How Does Context Shape Ideas and Language in a Text?

The poems “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”(Prufrock) by T. S. Eliot (1920) and “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth (1798) both present reflections of their context of which they were written in. This context expands between the personal, historical, social, cultural and workplace experiences that a composer participates in during or before their time and affects the way a text is composed. Through close analysis of these texts, we are able to determine the beliefs and ideas of the period they were written in.

“Prufrock” concerns a man who can see the possible pleasures of life -love, joy and companionship – but is unable to act to allow himself these desires. Within this poem, Eliot presents a critique of modern society in which individuals are repressed, isolated and live a meaningless life, which made up the main ideas of the Modernist period. The concern presented through “Prufrock” is the restricting and crushing pressures to live up to the standard in society.

The depiction of the fog presents the city as being smothering and claustrophobic as it “rubs it’s muzzle on the window panes”, which, being fragile glass can only hold out for so long against the oppression of the city. The animal imagery of the fog (“muzzle”, “back”) and its clouded swirling nature tells us that the society is ever changing and growing, reaching into “every corner of the evening” and influencing every part of Prufrock’s life.

The images of restriction and entrapment are again described later in the poem when Prufrock addresses the power of a “formulated phrase” and how the simple, polite gesture has the ability to leave him “pinned and wriggling on the wall”. The insect metaphor describes Prufrock’s feeling of entrapment and his inability to escape social routines. He sees himself as being painfully pinned by conversation to be collected and constantly examined so that he has to present a proper face to others in his society.

Prufrock’s inability to connect with others shows the alienation of his society in which he shuts his true self away for fear of being exposed and losing face (in a world where face is everything). Through the character of Prufrock, Eliot presents his impression of a world which displays an outward mask of happiness and general contentment but inwardly crushes its individuals in an attempt to maintain this image. These ideas given about Prufrock’s society accurately represent the key beliefs of the Modernist period and the context in which Eliot composed his poem.

In a similar way, William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey reflects the beliefs of the Romantic period. This is done in two ways, one being the glorification of nature and sensual experiences and another, the almost religious view of nature. The poem presents nature as a spiritual and beautiful yet vital presence that brings joy to people. The first stanza paints a serene landscape of “waters rolling from [springs]” and “steep and lofty cliffs”. The alliteration of this “secluded scene” puts stress on the word “impress”, emphasising the powerful effect nature has on Wordsworth.

Nature is also shown to have the ability of reviving one when suppressed by the “lonely rooms and ‘mid the din of towns and cities”. Wordsworth uses strong visual imagery when speaking of the power of nature, explaining that memories of nature are “felt in the blood and … heart”, which invokes the sense of life and activity. The poem gives birth to the idea of nature as a spiritual object. Wordsworth uses words such as “sublime,” “blessed,” and “serene” to emphasise his spiritual relationship with nature.

Despite the abundance of spiritually related words in this poem, Wordsworth does not refer to God or Christianity, and it seems that nature has taken that role. This is especially apparent at the end of the second stanza, when Wordsworth describes a sort of transcendent moment “become a living soul…eyes made quiet by power”. The themes and ideas glorifying nature in Wordsworth’s poems are reflective of the common beliefs held during the Romanticist era.

This leads us to the knowledge that, during the composition of this poem, Wordsworth was indeed affected by his surrounding culture and echoed it in his work. Both the poems “Prufrock” and “Tintern Abbey” have demonstrated their ability to reflect the context of their composition through the literary devices used in their production. Although these contexts are different, there is no doubt of the power a text’s context can have on the composer’s opinions.