Hope Mirrlees

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Can you summarize "Paris: A Poem" by Hope Mirrlees?

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“Paris: A Poem” was written by British poet Hope Mirrlees in 1919. In it, the speaker wanders the streets of Paris and observes the meaningless grandeur of the popular sites. The poem explores early modernist themes like the disillusionment of postWorld War I society.

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“Paris: A Poem” is a long poem written by British poet Hope Mirrlees in 1919. It is often compared to T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem “The Waste Land,” in which he explores the disillusionment of post–World War I society. But while Eliot uses London as an urban representation of society’s degradation, Mirrlees uses Paris. Her poem is famous for its early modernist themes as well as its experimental style and unique arrangement of words that mimic the speaker's feelings.

In the poem, the speaker goes on a long walk through the Parisian streets, beginning underground in the metro. She then goes above ground and walks through many of Paris’s famous sites. While walking, she makes observations that show how much the city has changed, without actively reflecting on the past. She also alludes to the brutal impact of the war. For instance, just after leaving the metro she notes that “the Tuileries are in a trance” and compares little boys playing outside to soldiers. She seems jaded and disillusioned with the beautiful sites around her, saying things like, “I hate the Etoile / The Bois bores me.” Ultimately this speaker is observing a changed city. It is a city that appears to be slipping away just like the state of society before the war. Consider how she observes that “the Louvre is melting into mist” or how she calls the Ritz, Louvre, Palais-Royale, and Hôtel de Ville “light and frail / Plaster pavilions of pleasure.” She even says that “the Eiffel Tower is two dimensional / Etched on thick white paper.” Observations like these suggest that the city’s elegance is meaningless and does not give it any innate power or superiority.

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