of sweetness and light” and the avoidance of “confusion.”  Arnold also advocates for order, believing that culture is intended to “make reason.”

In contrast, T.S. Eliot peppers “The Wasteland” with quotations from other literary works suggesting that new thoughts should be inspired by past thoughts.  Fragmentation and the dark tone of the poem create confusion rather than “sweetness and light.”  The splitting of the poem into five sections is one way in which it is fragmented.  Some of the work’s imagery also conveys fragmentation, such as “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/ And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief.”  Besides portraying fragmentation through the “heap of broken images,” this quote creates a dark tone through the imagery of a dead, unprotected landscape.  T.S. Eliot’s division, literary allusions, and dark tone differ from Matthew Arnold’s advocacy of order, individuality, and “sweetness and light.”


Eliot critiques education, isolation of individuals

Arnold believed that through education men could become (more) perfect individuals. As such individuals, they would be concerned with the social welfare of those around them and would work hard (within their respective classes and spheres) to better themselves and others morally and intellectually. In “The Waste Land,” Eliot presents the failure of this notion of culture. He depicts a place lacking in knowledge, and any kind of emotional attachment, occupied by isolated individuals.

The lack of knowledge, or the failure of education, is stated beginning on line 19: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stormy rubbish? Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images…/ And the dry stone no sound of water” (19-24). Here, education is depicted as being thoroughly inadequate; men have no notion of their history (symbolized by the image of roots), or even of themselves in the present time (symbolized by the branches). Rather than the real, useful, knowledge and education that Arnold believed in, Eliot depicts a world in which men have only “A heap of broken images” for guidance. The lack of knowledge is further seen in the lack of water (“no sound of water”). Eliot emphasizes this towards the end of the poem, saying: “If there were water we should stop and drink / Amongst the dry rocks one cannot stop or think” (335-36). As water is often associated with knowledge, the inability to find any spring, pool, etc. anywhere to drink from symbolizes the ignorance of the modern age.

The fragmentation of culture is also reflected throughout the poem in the lack of any kind of emotional connection between individuals. Eliot describes London and a crowd in that “Unreal City” (60), but as the crowd moves “..each man fixed his eyes before his feet” (65), suggesting that there is no connection and no desire for connection among anyone. Everyone is only interested in his own business. This is also reflected in the interaction between the typist and the “young man carbuncular” (231). They sleep together but have no real connection; the typist “is bored and tired” (236) and the young man “makes a welcome of indifference” (242). This scene presents both an emotional and a moral decay. Whatever culture these two are a part of, it has not made them better human beings.

The ignorance of the isolation together help to undermine any kind of culture that unifies individuals to become some “people” who work for the public good and ordaer. Instead, every human thinks himself a prisoner (“We think of the key, each in his prison / Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison” (414-415) ). In this manner, Eliot critiques Arnold’s notion of culture, showing that it leads only to confusion and the fragmentation and withdrawal of the individual from others.

The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” acts as an archive of culture. He mixes high culture and eloquent language with low culture and colloquialisms. For example, Shakespeare is quoted on line 48 which harkens back to high literature, but then in part II. A GAME OF CHESS, one speaker informally says “It’s them pills I took, to bring it off” (line 159). Such informal dialogue seems unusual, but somehow seamlessly blends into the work. Matthew Arnold would naturally disagree with such writing. Arnold promoted reason and right understanding. His view of Culture was the study of perfection to attain sweetness and light. In this way, “The Waste Land” can be viewed as a kind of critique of Arnold’s idea of culture.

One definitive example of this critique is Eliot’s use of fragmentation. He writes that “The barges drift/ With the turning tide/ Red sails/ Wide/ To leeward, swing on the heavy spar” (lines 268-272). These fragmented phrases form broken images, but Eliot still gets his point across, albeit in a difficult way. Yet in contrast to Arnold’s points about reason, the difficulty of Eliot’s work and all of it’s fragmentation increases it’s power rather than degrading it. The wealth of references to every manner of literature and history also increase it’s effectiveness by making it a universal message. Whereas Arnold focused on individual thought and self improvement to promote culture, Eliot blends many voices to reach one modern idea.

Arnold and Eliot

Something I found interesting while comparing T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy” was the contrasting opinions on independent thought.  Arnold felt as though it was very important to think for yourself and form your own thoughts and opinions without the help of others.  Eliot seems to have an opposite approach in his construction of “The Waste Land.”  The poem is riddled with quotes from other texts or popular references, and they are all used to help him convey the core meaning of the work.  He seems of the mind that a lot of old unique ideas can come together to help creat a new unique idea.

