The Waste Land
Exploring Death and Resurrection in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land is widely considered the most influential work of the twentieth century. Composed of five compelling parts, Eliot’s genius work forms an intricate collage of modern society. Many scholars view The Waste Land as Eliot expressing his fear and terror about the fate of humanity and culture. Modernists such as Eliot tend to focus on the decline of Western culture, and romanticize the beauty that their culture had once possessed. The world described in The Waste Land is full of human isolation and skepticism, similar to the everyday world Eliot lived in and observed post World War I. Though The Waste Land is centered on negative imagery and the overall theme of death, Eliot did not mean to have the work be without hope. Out of all of the negativity happening in society, The Waste Land Eliot focuses heavily on the theme of rebirth and resurrection.
In the aftermath and devastation of WWI, Eliot saw hope in society—because after death and desolation can only come rebirth and positivity. World War I was the turning point of the old world into the new world, the end of the Victorian Era, with its aftermath still effecting modern society today. In 1914 millions of people marched against each other in large groups, the way they usually marched in the Victorian era, but they were met by great devastation due to all of the advances in technology. What everyone thought was going to be a quick war dragged on for years. The modern advances in technology such as barbed wire, machine guns, submarines, chemical warfare, tanks, airplanes, and flamethrowers were things that armies had never seen, and had certainly never prepared for. The results of WWI were astounding; nearly a whole generation was killed off in battle, leaving those at home clinging to their mortality, and having to pick up the pieces of their broken existence. Eliot saw what WWI did to those around him, and how modern society was at its worst, in need of saving—a direct product of this is his genius work accurately chronicling the chaos of the times: The Waste Land.
In addition to the vast devastation from WWI, Eliot was also experiencing a devastation of sorts in his personal life. According to Fatima Falih Ahmed and Moayad Alshara Ahmad in their scholarly article, “Rejuvenation in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land” Eliot had come to a, “standstill in his writing career at this point. He was having a hard time thinking of things to write about and was afraid that he would never have another good idea again.” (Ahmad and Ahmed 164). So next to the impact and widespread death of WWI, Eliot had also experienced a death in him, inside his brain. In a sense writing The Waste Land was not only an act of catharsis for him, because of the rebirth and awakening of ideas and passions, and it also became a defining poem for his generation. Within The Waste Land rebirth and resurrection do not occur with ease, they can only come from hardships, negativity, and death—which the post WWI society was experiencing to the extreme. The post WWI world placed society in an era of, “depression, loss, and untimely death.” (Ahmad and Ahmed 160). Throughout the work there are numerous allusions to death and destruction such as the overall dead, waterless, and rocky terrain of the land unable of sparking growth or rebirth. Nearly everything in this poem is sad and dead, “The people miss things that have passed or ended. They are also indifferent to what happens to them. The images and seasons are dark, cruel, and desolate.” (161). Or one can look to the many desolate characters that lead terrible lives and meet an untimely demise, such as Phlebas the conceited Phoenician sailor, the tragic Philomel, or any of the nameless people described who are essentially dead inside and lead scandalous and passionless lives. However, death and life can be easily blurred—though death is negative and devastating from, “death can spring life, and life in turn necessitates death.” (162).
As explored by Archana Parashar in her scholarly article, “Reverberations of Environmental Crisis and its Relevance in Managing Sustainability: An Ecocritical Reading of T. S. Eliot’s the Waste Land” the wasteland which could be categorized as Europe and Modern civilization as a whole stands for the, “loss of morals, values, [and the] degradation of environment in the modern world.” (Parashar). On one hand The Waste Land becomes a, “reflection of individual hopelessness and despair but a panoramic view of the total spiritual downfall that has overtaken the modern world… it is expressionless, aggressive, and full of escapist resentment.” (Ahmad and Ahmed 160). An example of the spiritual downfall Eliot saw in his modern world would be that of Phlebas the Phoenician sailor. Phlebas was pridefilled, arrogant, and conceited and he is now dead floating alone at the bottom of the sea. Eliot uses Phlebas as a parable or cautionary tale to have one recall their own mortality, stating: “Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.” (Eliot, line 321). By killing off Phlebas from his modernist sins and rebirthing him to nature, Eliot humbles the character and gives him a new beginning.
Another important anecdote Eliot utilizes to illustrate the spiritual downfall of society and the necessary rebirth is the rape and transformation of the tragic Philomel. The rape of Philomel from Greek mythology and Ovid’s epic Metamorphoses was, “So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale/ Filled all the desert with inviolable voice/ And still she cried, and still the world pursues,/ ‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears.” (100-103). By juxtaposing this myth with what is happening in his modern society, Eliot provides a unique insight on the act of rebirth and creation. Herein the act of creation is unwanted by Philomel, but wanted and taken by the, “barbarous king” (99). Philomel can be seen as a symbol for the wasteland that Eliot envisions, the modern world; so to speak, it is full of potential but unable to create anything worthwhile, incapable of a substantial rebirth. The story of Philomel can be interpreted in the sense that what the modern world needs is a change and rebirth must be thrust upon it, whether they like it or not, it is what is necessary for survival and further creation. In addition, the anecdote can also be seen as a commentary on how sex is romance-less and skewed as a characteristic of modern society, and therefore nothing of value can be created from those actions.
Though the theme of rebirth and resurrection can be traced throughout all five section of The Waste Land, the first section “The Burial of the Dead” begins the poem with a clear image of the theme. The first couple lines of the poem are arguably the most memorable: April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (1-4) Being the first few lines of the poem, Eliot initially establishes this theme of death, rebirth, and resurrection that is predominant throughout the rest of the poem. The month of April is usually seen as positive, hopeful, recreating, and life- giving, however, how Eliot forms it is an inversion on its usual connotation. Regeneration is, “painful, for it brings back reminders of a more fertile and happier past.” (Parashar). Meaning that everyone who is still alive post WWI have the shadows of their much happier pre WWI past looming over them—they have been living in desolation and despair for so long that they now solely live for the vanished glories of their past with no hope for the future. Thomas Michael LeCarner author of the scholarly article, “T.S. Eliot, Dharma Bum: Buddhist Lessons in The Waste Land” argues that April paradoxically being characterized as the cruel suggests, “that the process of rebirth and renewal is a source of pain and cruelty.” (LeCarner) therefore reaffirming the idea that modern society is stuck in their humdrum ways—incapable of rebirth. However, the spring rain indicated in the quote above also indicates a healing process, such as a rebuilding of society after it’s collapse from WWI. As well as the month of April, which would be categorized as the season of spring, Eliot also alludes to both winter and summer in the same stanza—all of the seasons except for fall. Herein the different seasons seem to be a symbol for the human condition.
Similar to how April was paradoxically categorized as desolate, Eliot’s description of winter is: “Winter kept us warm, covering/ Earth in forgetful snow,” (Eliot 5-6), his description of winter varies from the normal connotations of frigidness and misery. Winter seems to act comforting, the snow covers the painful memories of the past and generally speaking out of the death of winter comes spring and new life, in order for there to be, “healing and happiness, a pain must occur first.” (Ahmad and Ahmed 159). And then as a result of the pain and struggle of the other seasons comes summer. In the first stanza of The Waste Land out of all of the seasons summer seems to be the ideal, summer is, “the result of the pain and healing process that spring takes people through. Eliot is suggesting in his poem that the world can overcome difficulties and barrenness.” (163). Eliot does not include the season of fall because it is the result of the end of summer, the end of the happy and carefree days, to Eliot and The Waste Land fall is the most undesirable, it marks the beginning of a struggle, the beginning of hard times, possibly even death. Though society is in a standstill from the aftermath of WWI, Eliot does ultimately believe that there is hope for everyone to band together and make it through the tough times, which is optimistic for a modernist such as himself. The sense of hope Eliot emulates does not fix the modern sense of despair, but rather asks for an appeal for regeneration.
Throughout the poem, Eliot utilizes flowers as a symbol for the rebirth and resurrection of society. In the first section, “The Burial of the Dead” Eliot references flowers such as the lilacs and hyacinths, the lilacs come out of the “dead land” (Eliot 2) signifying that something good can still arise from a bad situation. Hyacinths are given to a female mystery speaker in the second stanza, from what seems to be an innocent affair of the heart, the speaker reminisces pleasant times, which went south: — Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could no Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, Looking into the heart of the light, the silence. (37-41) Considering the context of the poem and when it was written, one can imagine that WWI tore the female mystery speaker apart from her beloved, the pair was ripped away from each other and the speaker was forced to romanticize the hyacinths. To her, the hyacinths represent the world untouched by peril and war, and because hyacinths can always regrow, then maybe for her and for everyone that state of mind can eventually be reborn as well. In the fourth stanza of “The Burial of the Dead” another unnamed mystery speaker asks the morbid question: “That corpse you planted last year in your garden,/ Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?” (71-72). Though morose, this gloomy set of questioning reinforces the need for regeneration, the necessity of death in order to create new life. The string of questions, like many of aspects of The Waste Land traces back to WWI, herein people are trying to look for answers for the essentially meaningless slaughter of the First World War. Throughout the poem, going hand in hand with the theme of rebirth and resurrection is water.
