"A Game of Chess" Analysis
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"A Game of Chess" Analysis

Is there a deeper meaning behind T.S. Eliot's "A Game of Chess"? I say yes!

"A Game of Chess" Analysis
Holly Dechant

T.S. Eliot has written many ingenious poems in his lifetime (and boy did he know it)! One of these poems is entitled “A Game of Chess,” which can be found in his literary work famously known as "The Waste Land." This specific poem has an overall meaning but is so much more than that once a reader starts to examine the details. These details being aspects such as the meter (rhythm), imagery, and the correlations and/or references to other works or people. These details are what ultimately make this poem a unique statement as well as a work of art.

The first half of Eliot’s “A Game of Chess” consists of a high-class woman who, while waiting for a lover, starts to have paranoid thoughts about herself and her day racing through her head. This wealthy woman slowly falling apart mentally is the basic idea of this part of the poem. Despite that, this half includes much more meaning once you dive deep into the details such as imagery. Now, the reader acknowledges this is a woman of higher class because of the amazingly descriptive imagery Eliot gives them from the very beginning. For example, he explains several of her furnishes such as “The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne, Glowed on the marble…” (lines 77-78). Additionally, he explains some of her luxurious possessions such as “The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it…” (line 84). Aside from the imagery giving nicely painted picture in our heads there is also the references to other women in history such as Cleopatra and Dido.

Cleopatra is referenced in the very first line when describing this woman’s chair as a burnished throne. The footnote (that Eliot included when he first published "The Waste Land"in book form) at the bottom suggests that Cleopatra also sat in “burnished throne.” Later, in line 92 he references “laquearia,” which are lamps correlating with a love scene between Dido and Aeneas (per another footnote). These references are significant because each of these iconic women ended up committing suicide due to a frustrating love in their life. The woman in the poem doesn’t commit suicide herself but she may be well on her way there, as her paranoid and frantic thoughts might suggest. Just like how her thoughts are erratic during her paranoia, the meter or rhythm of this poem is also written quite irregular.

Another unique characteristic of this half of the poem is its irregular meter (rhythm); this means that the beat of this portion of the poem is not like a typical poem in the sense that it really doesn’t rhyme or follow a steady tempo at all! However, this odd style of meter fits this section of the poem perfectly as this high-class woman slowly starts to fall apart in her erratic thoughts just like this uneven rhythm in which Eliot writes in. Fortunately, there is a whole other half of “A Game of Chess” in which stability in rhythm returns.

The general meaning of the second half of “A Game of Chess” is that two lower-class women are sitting in a pub discussing the one woman’s dilemma. Her husband is coming home from war, and he will most likely be displeased with her as she’s used the money he gave her to take pills instead of fixing herself up with nice teeth; even worse the pills have wrecked her body. There is so much more meaning behind this half of the poem though, and it starts with the meter (rhythm). The meter of this part of the poem is somewhat typical for a poem as it feels like it rhymes due to the consistent use “I said” and “She said” throughout this half. The occasional and perfectly timed “HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME” also adds to a steady beat in its meter. That same line adds to the atmosphere and imagery of this half of the poem as it’s a reference to a British bartender’s warning that the pub is about to close (as can be seen in Eliot’s footnote).

Another more prominent reference used in this half of “A Game of Chess” is at the end of the poem. The last line reads as followed, “Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, goodnight, goodnight.” (line 172). A footnote would suggest this line is a reference to a song that becomes Ophelia’s last words in "Hamlet"as she goes to drown herself. This may also be hinting that this woman, much like the high-class woman from earlier, may end up committing suicide due to their love life or at the very least have her husband leave her for another woman which might as well be a death sentence for a woman of this time.

Overall, T.S. Eliot’s “A Game of Chess” has so much more meaning behind the basic statement of the poem. The imagery used in both halves of the poem paint a perfect picture and create an overwhelming atmosphere for each scene and woman. Eliot also experiments with unusual meter (rhythm) for each half of the poem; the first part being an irregular unsteady beat while the second part is opposite of that as there is an odd repetition of words to create a sense of steady rhythm. Lastly, the correlations and references to other literally works and people in history gives both halves of this poem a deeper meaning. Eliot even provides footnotes at the bottom of the pages so it’s easier for us to recognize these references that he often makes in his poems. Additionally, these references used in “A Game of Chess” often refer to iconic women who committed suicide due to their love problems, which resonates with the dilemmas of both the women in this poem. This reference to known suicidal women may also be foreshadowing that these two women with their problematic love lives, and lives in general, might eventually commit suicide as well. In the end, the basic meaning this poem doesn’t bring justice to its ingeniousness as the deeper analysis of the poem reveals so much more. All these details that T.S. Eliot provides in “A Game of Chess” are what truly make this poem a work of art.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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