Many people might argue that if you use other’s works or thougths to form your own, it is nothing but plagiarism in the highest degree.  Eliot uses these excerpts of other works to form such a masterfully crafted work of literature that, though some might claim plagiarism, others might say that he has enough of himself in the poem to make it uniquely his.

From Ezekiel to Australia: References in Arnold vs Eliot

Matthew Arnold, whether in favor of Hellenism or Hebraism, advocates for the necessity of order in his writings. In Hellenism, he argues for order of the mind, and in Hebraism, order of the body, but all can be accomplished through discipline and an abhorrence for anarchy. Eliot completely throws that idea out the window to achieve a state of maddening disorder throughout his poem, “The Wasteland,” especially when many of the references are unfamiliar. However, Eliot does use examples both from Hellenistic and Hebraistic tradition. He quotes Ezekiel in line 20, writing, “Son of man,/You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/A heap of broken images” (Eliot 20-22). Although not acknowledged in a footnote, the words “you know only/A heap of broken images” seem also to be a reference, perhaps to Spiritus Mundi mentioned in the Yeats poem we read earlier this week (Eliot 21-22). Also Hebraistically, he references Psalm 137 and its grieving poets in line 182: “By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept…” (Eliot). “The Wasteland” is also littered with Hellenistic references, as well as a shared love of the French. Arnold used French philosophers and writers often in Culture and Anarchy, and Eliot follows suit, quoting such authors as Baudelaire and Verlaine. Eliot also has plenty of classical writings included, such as Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Yet Eliot does not use these references haughtily or exclusively to reach his convoluted and difficult point. He employs everything from Dante’s Inferno and Shakespeare’s The Tempest to American ragtime and Australian war ballads. They all work together beautifully and fluidly, and one might confuse a journal entry from an Antarctic expedition with a letter from the Elizabethan period, or the wisdom of Tiresias with that of the Buddha. The culmination of all his references give Eliot’s poem gravity and credence as well as a sense of modern awareness that Arnold’s antiquated sentiments did not possess.

A fragmented hope for culture after WWI

Both “Culture and Anarchy” and “The Waste Land” were written in response to events that negatively impacted the society and its members. In “Culture and Anarchy”, Matthew Arnold sees culture as the antidote for a social atmosphere that is being strongly influenced by machinery and resulting in narrow minded/self-interested individuals. In “The Waste Land”, however, T.S. Eliot lacks the faith in culture that Arnold had, which we can see in section I when he claims, “I was neither living nor dead, and I knew nothing, looking into the heart of light, the silence” (2299). While Arnold seems to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for his cultural dilemma, Eliot’s poem uses incomplete and broken images to suggest that there is no hope after WWI for modern culture.

Something I found interesting while reading “The Waste Land” in response to “Culture and Anarchy” was the way Eliot seemed to be implying that the war had transformed humanity itself into the machinery that was destroying Arnold’s culture. I drew this conclusion from two lines in section III that stated, “when the human engine waits” (2304) and “she smoothes her hair with automatic hand” (2305). This also undermines Arnold’s romantic idea that the pursuit of a perfect culture was the solution to the effects that machinery had on the society, and proposes that there was no recovering from the consequences of the war. One last contrast that I found between the two works was the way the Eliot incorporated lines from classical and modern literary works to help get his point across, while Arnold stressed the development of the whole self and coming up with individual opinions and responses to the obstacles a culture is faced with.

The Waste Land and Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold in one of his greatest works, Culture and Anarchy, described culture as “a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world”. This process of development through the ideas of individualization, can be contrasted with T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”. Although I had a bit of a difficulty contrasting the two very different types of writing, I managed to find a couple contrasts between the two. In Eliot’s piece, he introduces the reader into a journey that is being taken after World War I. The modernist idea of disillusionment is noted when the journey is taken into the city of London where the reader sees “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many” (line 62). Immediately this stanza where he sees the the ghosts of many people, stands as an opposition to Arnold’s idea of certain steps to the experience of culture.

In section III The Fire Sermon, Eliot continues to use techniques that Arnold’s Romantic views of the individual would have never portrayed. In the end of this section of the poem, within a song-like stanza Eliot writes, “I can connect Nothing with nothing. The broken fingernails of dirty hands. My people humble people who expect Nothing” (line 301). In Arnold’s writing he seemed to have a constant support of the positive thoroughness of the human mind. Eliot fails to agree with Arnold’s development of the individual constantly throughout his poem, and in this stanza his method of description shows that the uncertainty exists in the human minds of this time period.




