Eliot and Children’s Songs

Today in class it was mentioned that  T.S Eliot used lyrics from the song “London Bridge is Falling Down” in his poem “The Wasteland”. It was mentioned that the context of the song changed after the First World War and took on a much more ominous meaning. During the discussion I thought of a later poem “The Hollow Men” where Eliot again modifies a children’s song, this time “Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush”. “The Hollow Men” like “The Wasteland” deals with themes of desolation and a society’s loss of culture. It focuses on how the dead will perceive the living, as they approach what seems to be the end of the world. 

The lyrics are changed to “Here we go round the prickly pear” instead of “Here we go round the mulberry bush”. The mulberry bush symbolized fertility and rebirth while the prickly pear cactus would be found in a desert and is the opposite of rebirth and creation. I think that Eliot’s use of children’s songs are also haunting. When I imagine them sung in front of a post war back drop they are eerily detached, and represent a digression of adults to a more childlike and helpless state. I just thought that it was interesting that in two poems written about the degradation of culture Eliot used children’s songs in both. 

If anyone would like to read “The Hollow Men” 

http://allpoetry.com/poem/8453753-The_Hollow_Men-by-T_S__Eliot

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One thought on “Eliot and Children’s Songs

  1. That’s a good observation, and an important parallel to the themes and techniques of The Waste Land. While I agree there’s a way Eliot’s ‘characters’ can be seen as regressing (not digressing) to a childlike state, especially in their reliance on repetition and babble, Eliot also creates an overwhelming sense of age and the vulnerabilities that come with it. I wonder if the prickly pear might not be the opposite of rebirth and creation, so much as a harsher symbol for it. It’s organic but unwelcoming, and doesn’t require as much sustenance…kind of a Coleridgean death-in-life.

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