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Hidden Literary Allusions

In poems like "The Waste Land," Eliot takes the time-honored principle of literary name-dropping to a whole new level. The poem has footnotes, for Pete’s sake! "Prufrock" gives only a sample taste of Eliot’s encyclopedic knowledge of literature. The Epigraph is from Dante’s Inferno, and references to several other works, from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Hamlet to Hesiod’s Works and Days, to Andrew Marvell’s "To His Coy Mistress," are inserted so casually into the text that you could easily miss them. Which is OK. Eliot was a playful thief of the words and ideas of other poets, and he would probably be amused to know the extent to which stuffy scholars have taken these allusions as the "key" to understanding his works. As with all poetry, there is no "key."

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