Eliot references water constantly; water can be traced through nearly every stanza in every part of the poem. Water imagery appears through cleansing rain, the “Sweet Thames” (176) that runs through the immoral and modern London, and nautical imagery. Eliot, “constantly uses the lack of water in connection with infertility, which conveys to us the sense that the modern world cannot produce anything new or beautiful.” (Ahmad and Ahmed). In Eliot’s made up world of the wasteland, there is a desperate need for water, the land is in a drought, which is an absence of water and therefore a symbol of death. There seems to be a repetition and juxtaposition of dryness and wetness: Here is no water but only rock Rock and no water… If there were water And no rock If there were rock And also water And water (Eliot 331-349) This quote, which is near the end of the poem, illustrates desperation for the lack of water, to the point where the speaker seems hysterical—this is a commentary on how terrible modern society is doing and how they so badly require rebirth. The, “world that Eliot portrays in his poem is supposed to be one in which faith in divinely ordered events and a rationally organized universe has been totally lost,” (Ahmad and Ahmed 160) which ultimately explains how desperate the speaker is for rebirth. Though lack of water is a major problem in the wasteland, Eliot also warns the readers about excess of water. In the third stanza, the famous clairvoyant Madame Sosostris warns the speaker to “Fear death by water,” (Eliot 55). The phrase “Death by Water” resurfaces again in part four of the poem, when Eliot tells the parable of Phlebas the Phoenician’s drowning. What Eliot is trying to say about water is that it is necessary for rebirth; however, an excess of water can be dangerous as well—excess has led to the downfall of modern society and it will not aid in fixing it.
The Waste Land is riddled with allusions to religion and knowledge concerning the topic of an afterlife and rebirth. Eliot’s poem is filled to the brim with, “literary, cultural, and artistic allusions from a variety of sources, including the Upanishads, Greek Mythology, the Bible, Chaucer, Dante, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Leonardo Da Vinci.” (LeCarner). All of the knowledge and culture packed into The Waste Land is meant to give a modern society a rebirth of knowledge. Reading the long and intricate poem was not a simple task in 1922, and it is still not a simple task today. Herein at the peak of modernism, there was a literary shift— ambiguity takes center stage and narrators no longer explain every aspect of a work, people are now expected to dust off their brains and think for themselves, a rebirth of knowledge of sorts. In addition to a lack of knowledge, Eliot also observed that his modern society was experiencing a serve lack of faith. Blame it on WWI or all of technology and advancements of the modern age, but religion no longer had the same effect. People were questioning their existence, and no longer relying on religion to give them the answers they so desperately needed, life felt meaningless. As a result of the modern godless condition, Eliot interjected both Christian and Buddhist themes into The Waste Land. Buddhism fits in perfectly with the world of the wasteland because the religion believes the, “idea that life is fleeting and filled with suffering… [Which] is at the core of Buddhist thought.” (LeCarner). Eliot mainly references Buddhism and the idea of rebirth or reincarnation in the final section of the poem, “What the Thunder Said.” The last lines of the poem are a Buddhist mantra: “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” (Eliot 432) which respectively mean give, show compassion, and control, and then “Shantih shantih shantih” (433) which means, “the peace which passeth all understanding.” (LeCarner). It is interesting that as Western culture begins to crash and burn, Eliot’s solution is to turn to Eastern culture in attempt to restore faith through an old religion, to undo the modernist sins.
Overall, Eliot’s poem functions as a, “didactic artistic representation of the Buddhist doctrine of samsara, an idea that views the world as transitory, overcome with lustful desires, and forever bound to a cycle of life, death, and rebirth.” (LeCarner). In addition to Buddhism, Eliot also references his own religion, Christianity. Barry Spurr, author of the article, “The Impact of T.S. Eliot’s Christianity on His Poetry” argues for all of the negativity in The Waste Land the, “poem is rich in Christian symbolism and, for the first time, there is at least the sense that the journey is not absolutely pointless, but, rather, a challenging experience.” (Spurr). Spurr views The Waste Land as a personal journey, one where if one can stay clear from sin they will be reborn or resurrected, similar to the miracle of Jesus Christ. Though the world in front of Eliot was fractured and in peril, unlike many other modernist writers, Eliot was able to see the good that could result from humanity. The, “sterile, modern-day human society waits in dire distress for a revival or regeneration that may never come.” (Ahmad and Ahmed 160) And that revival and regeneration just may have been Eliot’s masterpiece, The Waste Land. Throughout, the poem challenges the modern reader’s intelligence forcing them to branch out of their humdrum, devastating lives and seek knowledge and enlightenment of a higher class. By provoking thought and exhibiting hope in the themes of rebirth and resurrection, Eliot gave a special light to modern society through his timeless and transcending masterpiece: The Waste Land.
Critic Response of T. S. Eliot’s Poem, The Waste Land
The Waste Land is apparently a poem about World War I and its aftereffects on every aspect of life at the time – the title refers to Europe itself after the end of the war and the struggle to rebuild.. T.S Eliot himself seems to be critical of war and calls for peace with the famous closing line, “Shantih shantih shantih” which means “peace” in Sanskrit. Eliot was saying that since Europe had become so vapid and materialistic, it could not return to the dominance it had before the war. He was right – eventually North America and Asia rapidly became competitors to Europe. The poem was written during a dark time in Eliot’s life where he was committed to a mental hospital in Switzerland – the fragmented, wild nature of the poem definitely reflects this. Of course, this could be off the mark. The poem is obviously designed to be esoteric and hard to understand, but I suppose that also means it could be interpreted in many different ways. At first glance the poem doesn’t seem to really cover the death of European culture due to the war, but many aspects of the fragmented narrative point to this, like the ruined rivers, the death of the young Phlebas, and the thunder above the jungle. The poem is seen through the eyes of Tiresias, a mythological character who was said to be androgynous – Eliot provided a female perspective in a male dominated world.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was a writer and poet originally from Missouri, although he became a British citizen in 1927. He is known for poems like The Waste Land, The Hollow Men and Four Quartets, as well as plays such as The Cocktail Party and Murder in the Cathedral. He was born in St. Louis in 1888 and died in London in 1965 at the age of 76. He is typically seen as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century. Although his body of work is comparatively small (when put up against other famous poems of the time) he is nonetheless viewed very highly, having received the Order of Merit (in the UK), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (in the US) and the Legion d’Honneur (in France). His style was somewhat satirical and critical, and you can feel undertones of self-deprecation and unhappiness in his work often.
Eliot discusses the decline of religious authority as well, and says that this has led people to become overall more belligerent and depressed. With the line “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” he reaffirms God’s power, and that we are all dust in comparison to him. The overall “rebirth” Eliot hints at Europe having to undergo is easily compared to the Christ mythos. References to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism are dotted across the verses. Religion was obviously important to Eliot, and he was hurt by its declining influence on the populace.
Eliot seemed to be depressed about the future and what it held for not just him, but everyone. Culture, intellect, dedication to religion, and more all-encompassing aspects of humanity were on the decline in his view. To him, Europe was becoming a surface level, uncultured mess with no dedication or progress being made. His comparison of Europe to a literal wasteland is scathing and heavily critical.
Today’s Environmental ‘Waste Land’: Eliot’s Prediction of the Current Ecological Crisis
There is no denying it—our world is on the brink of a severe environmental crisis. Critical issues like pollution, global warming, overpopulation, natural resource depletion, waste disposal, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, and urban sprawl need to be resolved, or else our earth will no longer be a sustainable environment for the population to live. In her five-part essay “The Waste Land as an Ecocritique,” Gabrielle McIntire presents us with a new interpretation of The Waste Land, showing us that it is an eco-poem that not only describes the desolate, polluted, and urbanized postwar environment of 1922, but also functions as a memorial for all that has been lost and destroyed, and lastly, sounds a warning about impending environmental disaster. It seems far-fetched that a little less than a century ago, a poet would have predicted the ecological crisis that we face today. However, as we view The Waste Land through Gabrielle McIntire’s eyes, obvious parallels of environmental crises emerge between the ‘waste land’ of postwar 1922 and the ‘waste land’ of today.
One of the most common features of the landscapes and cityscapes that Eliot presents in The Waste Land is the presence of pollution and waste. We can take the title to have both a literal and figurative meaning, as we are meant to imagine a barren, bleak, postwar land. Through the poem, Eliot fills that land with pollutants, smog, and trash that mar the once natural scenery. Powerful, pollution-filled images in this poem are often in accordance with descriptions of a river, specifically the Thames. Eliot writes “the river sweats/Oil and tar,” (266-7) and describes a scene while someone was “fishing on the dull canal/On a winter evening round behind the gashouse” (189-90). Not only are the images of the water dirty and “dull”, the fishing scene is also neither serene nor picturesque—a once natural setting has been turned industrial and unnatural by the “gashouse”. In her essay, McIntire affirms, “seeking sustenance in a place constructed for industrial and commercial transit, near to a ‘gashouse’—a site of manufacturing for modern petroleum fuel—will only lead the speaker to find polluted fare.” (181) The point is driven across even further when the speaker complains that “at my back from time to time I hear/The sound of horns and motors” (196-7). The effects of industrialization constantly pollute the serenity of nature. Even as Eliot addresses the river as “Sweet Thames” (176, 183-4), it’s actually characterized by its lack of pollution: The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers, Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends Or other testimony of summer nights (177-79) As McIntire notes, “Eliot’s portrait of the river remains marred by the garbage that is missing,” (180) and it comes as a surprise to the reader to see the river without all that waste, contrasting with the dirty, polluted river that “sweats/ Oil and tar” later on. This is a moment that highlights the lens with which many people view nature today. It is almost surprising these days to see a landscape that is not marred by pollution, waste, or an industrial structure of some sort. Living in Philadelphia, I walk by the Schuylkill River almost every day and nonchalantly watch the endless bottles, plastic bags, and other debris float slowly through the filthy water. Eliot has, a century earlier, foreshadowed a now commonplace view and expectation of pollution and waste in previously natural settings.
