Dear Diana,

I am not a Greek scholar, but according to my reading "Gerontion" does
not mean "growing old." It is a noun, not a participle, and, according
to Southam, it is a disrespectful--because diminuitive--form of 'gerõn,"
"old man." So it means "little old man." A participle can act as a noun,
but this is not a participle--unless you know Greek and can explain?

>>> Diana Manister 02/22/10 7:57 AM >>>
Dear Nancy,

The noun "Gerontion" I read as a synonym for "growing old" -- the title
describes the theme. So being changed is the action -- although the
speaker is passive, he does not remain the same. As you say this is far
from classical drama. The agon is between the speaker and time that
changes him and brings death, but he also suffers from disgust with
himself, an internal agon. I'm reminded of a line in a William Carlos
Williams poem: "I have pissed my life."

This is not a big insight; the conflicts are not difficult to identify.
But it's necessary to note them.



Sent from my iPod

On Feb 21, 2010, at 6:07 PM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Dear Diana,

I agree with everything here, but none of it comprises "a classical
dramatic arc." That is the point I have tried to make. I also do not
think time is an antagonist if the speaker never struggles against it
as, for example, Prufrock tries to in the first section. Gerontion just
sits, and he seems never to have done otherwise. The sheer fact of time
and its impact is so constant in all Eliot that it can easily be pointed
to as the source of despair and loss. But that is not, in itself, a
dramatic event. Otherwise there would be no way to distinguish the
dramatic from any lyric-voice poem about time. Think of all those
Elizabethan sonnets bemoaning time's destruction. Are they, then, all
classical drama?

>>> Diana Manister 02/21/10 5:58 PM >>>
Dear Nancy,

Dear Nancy,

The passage of time decays the house, brings darkness, death, and so on,
as you are well aware. Time's tenses are a prominent feature of the
poem's language: simple past, conditional future ("to be eaten"),
ongoing present ("she gives when" implies "she always gives when").

Time twists through the poem in many convolutions. Every image in some
way reflects time's effects. 

I'm not sure there that conflict doesn't drive the lines implicitly.
Eliot himself said an emotion can exert pressure on a poem from
underneath, without being made explicit.

The tiger is not time; it's the escape from time, don't you think?
Sometimes when I read the line it seems the speaker is looking to the
tiger for release, that being devoured by the tiger would be welcome.

It's very rich in implications, as Eliot's work always is. I don't see
it as lacking an agon.


Date: Sun, 21 Feb 2010 17:36:22 -0500
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: 'Gerontion'
To: [log in to unmask]

Yes, it is full of passive voice. And that is passivity. He does
nothing. I do not see time as a force here against which he struggles.
My point is that drama requires a protagonist and antagonist--whether
inner or outer. If one is passive and never struggles, there is no drama
in any traditional sense. There is futility. How do you see a connection
between the passive voice and some active principle of time? Time does
not act; it is. But even if history is a series of actions, Gerontion
did not struggle, by his own claim--whatever "we" may or may not do.

Eliot was not very old when he wrote all those poems about being old and
empty--like Prufrock and the old man in "Dans le Restaurant," and many
of them in IMH. Interestingly, there is intense drama in Sweeney
Agonistes. And in a different way in "Portrait of a Lady." Even,
internally, in "Prufrock," who, like Hamlet, questions and imagines
alternatives and is anguished about what to do (even if he is not Hamlet
in any sense of importance), in the first section. After the middle
lines, the tense is past, and he ceases to think in termsThe poem is rife with passive voice. The gerontological allusions
enlarge the passivity to the scale of a lifetime,
and its end. History is a function of time, so time is the active
principle in the poem, against which we struggle in futility.

Some of the poem's passive phrases follow:

Being read to, waiting, My house is a decayed house, Swaddled with
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk, 
The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. 
And an old man driven by the Trades To a sleepy corner.
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities 
She gives when our attention is distracted

Eliot was not an old man when he wrote the poem, which lends a rich
ambiguity to his meanings.


Date: Sun, 21 Feb 2010 12:57:26 -0500
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: 'Gerontion'
To: [log in to unmask]

Dear Diana,

It is clearly a lack of willed action, but what specific acting upon?
Unless one means the appearance of Christ the tiger, I'm not sure what
he claims acted on him--history perhaps, but then he only obsesses over
its confusions; he shows no sign of having tried to affect it.

>>> Diana Manister 02/21/10 12:44 PM >>>
Dear Nancy,

Gerontion is acted upon, wouldn't you say? The poem describes not an
absence of action, but rather a lack of willed action. 


Sent from my iPod

On Feb 21, 2010, at 11:11 AM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I already said that. There is no such arc in "Gerontion."

>>> Peter Montgomery 02/21/10 5:11 AM >>>
If there is conflict, then there is drama, whether it be internal or
external or both.


----- Original Message ----- 

From: Nancy Gish 

To: [log in to unmask] 

Sent: Friday, February 19, 2010 9:27 PM

Subject: Re: 'Gerontion' -- the dramatic arc

I do not understand how this can be a "classical dramatic structure"
when it states the opposite. That structure is a description of an
action: it refers to plot. And the central point Gerontion describes is
precisely that he has not acted. He was not at the hot gates; he is old
and simply waiting. He says "we have not reached conclusion" [i.e., no
climax or denoument]. He speaks only of endless "small
deliberations"--thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season." Classical
drama is about acting and its consequences. There is no action depicted
in the lines you quote. 

When Eliot turned to drama--even in the early Sweeney Agonistes--he
showed actions. I do not see the point of what you call an observation
that cannot apply in this case.

>>> Chokh Raj 02/19/10 11:05 PM >>>
'Gerontion' - the dramatic arc


Here I am, an old man in a dry month, [line 1]

I an old man, / A dull head among windy spaces [lines 15-16]

I have no ghosts / An old man in a draughty house / Under a windy knob.
[lines 30-32]

And an old man driven by the Trades / To a sleepy corner. [lines 72-73]


To me the monologue moves along the lines of a classical dramatic
structure -- with an Exposition, a Rising Action, a Climax, and a

just an observation


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