Modernism emerged after the First World War as a rebuttal to being confined to traditions and cultures that dictated people’s lives. Modernism means to re-analyze all the notions of the past so they can be molded to fit in with the needs of the future. The inevitability of death is explored by two modernist poets, Wallace Stevens and T.S. Elliot’s in very different ways. “Sunday Morning” by Stevens analyzes the Christian idea of an eternal life and “The Hollow Men” by Elliot analyzes the way people have been living pre-war. Both poets present modern ideas of death because they analyze the rituals of the past and propose a new idea that is far from the norm of the times.
The title “Sunday Morning” implies the Christian holiday of Easter, “the holy hush of ancient sacrifice.” It is interpreted that the main character is in a debate with her inner self while having a lavish breakfast instead of being present at the church and soon starts questioning her decision of exemption from the religious activity while contemplating the meaning of death. She thinks about Christianity, the concept of divinity, and the ultimate perishing of all things human and non human and views her life as confirmatory. She feels she is loosing hope in the idea that there is way to escape death according to the Christian concept of Eternal life because she views her life as “wide water, without sound, stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet over the seas, to silent Palestine, dominion of the blood and sepulcher.” Her reflection and analysis of past ideas is the first step towards establishing a modern idea of death.
Her thoughts go over to Palestine which is the grave sight of Jesus and that it is “not the porch of spirits lingering.” She debates with herself the concept of divinity and whether it really exists. Through the description of nature Stevens shows that nature has parts of heaven in it because it is cherished like certain aspects of heaven. She contemplates that if we view things differently we can view them as bridges and not barriers such as the sky which should be a bridge to divinity. Elliot’s view of the world exemplifies the notion that the world is a barrier to a divine afterlife and that this misconception can be corrected. “Hollow men” presents a world where people are devoid of any sort of guilt and corrupt to the point of no return. The last line of the poem describes the world ending with a whimper and not a big bang. This can be interpreted as people being on a slippery slope sliding down towards wrongdoings and without even realizing their faults. The purpose of his poem is that people can right their wrongs and use the world as their “bridge to divinity.”
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