In addition to pollution and waste, another important aspect, specifically within the cityscapes in The Waste Land, are the impacts of urbanization, industrialization, and population growth. Eliot paints pictures of cities on the verge of apocalyptic collapse: What is the city over the mountains Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air Falling towers Jerusalem Athens Alexandria Vienna London Unreal (371-6) These cities are collapsing, and as Eliot is suggesting, presumably because of the “crowds of people” (56) filling cities to a point of literal explosion. “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,” (62) Eliot writes, followed up later with almost an entranced, eerie chanting of the lyrics, “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down” (426). Eliot clearly sees these cities, growing in population and industrialization, as a threat to humanity, which, as we understand now, is an entirely legitimate theory. The dangers that urbanization and overpopulation pose to our world today are huge: urban growth means greater poverty, the concentrated energy usage within these growing urban areas lead to greater air pollution, and the massive urban development means significant deforestation and loss of animal populations.
Somehow, Eliot also seemed to pick up on the threat of deforestation and loss of biodiversity in The Waste Land as well. He repeats the line; “the nymphs are departed,” (175, 179) suggesting that these Greek mythological nature spirits have disappeared because their habitats—usually rivers and woods—have either been contaminated or have just completely vanished. The larger idea that the natural has been lost to all human senses is expressed as “The wind/ Crosses the brown land, unheard” (174-5). This desolate, barren scene suggests a complete lack of nature—not a tree, a plant, or a leaf even in sight. Eliot even more specifically refers to deforestation when that same dirty river sweating “oil and tar” carries “drifting logs” (274), implying the exact process of deforestation is occurring, as the logs float down the already polluted river. There is also something to be said for the logs being in that river, among the other waste—it implies that not only are trees being cut down, but their wood is being thrown into the river with the other garbage, and not even being used for something useful.
Since the early 20th century ecological crisis that Eliot addresses in his poem, deforestation has become an increasingly important issue—it’s gotten to the point that an estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year, and the environmental consequences are huge. One of the most dramatic impacts of deforestation is the loss of habitat for millions of species, yet another thing that Eliot addressed in The Waste Land. This warning about the loss of biodiversity is never explicitly suggested, however, a pattern emerges when examining the different contexts in which animals are mentioned in the poem. Throughout The Waste Land, we encounter multiple rats (115, 186, 195), a “cricket” (23), a “Dog” (74), a “nightingale” (100), “gulls” (313), “cicada” (353), a “hermit-thrush” (356), “bats” (379), a “cock” (391), a “spider” (407), and a “swallow” (428). For the most part undomesticated, these animals are all linked to the different polluted, degraded, and decaying sites in the poem. To cite a few examples, the “cricket” is mentioned as it gives “no relief” (23) to the barren landscape that is described as “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/ And the dead tree gives no shelter” (23-4). The “’Dog’” emerges in a warning to stay away from the “’corpse you planted last year in your garden’” (71), while the “nightingale” is perched in “the desert”—both animals in contexts that are associated with lifelessness. The pattern continues with the “gulls” placed with “Phlebas the Phoenician,” (312) a sailor who was “a fortnight dead,” (312) and the “cicada” and the “hermit-thrush” who are mentioned amongst the mad-sounding lament craving water: If only there were the sound of water only Not the cicada And dry grass singing But sound of water over a rock Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop But there is no water (352-8) Furthermore, the “cock” that “stood on the rooftree” (391) is placed—in addition to the “cicada” and the “hermit-thrush—in a decidedly lifeless environment: Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home. It has no windows, and the door swings, Dry bones can harm no one. (387-90) This “chapel” and graveyard that the “cock” is inexorably connected to is, just like the previously cited water lamentation, barren and connected death. The list of the surrounding that all these animals are tied to goes on, but this pattern of connecting them to dying environments implies that Eliot believed this biodiversity to be endangered in the future, which, yet again, he predicted correctly. Today, we face serious effects of biodiversity loss, which immensely impact ecosystems, greatly increase our food supply’s vulnerability to pests and disease, and decrease our supply of fresh water.
The decreasing supply of water in addition to other important resources is yet another environmental barrier that we are facing today. The fact is that the global population is at 7.2 billion and rapidly growing, while at the current demand, our resources are only good for 2 billion people. We are not using Earth’s resources in a sustainable way, and we already see the global affects of that craving for those depleted resources. This issue of resource depletion, yet again, is paralleled through warnings within The Waste Land. This poem is replete with landscapes that are desperately in need of resources. Water is a main concern throughout every part of the poem, and the desert-scape comes up frequently in Eliot’s writing, beginning in the second stanza as a setting is described as “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/ And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,/And the dry stone no sound of water” (22-4). The warning “Fear death by water” (55) initially brings to mind drowning, but we must remember that one can die from lack of water as well—the are both death by water. The entire fifth section of The Waste Land, ‘What the Thunder Said’ centers around on the desperate need for water. The “thunder of spring” (327), which promises water in rainfall, is heard “over distant mountains” (327) implying that the water is far away and unreachable, however much one might need it. This section contains an actual description of this metaphorical ‘waste land,’ establishing that “Here is no water but only rock/ Rock and no water and the sandy road” (331-2). The dryness, dehydration, and need for water contained within the words reach almost a breaking point in the crazed, repetitive, stream-of-consciousness beg for water, cited earlier in accordance with the “cicada” and “hermit-thrush” that are mentioned in the lament. It is not just people (presumably the speaker) who need water, but the land and the plants and animals also can’t seem to satisfy that basic need, as Eliot talks about “the limp leaves” (395) that “Waited for rain,” (396) and jumping back to the beginning, we see the “dead land” (2) and “dull roots” (4). Literally and figuratively, the environments in The Waste Land desperately need water, as the inhabitants within this ‘wasted’ land crave the fundamentals for survival. In our current global state, we are not quite there yet, but based on the unsustainable way that we use our resources, Eliot’s harsh descriptions of these dry, barren lands could legitimately be what we will be facing in fifty to one hundred years.
Looking at The Waste Land from an ecological standpoint, the future seems grim. Eliot has predicted so many environmental crises that are affecting our world today, and painted such desolate pictures that it’s hard not to just sink into the inevitability of our dying world. However, as Gabrielle McIntire so simply put it in her essay, “such warnings contain hope” (McIntire 191). Though The Waste Land serves as a warning for the impending ecological deterioration because of human pollution, waste, urban development, and all of its negative effects, the poem is also not without hope. It contains brief respites from the degradation and desolation, and though initially the final lines of the poem are convoluted and confusing, if we look into the meaning, “Shantih Shantih Shantih” (433) translates from Sanskrit into “’the Peace which passeth understanding’” (McIntire 190). Eliot more or less tells us that his poem has provided us with the first piece—understanding—by sharing these warnings of the ecological degradation of our world and the deleterious effects that we, as humans, are having on the environment. However, he tells us, now that we have that understanding, we can have peace. Through this poem, we are shown our missteps and our tribulations in our relationship with nature, but in the end, we are given the opportunity to right the wrongs that were done.
Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land; A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. Print.
McIntire, Gabrielle. “The Waste Land as an Ecocritique.” The Cambridge Companion to The Waste Land. New York: Cambridge UP, 2015. 176-90. Print.
Womanhood in Wartime’s Wasteland
He’ll want to know what you done with the money he gave you
To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bare to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army for four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME. (T S Eliot, The Waste Land, 38-39)
These lines from Eliot break several stereotypes many artists and authors use to represent women in WWI. Specifically, Eliot does not buy into woman’s sexual unfaithfulness, cosmopolitan lifestyle, or their wildness the way that some war authors do, and in fact often directly contradicts these ideals. In the above passage, men find themselves portrayed as the unfaithful ones in relationships, who leave their wives when they find themselves dissatisfied sexually or even with their wife’s appearance. Interestingly, this way of portraying men appears quite different from most descriptions of WWI relationships. Many authors often portray women as the unfaithful ones in this time period. When the men leave to fight in war, women get the unique opportunity to “run wild.” Many believe that women took the opportunity to become sexually promiscuous in wartime. Through Eliot’s poem, the reader learns that this idea of women’s behaviors does not always hold true. The poem breaks these stereotypes by turning the tables on the men, making them the ones with the opportunities to cheat and portraying them as prone to infidelity.
Similarly, the tone in this passage provides another way for the reader to notice the effect of war on women, not as a positive one, as some authors argue, but as bleak and despairing. First, the women speak in a heavy dialect, not making use of proper English, allowing the reader to associate them with a lower class. Also, the reader finds these women in a bar, at closing time, something the bartender’s interjection of “Hurry up please, it’s time,” refuses to let the reader forget. Their presence at a pub, so late at night, and their discussion of frank sexuality seem masculine, or at least not what one typically considers “lady-like.” It appears that Eliot believes that war de-feminizes women to some degree, and because of the absence of men in their lives, these women portray a sense of masculinity, perhaps as a way to make up for the male companionship they miss. This idea seems off to a reader, who sympathizes with the hopelessness the women feel.
