Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Gerontion” is structured in six stanzas. The first introduces the narrator, who describes himself as an old man who has never really done much with his life. He has had no passionate involvements, no great battles, and is mindful only of living in a “decayed house,” by which he refers both to his physical house and to his aging body.

In the second stanza, Gerontion begins reflecting upon the spiritual poverty of the modern age. People look for signs, an echo of the biblical passage in John 4:48, but do not pay attention to the sign of the Christ who has come. Instead, modern humanity is typified by four characters. For the art dealer Mr. Silvero, Limoges enamels are mere objects to be bought and sold. Their preciousness is reduced merely to a bartering value. Hakagawa bows among the Titian paintings, but he is the outsider, not really a part of their culture. He represents a person simply “going through the motions” without any vital involvement. Madame de Tornquist, who presides over a seance, represents the debasement of religious belief to the occult and the search for immediate signs. Fräulein von Kulp simply walks away, repudiating religious belief altogether. Like the wind, these characters, and Gerontion himself, have no sense of a whole religious passion or pattern.

In the third stanza, Gerontion ponders the course of human history, looking for answers or forgiveness to the knowledge of his and humanity’s lack of...

(The entire section is 542 words.)