Modernism: T.S.Eliot & Virginia Woolf.

The visit to the art gallery of NSW last week was a perfect introduction to what we entered into today. It makes so much more sense talking about Virginia Woolf’s “Stream of Consciousness” and T.S. Eliot’s fragmented narratives (“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”- The Waste Land) afterhaving seen and discussed Picasso and Kirchner and Rodin and Van Gogh and De Maistre and…..


In all the arts, after the First World War, there was such a huge explosion of new ways of trying to access “the truth”. All the old ways had failed. People -writers, artists, musicians in particular- were hungry for a way of understanding the inner mysteries of what it is to be human. How could human beings be so colossally stupid! There must be some kind of answer awaiting us in the depths of our psyche. In this context it makes so much sense when we hear Virginia Woolf in “The Mark on the Wall” saying: “I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts.” This is exactly what she proceeds to do in this wonderful essay (“The Mark on the Wall”) and what she also does repeatedly in such small prose poems as “Monday or Tuesday” where she describes the magical process of reading and writing in the following amazing metaphor: “From ivory depths words rising shed their blackness, blossom and penetrate.”

The_Heart_of_DarknessT. S. Eliot’s  (don’t miss this link!) poem The Waste Land ends with the line “these fragments I have shored against my ruin”. This line has given its name to a new APP that has just come onto the market. Write a short review of this amazing APP and say how it has given you extraordinary access to everything that goes by the name of Modernism: Click Here For Details. 


Eliot, right from the start of his career was a passionate seeker for truth. This expressed itself in the metaphor of the journey which runs right through his whole work from “Prufrock” through to “The Four Quartets”. What truth was Eliot seeking? He was clearly living at a time of universal fragmentation, immediately after the First World War and like Picasso he looked directly at what was in front of him and saw the cracks in everything around him, from the material world through to human relationships and the individual human soul.


Eliot’s quest in poetry was to look with remorseless honesty at everything around him and in him, and in this deep seeing it was as if he found- not a solution- but a ballast against the disintegrating forces all around him. It was maybe this capacity of his for seeing and not flinching that led him towards the end of his life to embrace the path of the religious seeker. This we will be seeing especially in The Four Quartets next week.

So what kinds of Blog Questions will help you to deepen your understanding of what T.S. Eliot & Virginia Woolf and other Modernists are attempting to do?

Try one of the following exercises:

1/ CREATIVE Try to write a short paragraph that captures the flow of your own mind. Don’t worry about punctuation too much, just let it flow out. Then tidy it up a bit and see whether it works for you and maybe for a friend…. then publish it right here for all the world to see. It might end up being a glimpse of truth that we don’t usually  have time for!!

2/ CREATIVE In a similar vein try taking a single sentence from Virginia Woolf’s writing and build your own paragraph on what she has said. Try to stay close to the way she constructs her sentences, close to the kinds of words she choses, close to the atmosphere she manages to create.

3/  CREATIVE Take any one of the modernist paintings we looked at last week (or any other modernist painting that has caught your attention) and try to turn the painting into words. Publish the painting in your Blog and show how the construction of words matches the shape, flow, and possible meaning of the painting.

4/ CRITICAL Create a mini-digital kit on any aspect of Modernism that really interests you. It might be one of the authors, it might be one of the strands of modernism: cubism, expressionism, dadaism, surrealism……..

“These fragments I have shored against my ruin”.

In the spirit of Eliot’s vision of the world, write a poem or a short prose passage that uses this line as its opening.

6/  CRITICAL/ CREATIVE Describe the Picasso painting above. In other words paint his picture IN WORDS. Say briefly what makes it “modernist”.

7/  CREATIVE Have you experienced, or do you know someone who has experienced any of the situation described in “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock”? Tell their or YOUR story about what it feels like to be him.

8/ CRITICAL Find out something about the relationship between T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Why do you think this relationship was important to literary modernism?

9/  CREATIVE / CRITICAL As always: create your own topic! Remember to incorporate visual elements into your blog!!





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