Some propaganda in this period suggests that women experience little hardship and often lead lives of leisure during the wartime. Yet the women of this poem speak in somber tones, and discuss serious, painful subjects; certainly enjoying neither wartime nor it’s aftermath. They experience what many British citizens felt at this moment in history: a post-wartime sense of disillusionment. The war ended, yet big problems still exist throughout the country. Even the title of this poem, The Waste Land, plays on this idea. The country experienced bombings that destroyed the land, a generation of men was “lost” in battle, and those that returned, returned shattered. Eliot disagrees with the age-old idea that “war is glorious,” and he shows this through the disillusioned sense these women find in themselves, drinking in a bar, lacking the comforts of men.
Once more portraying the idea of the limited number of men, these two women discuss the willingness that other woman feel to meet soldier’s sexual desires. Eliot portrays men as desiring sex because of their somewhat forced celibacy in wartime. Albert, in particular, presumably endured the absence of sex for four years, and now wants to find his wife willing to meet his needs. The suggestion that the persona of the poem may “make a move” on her friend, Lil’s husband, hints toward the fact that many men did not return home because they died in battle, leaving single women desperate for companionship. This shortage of men resulted in a shortage of potential husbands for the women on the home front. The two women in the above passage discuss their friend Lil’s haggard appearance and her estrangement from her husband. The fact that others cannot bear to look at her also disproves the notion that during the war, women were fashionable, kept up their appearance, and were hygienically better off than the soldiers. This illustrates another way that Eliot hints on the masculine roles that women took on because of the war. That people cannot stand to lay eyes upon her proves that she is no longer a sexual object, or desirable by men. Her friends gossip about her appearance, proving her looks problematic to society. This again shows that women’s experience of the war as anything but glorious: it too was dirty, miserable, and hopeless.
As mentioned briefly before, the bartender continuously interjects into the conversation between the women with “hurry up its time.” This further portrays the idea of disillusionment. For a country that literally needs to start from the ground up, what should it do with the concept of time? For many soldiers, time ran out on the battlefield, and they found themselves left behind. For those in mourning over these losses, time seems cruel, just continuous moments that they endure without the departed. The reminder of time from the bartender represents a reminder of what the women have lost because of the war, and the bleakness of the future. These women try to ignore the constant reminders from the bar tender because they do not want to go back home to reminders of what they have lost. The bar represents a chance to escape for these women, not a place to go flirt with men and run wild. Again Eliot invalidates the idea of war as a fun sort of adventure for women.
These lines of Eliot’s The Waste Land serves to discredit believes that some hold in regards to women in WWI. Other authors portray them as uninvolved and unaffected by the war, yet Eliot shows they suffered in their own rights. Eliot’s women worry about finding and keeping a husband, having enough money to get by, and whether or not to trust their friends. They too suffered loss at the hands of war, and their futures look as bleak as those of males. This poem becomes an opportunity for the reader to see women of WWI in quite a contradictory light than they are often portrayed.
Asceticism and Desire in The Wasteland
Many critics see Eliot’s “Wasteland” as a form of social criticism, exposing the alternating boredom and terror inherent in modern life. While these themes do recur throughout the poem, a greater subtlety of meaning arises with Eliot’s juxtaposition of classic religious texts against the modern landscape. Eliot’s characters can, in some cases, be seen as failed heroes, striving for an asceticism which their society no longer validates. Although detachment from the physical world would, in past eras, have been idealized, it is now debased in a society where such detachment is associated with machines. Through exploration of the female typist character in The Wasteland’s “Fire Sermon”, the desire for and debasement of the ascetic ideal become apparent. Borrowings from Augustine’s Confessions and the Buddhist Fire Sermon text reveal the typist to be not a dull form of mechanized life, but rather, a kind of ascetic “disciple” whose progress is thwarted at every turn.Though it is not a simple project to find this sort of transcendence in modern life, the typist seems to try. She comes home at a time described as a “violet hour”; significantly, it is also when the “eyes and back/ turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits/ Like a taxi”. This passage is often read as an indictment of the mechanization of man; it can equally be seen as a plea for the divine. The disembodied features turn “upward”, as if hoping to find some sort of transcendence in the blank ceiling, waiting for a passenger from above to arrive.When the typist comes home, she “clears her breakfast, lights/ Her stove, and lays out food in tins”. Again, there seem to be two valid readings of this passage: one, that she is continuing the rote behavior she began on the job; but also, that she is preparing herself, in a veiled way, to make a sacrifice. The lit stove, in this context, can be seen as a kind of small altar, the food an offering for a god or gods. Far from being a dull routine, her actions have become ritualized, a kind of performance in themselves. Even her clothes become involved in this sense; like a person praying, they are “touched by the sun’s last rays”. On the Augustinian model, a sacrifice is a means to asceticism: “Yet if they make this sacrifice to you, O God, you are the consuming fire that can burn away their love for these things” (Confessions 93).Interpreted this way, the woman’s behavior can be seen as an expression of the will to believe: in a divine being, perhaps, or perhaps simply a measure of transcendence which life does not currently offer her. It seems, in some sense, a modern prayer: in fact, the raising of “the eyes and back” recalls a passage from Augustine’s Confessions which Eliot later quotes: “I raise my invisible eyes to thee, that thou wouldst be pleased to ‘pluck my feet out of the net.’ Thou dost continually pluck them out, for they are easily snared” (Augustine, Ch. VIII). The fact that, in the same “Fire Sermon” section, Eliot appropriates the phrase “O Lord Thou pluckest me out”(l. 309) suggests that the author’s mind was indeed on this model of asceticism.As Eliot depicts her, the woman’s sexuality is played down. Her divan, for instance, is “at night her bed” (226) on which “are piled…/ Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays” (226-7). This suggests that there is not such a great deal of separation between her actions during the day and at night. However, this continuity is disturbed by the moment of sexual encounter in the poem: the “expected guest” (230), a young man, arrives. Here Eliot gives perhaps his most scathing indictment of a character yet: the man is “carbuncular”, or acne-ridden, with “one bold stare”, “One of the low on whom assurance sits/ As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire” (231-4). Though he is only a small, acne-ridden clerk, he is confident with himself and self-absorbed. This seems to be the opposite of the pious, ascetic ideal: one who feels he needs no God because he is good enough, for whom the modern age means loss of even the impulse to spirituality. The scene between him and the young woman dramatizes this conflict of belief:The time is now propitious, as he guesses,The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,Endeavors to engage her in caressesWhich still are unreproved, if undesired.Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;Exploring hands encounter no defence;His vanity requires no response,And makes a welcome of indifference. (236-42)The young man sees the uninterested typist as “bored and tired”, mistaking her desire for religiosity for ennui at the end of a long day. Significantly, he believes the time to be “propitious”, as if he were interpreting a sign from above. Because he has no connection to the divine, however, his signs arise from simple bodily lust. His interpretation of the situation turns out to be entirely wrong. Even if his seduction is “undesired”, it is at least “unreproved” the woman, engaged in another sphere of thought entirely, does not want to take the time even to discourage her suitor. The man, however, is so absorbed in his intentions that the simple absence of discouragement is enough.To argue that “His vanity requires no response,/ And makes a welcome of indifference” is to show how far the situation has fallen. While the female desires transcendence, or at least some response from the divine, the male does not even desire response from his human counterpart. He is already indifferent to the spiritual aspects of modern life, and is now shown to be indifferent to the emotional aspects as well. Because he has no understanding of spirituality, he cannot understand the woman’s ideals, mistaking the absence of “defence” for actual desire. With this reading, Eliot’s line “To Carthage then I came”(306), recalling Augustine’s “I went to Carthage, where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lust” (Confessions 95), can be seen as indicative of the woman’s situation. If she, like Augustine, is seeking some way out of a degraded sensuality, then her encounter with the young man is a roadblock, a “cauldron of lust”. Her ideal of the ascetic life, and of spirituality in general, is entirely counter to the young man’s aims.Eliot’s depiction of the woman afterwards enforces the idea of her ideals and her fallenness from them. She has “stoop[ed] to folly”, (253), allowing herself to go along with a relationship she does not desire. Significantly, it seems she is trying to regain the detachment she felt before:She turns and looks a moment in the glass,Hardly aware of her departed lover;Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:’Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.’ (249-52)Though she allows herself “a moment” of self-reflection, she tries to convince herself that nothing has happened, “hardly aware” that anything has changed. She tries to forget the incident, her one “half-formed thought” being only relief that the situation is through.Instead of reveling in past sensuality or feeling sorrow about the occurrence, the typist attempts to remove herself entirely from the degraded sexual act. Though the idea that “She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,/ And puts a record on the gramophone” (255-6) may be simply mechanistic, it seems more likely that it is a representation of asceticism through the only means the modern world knows. A sharply objectified, mechanical world may not be a spiritual ideal; however, it is at least a removal from the “cauldron of lust” which emotional life currently represents. Reverting to the metaphor of the “human engine” (216) is a stripping-away of degraded desire. If nothing spiritual arises to fill the void, at least the degradation will be gone.With this interpretation in place, it is now possible to understand the end of “The Fire Sermon” in the context of ascetic ideals. The lines of interest are as follows:To Carthage then I cameBurning burning burning burningO Lord Thou pluckest me outO Lord Thou pluckestburning (307-11)The first, third, and fourth lines, as has been noted, are taken from Augustine’s Confessions, the spiritual autobiography of a saint.They can be seen, in some sense, as having come from the woman’s voice, paralleling her experience of lust and her will to be removed from desire. The lines with which they are juxtaposed, though, come from an entirely different text: the Buddhist Fire Sermon (per Eliot’s notes), written as a teaching for priests wishing to attain nirvana. In this text, translated from Pali, the Buddha engages in dialogue with the priests:’All things, O priests, are on fire. The eye, O priests, is on fire;forms are on fire; eye-consciousness is on fire.”And with what are these on fire?”With the fire of passion, say I, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of infatuation…’ (Buddhism 352)This seems to be the “burning” which of Eliot speaks in “The Fire Sermon” the unholy lust and passion which the young man feels and the which the typist struggles against. It is the sort of sensuality and emotion devoid of spiritual ground, the time that is “propitious” only because of desire.The text goes on, however, to posit a solution for this dilemma, to show the means by which a person can rise above it:Perceiving this [the fact that all things are on fire], O priests, the learned and noble disciple conceives an aversion for the eye, conceives an aversion for forms…And in conceiving this aversion, he becomes divested of passion, and by the absence of passion he becomes free. (Buddhism 352-3)This is, in fact, exactly the path which the female typist is shown to pursue. Though she realizes she will be tempted, and awaits “the expected guest”, she prepares herself by “conceiv[ing] an aversion” to all that is sensual and degraded. Her ideal of asceticism, shown by her preparation of a pseudo-sacrifice and veiled religious desire, allows her to “divest” herself of the passion she might otherwise feel. Because the young man does not understand her asceticism, and interprets it as boredom or lack of sleep, her actions stand out as all the more admirable, thrown into contrast by his unfeeling acts. Her aversion manifests itself as “indifference” and non-response; however, conceiving dislike in any other way would be almost impossible in her modern society.The woman, in fact, represents the Buddhist ideal of inaction, refusing to defend herself against the harmful lusts of her time. She is, as Eliot conceives her, a “lovely woman stoop[ed] to folly” (253), the unwilling inhabitant of a degraded world. Though she desires to be transformed into an ascetic, she must be content with whatever spiritual victory she can gain on her own. Her ideals, like the final lines of “The Fire Sermon”, stand in sharp juxtaposition to the “burning” of the world. When her absence of passion is seen in contrast with the young man’s lust and desire, it becomes apparent that she is a disciple of her own time, seeking a passionless existence in order to become free.