Reading Blast, I was surprised by how bold it was. The writers did not hesitate to experiment with new styles. There was experimentation in both the design of the magazine and also in the actual writing. I was slightly shocked so I can only imagine how the contemporary readers reacted. The bright colors of the cover set out to catch the reader’s attention. Once one opened the magazine, they tried to keep them interested by using an unexpected style. The pages featured some sketches and also arranged the writing in ways that were not at all conventional. The editors made use of page breaks, punctuation, capitalization and blank spaces when arranging their work. 

The style was interesting, but I feel as if it distracted from the actual writing, which was really not exceptional. I think they focused more on the way that a poem looked, and not the quality of their writing. I understand that they were trying to start a revolution. Trying too hard, in my opinion. By trying to start a movement that didn’t conform to all of the previous art forms, they were trying to get the contemporary artists to conform to their new style. Poetry should be visualized because of the quality of the words. The arrangement of the words and the punctuation should add to the poem, not be the focus. 

BLAST, the Individual, and WWI


To me, reading BLAST was more heartbreaking than it was interesting or surprising. The magazine represents the beginning of a tenuous attempt to glorify the individual, to make every individual, no matter his or her class, into a human being capable of art and artistic feeling. These individuals are not isolated though; they are united in a community of other individuals while maintaining their own individuality. The last line of “Long Live the Vortex” reads: “Blast presents an art of Individuals.” This struck me particularly hard. I feel a certain kinship I had not expected to feel; these authors seem to share my own zeal for the right and the worth of the individual. And yet, in a terrifying irony, these men, who believed so strongly in the individual, who founded a movement devoted to the individual, were about to enter into a war that would destroy the individual. WWI was a time of machines and statistics that showed horrific human fatalities. The concept of the individual that started to blossom in this magazine was buried beneath the overwhelming mass of the dead.

The way the magazine focuses on the individual is also found in the Manifestos. I read the contradiction of “blasting” and “blessing” the same thing simultaneously as an acknowledgment that good and evil exist in all things, and it is up to the individual to piece out what is worthwhile from what is broken and suffocating. Again, these individuals are part of a larger collective of individuals who transcend sides: “We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours” The individual is even sometimes promoted over countries, to the point where the magazine proclaims: “Blast First… England” (later England is blessed). This is gut-wrenching when one thinks of the war that is to come, and how it shall bind people more tightly than ever before into nationalistic units in an attempt to survive the carnage. Clearly, the magazine wished to knock the individual out of complacency, out of the mechanized, divided, modern times, but all of this was undone by WWI. Such notions of the individual as an artist and as on no particular side became vulgar and contemptuous, divisive when the country needed to stand strong. I cannot help but wonder what this movement would have become, what England and European literature were building towards in this and other similar journals, before the war interrupted.

On reading BLAST

In reading through BLAST magazine, I was very impressed by how well the editors illustrated their revolutionary ideas throughout the magazine. As others have already commented, it is most interesting that  Pound and Lewis were striving for a literary revolution  through “violent” writing just months before the literal violence of World War I broke out.  

BLAST boldly demonstrates a push towards a revolutionary model of modernist writing through the individualistic, satirical style and the playful imagism employed. The “Manifesto” is primarily comprised of short, extremely satirical sentences, phrases, and words that fall under the authors’ characterization of “blast” or “bless”. I was pleasantly surprised by the comical value of the work, particularly seen in the manifesto. The style of the work clearly employed clever imagism in the concise, choppy writing style that still manages to flow and pop off the page from their revolutionary typography. The interesting typography of the magazine adds to their individualistic style and emphasizes the satire and imagism of their work. 

War Poets Exhibition

After reading the magazine through, I eventually solved the confusion of some of the blank pages. However, there were some very interesting stories and images throughout Manifesto and Long Live the Vortex. I found the images to somewhat relate to the stories, although many of them abstract, they seemed to be just as descriptive as the writing itself. The violent style struct me as something surprising to see in a magazine. Having such detail in a piece of work really allows a reader to get a sense of what the author was thinking and feeling during such a scary time. It also made it a lot interesting to see the abstract interpretations of the gory scene that these men may have encountered.

Some of the stories had very strong detail, giving the reader a very real sense of what it was like during that time of turmoil.While reading BLAST, it was quite surprising to hear some of the stories that were told in the magazine. I also found that the pieces used a lot of anti-modernist ideas that seemed to represent. It seems as though this would have been a very humorous magazine, however its possible to see how it could have been controversial to the literature at the time.


