The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In a letter dated July 9, 1919, to John Rodker, who was preparing T. S. Eliot’s volume of poetry Ara Vos Prec for publication with his newly founded Ovid Press, Eliot mentions his newly completed poem “Gerontion” for possible inclusion. It became the lead, and perhaps the most significant, poem in the volume, published in February, 1920.

In critical consideration, “Gerontion” has been identified as one of the poems of the so-called Waste Land cycle of poems, the others including “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917), The Waste Land (1922), and “The Hollow Men” (1925). Like these other works, “Gerontion” explores the hollowness of the modern age, the failure of human history to provide firm direction, and the vacuity of a life without passion or belief.

The poem casts the title character, Gerontion, a name derived from the Greek geron in its diminutive form, suggesting “a little old man,” as reflecting in his room while being read to by a young boy. The name is apt, for Gerontion is an old man who has shrunken in upon himself by virtue of his need to think through, to analyze and scrutinize, all options rather than act upon them. As the boy reads, Gerontion’s mind wanders.

Associations occur in his mental wandering. The house is owned by a Jew, which reminds Gerontion also of Christ, who was a Jew. What, Gerontion wonders, has modern humanity made of the Christ? His mind...

(The entire section is 547 words.)