T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”: Portrait of a Desolate World
Upon completion of T.S. Eliot’s legendary poem, “The Wasteland”, one may experience mixed feelings about the poem as a whole. “The Wasteland” presents a distinct style using countless allusions; a method that previously had not been used to such extremes. The poem was written by Eliot to express his problems with society. It depicts modern society as being in the infertile part of the cycle. Throughout the poem, human beings are depicted as isolated, and sexual relations are sterile and thoughtless. Since most of Eliot’s allusions are not very well known to most readers, one must work through the notes that accompany the poem several times in order to better grasp its deeper meanings, but the general impressions of isolation, degeneration, and desolation are painfully apparent throughout each reading. The most prominent reasons for the dislike of the poem have been these constant allusions to other works, which further magnifies the complex nature of the poem. “The Wasteland” has been acclaimed as one of the most influential poems written in the 20th century and has been scrutinized and studied countless times since its publication. For the purpose of this analysis, the attention to allusion will be concentrated to part V of the poem entitled, “What the Thunder Said”. This is the finale of the poem and is quite important, in that it brings some closure to a very complex idea.The final section entitled, “What the Thunder Said”, begins with images of a journey over rough and desolate ground. The thunder is sterile; being unaccompanied by rain, but a mysterious sense of a compassionate spirit visits the traveler.”Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit/There is not even silence in the mountains/But dry sterile thunder without rain/There is not even solitude in the mountains (Lines 340-43)/…And dry grass singing/But sound of water over a rock/Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees (Lines 355-57).The reference to the “hermit-thrush” is believed to be derived from Walt Whitman’s poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. One can infer that Eliot sang the song of the “bleeding throat” in terms of the problems that he encountered in society. An excerpt from Whitman’s poem reads,”In the swamp in secluded recesses,A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.Solitary the thrush,The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,Sings by himself a song.Song of the bleeding throat,Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,If thou wast not granted to sing thou wouldist surely die.)(Parker)Here, Whitman is making the point that a solitary creature who avoids culture sings “a song”, or in the case of Eliot, expresses him/her self somehow. Eliot, of course, expressed himself through written words and language in the form of poetry and stories. Whitman also makes the reference to this solitary creature, noting that “if thou wast not granted to sing, thou wouldist surely die.” Here Whitman is pointing out that without a “song to sing”, survival is not possible or, at least, is extremely limited. This is why Eliot alludes to this poem. He is, in essence, taking Whitman’s words and applying them to himself.The next, and perhaps most vital allusion of the last section of the poem takes place in lines 400-419. According to Eliot’s notes, these are references to “Brihadaranyaka Upanishad” which is the fable that refers to the meaning of the thunder. In these stories, the main power, or almighty god represented was called “Prajapati”. Prajapati created three races of gods, demons, and men. To each of these groups, he appointed three different realms for each one. The gods were given heaven, man was sent to the earth, and the demons were sent to the netherworld. Each of the races asked Prajapati for advice and wisdom from which they could live by. Prajapati agreed and offered wisdom to each race. To the gods (sura), he said “Damyata”, which means, “be restrained”. To mankind (nara), he said “Datta”, which means, “give”. To the demons (asura), he said “Dayadhvam”, which means, “be merciful”. And according to Indian legend, from that day on, when the thunder rumbles “DA-DA-DA”, his children know that the voice of Prajapati, the father, is calling to them; reminding them of the components that determine their true selves.”DA/Datta: what have we given /DA/Dayadhvam: I have heared the key/Turn in the door once and turn once only/…/DA/Damyata: The boat responded”(Eliot, p45).Here, Eliot is making allusion to the components of the true self according to Hindu lore. It is no coincidence that Eliot saved this allusion for the finale of his poem. He is, albeit indirectly, offering a moral story to the reader in an abstract way. Through this allusion, he is pointing to the triad of meanings, “be restrained, give, and be merciful”. Perhaps he is suggesting that the readers apply these traits to themselves, or perhaps Eliot is simply noting that these things are lacked in the society that he was a part of. From this point, the poem tails off with an unconventional compilation of quotations and allusions.”London Bridge is falling down falling down falling downPoi s’ascose nel foco che gli affinaQuando fiam uti chelidon–O swallow swallowLe Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolieThese fragments I have shored against my ruinsWhy then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shantih shantih shantih”(Eliot, p46)Here, each line is in direct relation with despair and anguish. Eliot is completing the poem by offering a variety of allusions from other works—specifically, these lines are from scenes of despair in those respective works. “London Bridge is falling down” is well known, as all children on the playgrounds sing it when they are young. Here, Eliot is using a basic reference of structural collapse of an entity, which can be interpreted in two specific ways. One way of viewing the reference to London Bridge is to simply look at it in terms of the other parts of the finale. As previously stated, each line represents some form of despair, anguish, or destruction, and perhaps Eliot simply wanted to add another reference that everyone could recognize. Another, and more probable explanation is that the London Bridge reference symbolizes the ending of the poem—a structural collapse consisting of abstract allusions. The next allusion, “Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina” refers to Dante’s work “Purgatorio, Canto XXVI”. When translated, the line reads, “then he hid himself in the fire that purifies them”(Parker). Here Eliot is applying another work to himself, since it is obvious that “The Wasteland” has a central theme of the need for purification and that Eliot is immersing himself in his work in order to offer his view of society and perhaps to offer advice for improvement. The next line in the finale, “Quando fiam uti chelidon…” is an allusion to the anonymous first century work entitled, “Pervigilium Veneris “(Parker). When translated from Latin, this line means, “When shall I become like the swallow?” This line is contained in this excerpt from “Pervigilium Veneris”:”She sings, I am mute. When will my spring come?When shall I become like the swallow, that I may cease to be voiceless?”(Parker)Obviously, Eliot is using this reference in an attempt to express his wish to be heard.The next of Eliot’s allusions is a very important one, as it further illustrates his disparity. “Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie” refers to Gerard de Nerval’s “El Desdichado”(Parker). The translation of this line is, “The Prince of Aquitaria whose tower has been torn down”. Here, too, is a reference to collapse and destruction. The reference is included in this excerpt from Nerval’s sonnet:”I am the dark man, the disconsolate widower, the prince of Aquitania whose tower has been torn down:My sole star is dead, — and my constellated luteBears the black sun of Melancholia”(Parker)The final two lines of “The Wasteland” are Eliot’s last attempt to be heard and to offer wisdom to society. He is basically referring back to the Hindu triad of restraint, generosity, and mercy—“Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” He completes his work with the words “Shantih shantih shantih”. This final reference to “Brihadaranyaka Upanishad” can be “feebly translated”, as Eliot calls it, as “The peace which passeth understanding”(Parker).T.S. Eliot believed that the modern society was without a vital sense of togetherness and spirituality. In the final piece of his poem “The Wasteland”, he is alluding to the elements that society was lacking and needed to regain. The entire poem is a journey through a series of conversations and scenes that lead through a wasteland. The reader of the poem travels through the “wasteland” seemingly without hope but learns a valuable lesson at the end of the journey. Eliot applied the triad of “self-restraint, giving, and compassion” to himself and also offered it to the reader at the end of a long journey through a desolate world and a disillusioned society.BibliographyParker, Richard A. “Exploring the Wasteland”. September, 1997. http://world.std.com/~raparker/exploring/thewasteland/table/explore6.htmlEliot, T.S. The Wasteland and Other Poems. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1934.