Something that surprises me about “Long Live the Vortex!” and “Manifesto” in Blast is the violent style.  Blast even declares its mission to create “an avenue for all those vivid and violent ideas,” and the intensity of its works provides such an avenue.  The structure creates a staccato rhythm by dividing the works into many sections and many lines, some composed of only a single word.  This structure, the bold-face type, all caps, and exclamation marks form the intense style.  Such a violent style is unexpected for a pre-war piece considering that real violence is on the horizon.   One wonders if Blast would have published a calmer manifesto had it been written after WWI.

Though “Manifesto” blasts many things, it also blesses many things.  Furthermore, the same things blasted are later blessed which makes the text confusing to read.  The divisive structure lends to the confusion, separating the text into sections and forming columns to show the differing ideas about the same things.  The contradictions of “Manifesto” perhaps fulfill the purpose set out in “Long Live the Vortex!” that Blast “stand(s) for the Reality of the Present.”  In reality, nothing is simply good or bad but both.  Even in using the words “BLESS” and “BLAST” which look similar, “Manifesto” suggests that the two terms, though opposite in meaning, go together since everything can be blessed and blasted.

A BLASTing Piece of Work

Before even starting the first page of the BLAST magazine, the first impression of the bright magenta colored cover stood out to acted as an impression of what was to come in the rest of the reading. When I first began to read the BLAST magazine, I thought that I was reading something that definitely would not be something written during the 1900’s. The individualistic ideas must have definitely stood out to the readers of this magazine, especially that explains the implications of the magazine saying, “It will not appeal to any particular class, but to the fundamental and popular instincts in every class and description of people, TO THE INDIVIDUAL”. As I continued to read on, I noticed how much that this magazine represented the voice of these British people during 1914.

At some points during the readings of the BLAST magazine, it definitely surprised me about the negative attitudes towards to earlier modernistic ideas that had recently swept through the entirety of Europe. While doing this and representing some humanistic impressions when it said, “We don’t want to go about making a hullo-bulloo about motor cars, anymore than about knives and forks, elephants or gas-pipes.” It does a good job of implying the humorist views of the society during this time period. At times I thought this magazine represented a questioning of the certain leaders and government in Britain during the 1900’s, but at oBther periods the magazine seemed to praise the greatness of England, especially when they wrote, ” Bless England for its ships…bless all seafarers”. Without a doubt this magazine must have acted as an implementable piece of literature during this changing time period.

Blast’s Manifesto

While reading Blast, the part that I found most interesting was the “Manifesto” near the beginning of the magazine in light of the previous literary periods such as the Romantic and the Victorian. The Vorticists makes it point to go beyond the normal conventions of society, experimenting both in their text and typography. The Vorticist manifesto begins by praising the “art vortex” that has sprung up, interestingly ignoring the “class system” established by society and instead focusing on the individual artist inside all of us.

The Manifesto has a noticeable disregard for machinery, “AUTOMOBILISM (Marinetteism bores us.” The magazine goes on to show how Oscar Wilde also fell for the trap of “boring” machinery, “Wilde gushed twenty years ago about the beauty of machinery. Gissing, in his romantic delight with modern lodging houses was futurist in this sense.” However, the upcoming years of World War I will show the ever-present nature of machinery, making it a challenge to stay true to Vorticism.

BLAST Magazine

One of the most interesting things I found in BLAST Magazine was its unique use of capitalization, font sizes, and layout.  This really pulls a reader along and I feel as though it is closer to a thought process or realistic manner of speaking than ordinary prose.  The capitalization especially creates a sense of emotional presence behind the words.  Quite often, I felt as though I were being yelled at through the page.  A good example of this is the sentence, “WRING THE NECK OF all sick inventions born in that progressive white wake” (page 18).  The unique spacing makes it seem as though the words confined to a single column are almost a side thought.  This style helps the pages go much faster, since each one is taken up with giant letters and occasionally with big empty spaces.

Something else worth noting is the constant contradiction in the first “Manifesto.”  The authors repeatedly name things worth cursing, or blasting, and then go on to bless the same things.  For example, England is “blasted” on page 11, “BLAST First (from politeness) ENGLAND,” and then it is “blessed” on page 23, “BLESS ENGLAND, industrial island machine…”  The authors seem to be acknowledging that in many things, if not everything, there is something worth blasting, and something worth blessing, but never one or the other nor neither.  They say in the second “Manifesto,” “We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours” (30).