At times, the best way to talk about urban life is through the intensified language of poetry. Urban poetry is used to share experiences or express thoughts and feelings that have something to do with living in urban areas. Common themes in these poems include social injustice, poverty, survival, struggles, and stress. Although the term urban is considered by many people to refer to modern cities, various forms of urban poetry have emerged out of cities for a long time. Despite cities becoming modernized, the conditions that inspire poets to write about them are still the same as they were centuries ago. This essay looks at how urban life portrayed in London, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Ode to Frank Silvera.
London is a poem by William Blake consisting of 16 lines spread out over four stanzas. In it, the poet focuses his attention not just on the condition of the city as the capital of England but also as the capital of culture. However, as the poems content make it abundantly clear; he is not of the opinion that London sets a good example. Each stanza highlights the various ways in which the British laws and monarchy lead to human suffering. London is written using the first person technique of narrative and talks about what the narrator observes as he walks through the citys streets. For instance, in the first stanza talks about River Thames, considered the heart line of the British Empire and which links the city with other parts of the world. Blake states that everything he observes is chartered- meaning it is owned and controlled by a powerful and influential individual- including the river that, ironically, is supposed to flow freely into the sea. The narrator notes that everywhere he looks, the only thing he sees is people suffering and unhappiness. In the second stanza talks about what he hears when walking on these imprisoning streets- cries of fear and anguish.
Blake was born and brought up in London, leaving the city just once in his entire life. This means he was attached to the city and clearly understood whatever was going on there. He is thus able to paint a nightmare vision of urban and social decay whereby darkness prevails; anguished sounds resonate and death seems to stalk the streets. By using the image of the charter, Blake highlights the absence of freedom for the ordinary citizens of London. The perceived reason for issuing royal charters in British towns and cities was to give them freedom. However, according to Blake, they simply allowed the towns to create their own mini-states ruled by their own hierarchy. The charters did not give freedom to the residents, but rather made them subjects of the aristocrat or the wealthy and powerful.
It is clear that T.S. Elliot has some rather strong views on urban lifes experiences in the modern world. In some of his poems, he has a very negative portrayal of certain cities and the lives of the people living in it. He utilizes several techniques to achieve this and goes on to highlight the disabling influence and squalor on the character of the citys inhabitants. Such experiences and views are effectively conveyed in his poem titled The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The overwhelming impression highlighted in the language used in the poem is that the poet views the urban center in a melancholic way, shedding tears over the desolation and despondency. For instance, in the first stanza, he describes the citys streets as being half deserted. If this is the case, then another individual would probably see them as half populated. Eliots description underlines his general perception that urban life is lonely and depressing. He also describes the streets as tending to follow like a tedious argument.
In the poem, Elliot uses many examples of language to put emphasis on the sordid experiences of city life, such as the talk of one-night cheap hotels, and muttering retreats. This language implied that this urban environment is some sort of evil that is gradually spreading and one that will eventually swallow up all diversity and beauty. It makes the reader think of the squalor of urban lifestyle while also highlighting the themes of hopelessness and despair among its residents. The poet also uses a wide variety of imagery to depict a picture of the urban center. For example, he asks, how should I begin..To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? (Line 60). This means he perceives urban life as similar to burnt-out cigarette butts, meaning that life in the city is dingy and sad. The narrator states that evening is spread out against the skyLike a patient etherized upon a table. Here, Elliot implies that the sky is in an anaesthetized and spiritualized state, and thus it does not have any feeling of awareness.
Elliot uses the image of fog and smoke in the poem. One of the stanzas has the terms yellow smoke, yellow fog, and smokerises from the pipes. The way smoke is repeatedly used echo the dinghy, polluted and dim aspects of the urban center; once again highlighting the themes of distaste and despair. Another notable technique used by the poet to highlight these themes involves superimposing natural beauty images into dingy, urban situations. In the poem, the fog is compared to a cat that .lingered on the pools standing in drains (line 18). Drains are perceived to be unromantic and blunt images of modern urban centers. The way Elliot combines them with the timeless beauty of nature shows that there is nothing appealing to the modern urban lifestyle.
Elliot offers a suggestion that it is necessary for the residents living in such an uninspiring and dispirited city conditions to put a brave face and not show their true emotions or feeling as they are likely to be vulnerable. In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, he puts this suggesting that urban residents allocate time to .. Prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet (line 27). He portrays the residents as being generally cultured, despite this being closely related to the facade and pretense in a way that encourages isolation and division in the society. Elliot advises people to re-invent themselves so as to survive the self-serving and vindictive society.
Ode to Frank Silvera by Bill Basset talks about Frank Silvera, a highly successful African American actor and director in the mid-twentieth century. Due to his light-skinned appearance, he overcame ethnicity and racial barriers in his roles. In films, Silvera was often cast as Hispanic, black and Polynesian. He was also notably cast as either white or racially indeterminate as at the time films were in black and white, meaning that there was no discernment when it came to light-skinned African-Americans. Ode to Frank Silvera, Silvera is portrayed as some kind of urban cowboy whose direction is illustrated by a lack of meaning or direction. He is a would-be hero, a dreamer and a wanderer who cannot find anything to be heroic about. As is the case with the typical classic hero, he is on a journey to find a purpose in life although he is not sure how the quest will turn out to be, or whether he will find what he is looking for.
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