Modernist Experimentation in The Waste Land
Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is perhaps a prime example of the experimentation in poetic technique occurring during the period encompassing the Modernist movement. Loathed and adored by critics and students alike, the complexities of technique, language (or languages), subject matter and the sheer length of the work have contributed to the poem’s status as a definitive example of “Modernist” writing. Along with Pound, Williams, Woolf and Joyce as well as countless others, Eliot’s work clearly illustrates the Modernist idea of portraying objects and situations as they are, and not as they appear, without explanation and using techniques previously rubbished or indeed, previously untried, such as the almost prose-like contents of the poem, and reliance on cultural consciousness to bring about understanding of the meaning of poetry written in a stream of consciousness style. “The Waste Land” exemplifies experimentation with style and structure not necessarily purely for its own sake but as a genuine step towards advancing a genre which for centuries had been bound within self imposed restraints of meter and accepted poetic constructs.The poem is composed in 5 sections. This in itself is not a startling new invention, but the differences between each section exhibit perhaps the most basic of the “new” techniques Eliot employs. The change of narrative voice and of scene in each of the parts is confusing, strange, complex, difficult to follow and groundbreaking. The confusion is further compounded by changes in narrative voice, and in places scene, in the midst of a section, even, occasionally, in the middle of a line. In the very first stanza the reader is left unclear as to who is speaking to whom. We are presented with several alternatives; Marie is talking, describing a conversation in the past; Eliot is addressing the reader in the last line; Eliot is describing in the third person a conversation between Marie and himself. This last option seems plausible in that Eliot claimed to have met and talked with the Marie in question, the Countess Marie von Wallersee-Larish of Austria, and yet each of the other interpretations still makes sense in the context of stream of consciousness. Eliot leaves the situation open to interpretation, and this idea runs throughout the poem.In a way, therefore, Eliot issues a challenge to every reader, not to understand what he is writing, but to interpret and scavenge what they can for themselves. This was a key concept in modernism. Instead of spoon-feeding his readers verse detailing his thoughts, Eliot cuts out the middleman, as it were, and instead merely lays his thoughts upon a banqueting table and invites the reader to help themselves. It is precisely this lack of clarity which makes the poem simultaneously fascinating and repelling to readers. In this way there is something of a car crash aesthetic to his work. Whilst the language is beautiful, new and complex, it holds within its structure and even its word order a sense of horror and dread for anyone wishing for an easy read. Eliot makes the reader work for every shred of understanding, and it is this technique which inspires such obsessive passion for “The Waste Land”, and such dedicated hatred for it.Until the draft versions of The Waste Land were published in 1968, critical interpretation of the poem was restricted to believing the poem to be a view of society, or a view from within society, in post-Great War Britain, a bleak analysis of the future of that society and a pessimistic view of life, love and art in such a climate. Whilst this interpretation is certainly still relevant, since 1968 examinations of the poem as an entirely autobiographical work have also become accepted. It would seem that the first interpretation of the poem is far more relevant to the modernist context with which this essay is concerned, yet the later analysis must still be addressed as it is certainly a pressing issue as to just how much of The Waste Land is applicable only to Eliot’s life. This notion in itself is intrinsic to the modernist techniques Eliot is using – the use of personal impressions and perceptions to convey a message or to simply exist in their own right.However, as an observation of society verging on the voyeuristic, at times it would appear that Eliot is bent on illustrating the new and confusing nature of modernity. He calls into question society’s class, moral values and sexual behaviour, as well as addressing gender conflict and differences throughout, a theme he claims in the notes to unify using the hermaphroditic figure of Tiresias in III. The poem links these attributes to one another and presents scenarios where they are demonstrated, for example in the lines 139-172. Eliot depicts a pub scene, opened with a discussion of an abortion (illustrating morality and sexual attitudes between the sexes) run through with suggestions of infidelity (gender conflict, sexuality and morality) and pointed references to sex. Here then, is a barbed satirical portrait of the “lower classes”, just one microcosm Eliot uses to build up a picture, perhaps a criticism, of society as a whole. The intrusion of a capitalised voice during the pub scene is without doubt a new technique. As usual, no explanation for its source or purpose is offered – it is left to the reader. It serves as both the voice of the landlord, the voice of time and/or death, or the voice of a returning husband waiting for his wife to “perform her duty”.There is another vignette at 215-256 in The Fire Sermon, observed by none other than Tiresias himself, whose entrance at almost exactly halfway through the poem is surely no accident, given his significance to the unification of the poem. The sexual nature of this vignette is used to expose weakness in the middle “white-collar” classes, of whom T.S. Eliot was a member – he certainly associates himself with the ‘hooded horde’. This particular section is uncomfortable in its close observance and the scathing tone of Tiresias’ narrative.Eliot’s sense of unease concerning the “modern” world is apparent throughout from the tone of the poem. Modernism allowed him to use juxtaposition to extremes – from the very first he sets the tone of the poem with “April is the cruellest month.” April is springtime, a time of birth and renewal in the natural world, but here, in this Waste Land, it is recognised as being the source of suffering in that once born into the world, the fate of all creatures is to suffer and die. This morbidity is created and maintained by similar topsy-turvy images, all of which were previously impossible to justify in old poetic forms and techniques.And yet throughout the confusion and the conflicting descriptions and narrative styles, the poem remains quite obviously one work, and each part relies upon all the others to fulfill its purpose. Without one section, the poem would not make sense. Eliot achieves this using references to other sections throughout the poem, and uses the same adjectives time and again in different contexts to achieve a subconscious effect upon the reader. This manipulation of the subconscious was certainly a modern idea. The modernist movement was sometimes closely associated with psychological research conducted entirely separately from, but of interest to, the writers involved. The fact that psychology is another field of study altogether virtually guarantees that awareness of this level of manipulation in poetry was unheard of, and yet it is neither clumsy nor obvious to a casual reader. Using such a new idea to hold together the very fabric of the poem not only rises to the challenge of “doing something new” but also inherently communicates a sense of newness and weirdness to the poem, which manages to achieve its aim of holding the poem together as a cohesive whole. This is somewhat of a new twist on an old technique, an extension of traditional technique such as repetition or alliteration – an abuse, an evolution of poetic technique for the new age.The poem also wallows in a geographic structure. There is a sense of place throughout the poem, a sense of weird, twisted, changing and unfamiliar terrain, perfectly recreating the uncertainty of a changing, modern world. The desolate landscape frames society’s downfall as depicted, and the poem takes a journey structure which unifies the poem and allows for the scene changes Eliot uses. This use of connections makes the poem structurally strong and helps it hang together under scrutiny, even as a back up to the internal referencing mentioned earlier.The most remarkable thing about “The Waste Land”, and the cause of most of the apprehension regarding this particular poem, is the frequency and complexity of its allusions. Although poets and novelists alike had been using classical references to associate their poetry with a “golden age” or simply to make a point, especially during the neo-classical obsession of Romantic and Victorian poets, never before had such a range of influences, sources and significance been used to such bewildering effect. This use of allusion is key to the debate over the intention of the poem. Such is the obscurity and personal nature of some of the associations that many have been led to believe the poem could be purely autobiographical. Although the poem is packed with classical allusions it takes from Eastern and central European cultures just as easily, many of the confusing, perhaps seemingly unnecessary parts are closely linked to Eliot’s own life (mentions of Margate or the sea refer, it would appear, to Eliot’s time spent recovering from mental illness in Margate.) Even using Eliot’s notes to “decode” the poem is unlikely to be successful, given that although he was asked to supply the notes, it is hard to glean the depth of the reference’s meaning merely from an attribution to a certain book or religion. It feels like the need to understand can never be fully satisfied without reading every book Eliot ever read, as well as those in the notes, and this is the key to the frustration many readers feel whilst reading “The Waste Land”, and yet is also the key to maintaining the poem’s air of elusiveness, and in effect, the key to its modernity, and its place in a modernist canon.Perhaps “The Waste Land’s” intrigue is rooted in the struggle apparent within its lines, that of a poet grappling with new ideas and ideals, and yet producing a poem which flows and takes on a life of its own seemingly effortlessly. There are points in the poem where Eliot seems perhaps to have dispensed with technique, and indeed sense altogether, by introducing references and notions so obscure and personal as to have rid himself of the need for a reader, and yet it is the inclusion of such painstakingly researched references which also invites us to conclude that every word in the poem is there because it is supposed to be, and is not the result of a wandering mind or pen.
