This article argues for a reconsideration of T. S. Eliot’s early poetry—in particular “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”—as developing out of a particular American poetic tradition, one that replayed and reinforced important tenets of American liberalism and nationalism. Specifically, the most characteristic poetic landscape in Eliot’s early poems (the urban cityscape) develops within a tradition dominated by Walt Whitman, the most significant American urban poet prior to Eliot. Rejecting the notion that Eliot was a disconnected and detached cultural observer so immersed in elite European intellectual traditions that he was blind to the realities of American culture, this article argues that Eliot was drawn to his antiliberal position because of very concrete and practical concerns about poetic craft.

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