Dry, Allusive, and Ambiguous: A Close Reading of “The Wasteland”
T.S. Eliot peppers “The Wasteland,” his apocalyptic poem, with images of modern aridity and inarticulacy that contrast with fertile allusions to previous times. Eliot’s language details a brittle era, rife with wars physical and sexual, spiritually broken, culturally decaying, dry and dusty. His references to the Fisher King and mythical vegetation rituals imply that the 20th-century world is in need of a Quester to irrigate the land. “The Wasteland” refuses to provide a simple solution; the properties of the language serve to make for an ambiguous narrative and conclusion, one as confusing and fragmented as Eliot’s era itself.Eliot wastes no time drawing out the first irony of the poem. In the first lines of “The Burial of the Dead,” the speaker comments on Jesus’ crucifixion and Chaucer while using brutal sounds to relate his spiritual coldness in a warm environment. In “The General Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer poetically writes “Whan that April with his showres soote/ The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,/ And bathed every veine in swich licour,/ Of which vertu engrendred is the flowr” (Norton Anthology to English Literature, sixth edition, vol. 1, p.81). For “The Wasteland’s” speaker, “April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain” (Norton Anthology of Poetry, fourth edition, p.1236, lines 1-4). The harsh “c’s” and muted “d’s” throughout point to the speaker’s disenchantment with a world full of paradoxes and dichotomies. The “mixing” of “Memory and desire” only hurts him, as do all the verbs, which Eliot places at the ends of their lines to intensify their importance and action in an otherwise dead land.The speaker continues his rants against the world and shows a personality at odds with normal conceptions of happiness. “Winter kept us warm” he says, as the delayed alliteration pairs up an unlikely couple (5). The speaker turns back time, and possibly changes identity, by reminiscing her childhood. Nostalgia is an essential component of “The Wasteland”; here, it relates a young girl’s escapist techniques of reading in the mountains and flying “south for the winter” like a bird, while later Eliot imposes literary and historical significance upon the poem’s allusions (18). Central to these allusion are images of the death of spirituality.In the second stanza, Eliot moves into a new motif, that of stones and broken idols. He questions what became of his landscape: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,/ You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/ A heap of broken images” (19-23). The roots, which were previously dull, now clutch in a sexually perverse image, and stem from a “stony rubbish” which is to be repeated later as a figure of dryness. The “Son of man,” noted by Eliot as Ezekiel, lives in a pagan era of “broken images,” and parallels modern man in “know[ing] only” such a corrupt time. Eliot develops the metaphor of stone as an object with “no sound of water. Only/ There is shadow under this red rock” (24-5). He again places “only” at the end of a line to draw the reader’s attention to it, forcing his audience to consider its relation to the poem’s character. Indeed, the speaker next addresses: “(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),/ And I will show you something different from either/ Your shadow at morning striding behind you/ Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you” (26-9). In “The Hollow Men,” another meditation on broken spirituality, several stanzas use the word “between” to reflect its travelers paralyzed state between life and death: “Between the conception/ And the creation/ Between the emotion/ And the response/ Falls the Shadow” (“The Hollow Men,” V.). Using this as a reference point, “The Wasteland’s” next line explicitly suggests the inevitability of death: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” (30).That oncoming death is ironically compared to Wagner’s romantic opera, “Tristan und Isolde,” and further distances the speaker from any emotional attachment. Wagner’s sailor song shows love’s dominance over distance”Fresh blows the wind/ toward home”and even though the “hyacinth girl,” a love-object in the form of a vegetation ritual, has “arms full, andhair wet,” the speaker confesses “I could not/ Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither/ Living nor dead, and I knew nothing” (footnote 8, 38-40). The girl’s fertility and moisture fails on the nihilistic speaker who straddles between life and death, who struggles to see and to communicate. The theme of sight and communication continues in the next stanza with Madam Sosostris, a “famous clairvoyante” (43).”Sosostris” itself is a word of speech; the two instances of “os” in her name suggest the Latin word for “mouth.” She commands her audience to regain his sight: “(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!'”) (48). One of her cards is a “one-eyed merchant” who “carries [something] on his back which” she is “forbidden to see” (53-4). This lack of depth perception, both the one-eyed man’s and hers, leads her to issue the ironic command “Fear death by water” (55). Yet is it ironic, that one should fear a death that seemingly drenches the exsiccative landscape, or has even the Grail that the speaker searches for, water, failed him? Sosostris concludes with a vision of “crowds of people, walking round in a ring” (56). This ritual, devoid of any motion or meaning and similar to the children’s recitation and encircling of the prickly pear in “The Hollow Men,” favors the latter, that even a Fisher King or some other Quester is unable to help the land.Eliot shifts into less abstract terms as he describes London, the “Unreal City/ Under the brown fog of a winter dawn” as a land of the marching dead. Again using irony to magnify the barrenness of the land, Eliot describes the crowd that “flowed over London Bridge, so many/ I had not thought death had undone so many./ Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled” (62-4). These breathless lives of exhalations only become the object of the speaker’s sarcastic wrath: “‘Stetson!/ You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!/ That corpse you planted last year in your garden,/ Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?/ Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?” (69-73). “Stetson,” by association of his name and to the capitalist-driven battle at Mylae, ties modern commercialism to the death of rituals, in this case that of a corpse instead of vegetation. Jesse Weston, in “The Golden Bough,” states that broken lands in need of a Quest fall under two categories: those where the infertility is precedent to the Quest, and those where it is caused by a Hero’s failure to answer the call. Until this point, Eliot has refrained from fingering man as the root of the waste land’s problem, but in his description of vapid London, he seems to blame man’s own declining value system for his dying landscape.Along with man’s flawed values comes a flawed sense of communication. In “A Game of Chess,” a queen-like woman sits in furniture that fits her magnificent yet empty existence: “The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,/ Glowed on the marble, where the glass/Doubled the flames/ Reflecting light upon the table as/ The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it” (77-8, 82-4). The rich, seductive prose that lavishes words like “burnished,” “glowed,” and “glitter” onto the woman’s possessions implies that her worth is as false as her “strange synthetic perfumes,/ Unguent, powdered, or liquidtroubled, confused/ And drowned the sense of odours; stirred by the air” (87-89). The “ed” or “id” endings, as in “powdered,” “troubled,” and “drowned,” connotes a passivity, as if the world is inflicting is troubles and confusions on the woman. In this midst, the “odours” now resemble the landscape from the first stanza as they, too, are stirred by the outside (as is the smoke from the candles, “Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling”) (93). A conversation between the woman and her husband is enacted: “‘My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me./ Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak./ What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?/ I never know what you are thinking. Think'” (111-4). The flat, short sentences that withhold even the barest emotion in their questions and statement overtly shift the poem into the theme of inarticulacy between the sexes. A nihilistic component comes out their abysmal comments: “‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember/ Nothing?'” (121-2) The separation of “Nothing” is no accident, and allows Eliot to finish with his aristocratic duelists and explore a working-class example of desperate communication.Eliot uses colloquial slang to relate a one-sided conversation in a pub. This bustling scene at first seems like a reminder of how humans can communicate, and Eliot leads the reader to this suspicion by using the word “said” twice in the first two lines: “When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said/ I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself” (139-40). She is intermittently interrupted by the bartender, whose call to “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” carries ominous implications of death and comes at more rapid intervals. The woman tells of an abortion, and humanity’s infertility that dominates its need to avoid loneliness is summed up in her question “What you get married for if you don’t want children?” (164)That loneliness returns Eliot to the bleak landscape in “The Fire Sermon.” Personification aids the comparisons between human and environmental death: “the last fingers of leaf/ Clutch and sink into the wet bank” (173-4). The Fisher King makes an appearance here, but in the middle of a corrupted ritual: “A rat crept softly through the vegetation/ Dragging its slimy belly on the bank/ While I was fishing in the dull canal” (187-9). The snake-like rat is reminiscent of man’s Edenic fall, another example of man’s bringing this “dull” plague on himself. Further accusations are made against man for his robotic nature: “the human engine waits/ Like a taxi throbbing waiting” (216-7). Tiresias, explained by Eliot as the joining of both sexes, is recalled again to witness the sexually grotesque meeting between a man and woman. The man’s connections to a conqueror or colonizer comes through as he “assaults her at once;/ Exploring hands encounter no defence” (239-40). Following this encounter, “The Wasteland” becomes far less poetic; its lines shorten and make no effort at lyricism: “The river sweats/ Oil and tar/ The barges drift/ With the turning tide” (266-9).The climax of the poem call on a series of images of water. In “Death by Water,” Madame Osostris’s admonition, Eliot laments the passing of Phlebas the Phoenician, when “A current under sea/ Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell/ He passed the stages of his age and youth/ Entering the whirlpool” (315-8). Indeed, the genitive form of “os” is “ossis,” meaning bones, and the clairvoyante’s morbid vision has come to fruition in this nostalgic look at a man “who was once as handsome and tall as you” (321). In the final section, “What the Thunder Said,” rocks and stones dominate: “After the agony in stony places/Here is no water but only rock/ Rock and no water and the sandy road/Which are mountains of rock without water/Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think/If there were only water amongst the rock” (324, 331-2, 334, 336, 338). The alternating lines that include “rock” layer an image of dryness without salvation in the narrative. Where once Marie felt free in the mountains, now “There is not even solitude in the mountains” (343). The speaker feels there must be an intruder that has caused this: “Who is the third who walks always beside you?/..I do not know whether a man or woman/ But who is that on the other side of you?” (360, 365-6). Eliot again points to the “Falling towers” of “the city over the mountains” that “Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air” as the source of the problem.The desolate air is interrupted by “a damp gust/ Bringing rain,” and the poem plants the translated words of “be restrained,” “give alms,” and “have compassion” much like the bartender shouted his closing call. The speaker concludes “The sea was calm, your heart would have responded/ Gaily, when invited, beating obedient/ To controlling hands” (421-3). Though the sea, which once separated lovers, is now a peaceful, wet arena for a gay heart, Eliot’s word choice”beating obedient/ To controlling hands”suggests a more sinister intent. Perhaps the struggle is now gone, and with that a drugged complacence. Death still looms; the Fisher King takes over the role of speaker: “I sat upon the shore/ Fishing, with the arid plain behind me/ Shall I at least set my lands in order?” (424-6). This is an allusion to a Biblical quote that gives an ambiguous view of death: “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.” Is the Fisher King merely tying up the loose ends before the world ends with a whimper, or is he permanently fixing his land? The final three words”Shantih shantih shantih”with their lengthy spaces and meaning (“The Peace which passeth understanding”) hints that we will die first, then understand our folly, or that a peaceful death will supersede any hope of learning from our mistakes. In any case, the invocation of a spiritual chant returns the poem full circle, restoring the idea that a broken spirituality is the dull root of our wasted land.The cryptic allusions to more fertile times has placed “The Wasteland” at the head of 20th-century alienation poetry. Eliot himself passed it off as a “personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life,” written during a hospitalized stay in the midst of the Lost Generation’s spiritual decay. Though he contended that the function of the poet’s mind is to present ideas and to withhold personal interaction, it is difficult to read “The Wasteland” without questioning authorial intent. Is the Fisher King in the last stanza, written in the first person, possibly the poet himself, come to rescue us in Nietzschean Über-Mensch form? Though he would certainly argue against the validity of such a self-enlarging statement (or maybe not), Eliot must have written “The Wasteland” with some hopes that it would somehow end his land’s drought. In this sense, then, the writer is a type of Fisher King, and the new ritual is not vegetable harvesting, but writing.Works Cited:Abrams et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, sixth edition, vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993.Ferguson et al. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, fourth edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1996.
Eastern Tradition as Eliot’s Route to Salvation in The Wasteland
T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land begins with a latin epigraph that refers to the story of the prophetess to Apollo, Sibyl of Cumae. Apollo wanted to take the prophetess as his lover and offered her anything she wanted in return. Sibyl asked to live as long as there were grains in a handful of dust but still refused to be Apollo’s lover after he granted that wish. She soon realized that she had been granted eternal life and not eternal youth and to her dismay got older and, older as the world stayed young around her. The prophetess choosing eternal life on earth is symbolic of the western tradition of defining yourself through your earthly legacy. The first world war then destroys western culture and society and, turns it into the barren waste land that Eliot describes. The Latin epigraph in The Waste Land represents the deterioration of western culture because of its beliefs in a dead tradition. The poem shifts to an eastern tradition because of its values in truth, compassion and, ethical practice being the possible solution to healing western culture.
The Wasteland begins with The Burial of the Dead, which symbolizes the death of a traditional western religion by presenting knowledge through the absence of a physical god and, in the void of a handful of dust. The first 19 lines depict a story of an aristocratic german woman recalling the nostalgia of her childhood in contrast to the, “Dull roots with spring rain”(4) that symbolize the fruitless state of her current life despite the regenerative rain of spring. April is the cruelest month to her because, a time that was once symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus and, the salvation of humanity, now symbolizes death and hopelessness. “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,/ You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/ A heap of broken images…”(20-22) This speaker now questions western religion in itself and, raises doubt in believing in what we have been told is God but, have not experienced ourselves. The speaker is questioning what is to be gained through following this god we do not actually know of. I think they relate western religion to ‘stony rubbish’ because, western religion offers the same illusion of solidity that a stone may but, offers nothing of actual substance. They then go on to say, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”(30) This relates directly to the latin epigraph of Sibyl and her void of a meaningless long life. Western tradition ends in a feeling of void, despite what you have acquired, because of its beliefs in meaninglessness.
Eliot ends this hopeless western epic with an offer of a solution through an alternative understanding in values. This solution comes in, “…a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust/ Bringing rain.”(394-5) This rain comes as a relief to the barren wasteland and in the next lines we are taken to the shores of the improvised Ganga, where its limp leafs finally feel rain too. The speaker then expresses the three duties and values of Eastern Hindu tradition: Datta, Dayadhyam and, Damyata. Datta, in Hindu means “give” and the speaker asks us what we have given and in reflection of the poem we realize that we have only given destruction in return of the dead culture we live in. This was illustrated perfectly in the first section of the poem, “That corpse you planted last year in your garden/ Has it begun to sprout?… Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?”(70-72) I thought this symbolized the unnecessary death cause by the war and how victory, a feeling of accomplishment and warmth, was replaced with the cold feeling of death and loss. We are given the last two duties of Hinduism; Dayadhyam and, Damyata which mean “compassion” and “self-control”. They both lead to the peace that passes understanding or Shantih which the poem ends with. The western tradition offers no values of compassion or self-control and instead promotes a “key to salvation” view of faith, “I have heard the key/ Turn in the door once and turn once only/ We think of the key, each in his prison/ Thinking of the key”(412-14) Everyone is striving to do what they believe is best by god to gain the ‘key’ to salvation but, their prayers ring on dead ears, leaving them in a prison of their own closed mind.
Eastern tradition promotes giving, compassion and, self-control because it believes that everyone is one with each other and therefore, should share and help in each others struggles. This is a concept alien to a western tradition that values gain through destruction or even Utilitarianism. This is the same concept Eliot wanted the reader to take away from the introduction of Hindu verse towards the end of a hopeless poem. At the end of A Fire Sermon there are chants in western tradition and eastern tradition. Western tradition’s dependency on god for salvation is shown, “O Lord Thou pluckest me out/ O Lord Thou pluckest,”(309-10) and garners no response while eastern tradition basks in the purifying fire as from a sermon by Buddha about nirvana. Eliot does not want every reader to suddenly convert to a eastern tradition but, for every reader to include these concepts in their bag of broken images as a hope of gaining understanding to achieve “Shantih”. The poem finishes with the image of the Fisher king experiencing peace through the three duties of Hinduism. There is no certain answer but the reader is told the kind is setting his lands in order which can be taken as a metaphor of his life. He tells the reader, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins/ Why they [might]Ile fit you.”(431-2) Here does he tell the reader that he has found value in the duties and that they might be our solution to? Theres a fleck of doubt on this solution with the quick elude to Hieronymo, which through it’s story symbolizes that the deepest truth will ring silent in the worlds ear (western society) because it rejects those values. Though this does not leave the play hopeless because Hieronymo still strove to revive his tradition, despite the worlds view, because it was still truth. The first four sections of a poem are symbolic of western tradition’s death through foundations in an empty faith. The reader is shown and reminded that our self-motivated wars have destroyed the god we believe in.
Eliot offers us an alternative way of understanding and, chooses Eastern traditional values because the self-salvation value held so highly in western tradition is what killed it. Eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism both stress: On giving back, having compassion for others and, self-control as the only way to salvation. This is important because although the bottom line is still self salvation, your salvation is derived through actively contributing to your environment and instead of following another persons path, we create our own, which in turn gives us the meaning we are searching for in our void of a handful of dust.
Eliot, T. S. “The Waste Land” and Other Poems. Dover Publications, 1998. pg 31-42
Inner and Outer Worlds; the Internal and External in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ and the Poetry of T. S. Eliot
In the novel Ulysses, a hallmark of modernist writing, James Joyce presents to the reader a particular relationship between inner and outer worlds, blurring the distinction between the internal consciousness’s of his characters and the externality of the world around them. The two become intrinsically connected and almost indistinguishable due to their mutual dependency on each other. The same could be said for T. S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Waste Land’, in which the state of the inner world of human thought is a reaction to the chaos of the physical outer world, a contrast to his earlier poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, where the outer world is presented as irrelevant in comparison to the neuroses of its titular character.
In ‘Prufrock’, Eliot focusses on the mentality of the individual, paying particular attention to the nuanced processes of thought. Eliot portrays a character who is riddled with anxious and obsessive thoughts that lead to existential crises and self-doubt. Prufrock’s worries are not extraordinary, instead being rather mundane. Concerning his physical, outer self he obsesses over how his body image is perceived by his peers and how they will say “How his hair is growing thin!” or “But how his legs and arms are thin!” [Eliot, Line 44] and worries about his sexual inadequacy, concluding that “I do not think that [the mermaids] will sing to me”, [Eliot, Line 125] the songs of mermaids coming to represent the agelessness of female beauty and sexuality. But these outer world elements do not seem to be the focal concern of Eliot. Instead it is the worries of the inner world, the psyche, which interests him. As James E. Miller Jr notes, the insecurity of Prufrock “extends to all the frustrations universally felt when contemplating the elusive meaning of life – and death.” He catastrophizes, pondering whether his simplest failure would cause him to “dare / Disturb the universe” [Eliot, Lines 45 – 46] and mourns the repetitive monotony of his existence, having “measured out [his] life with coffee spoons”. [Eliot, Line 51]
Eliot dissects the human mind and makes the outer world almost totally insignificant in comparison to these existential threats. Miller notes, furthermore, that “those who cannot identify with Prufrock’s sexual frustrations have no difficulty in sharing all his other frustrations”, thus making the inner world of his character and his utter ordinariness the prevalent concern of the poem. [Miller, pg. 156] Eliot begs the reader to relate with Prufrock and recognize the similarities between themselves and this pitiful character. When Prufrock laments “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid”, [Eliot, Lines 84 – 86] little effort is needed from the reader to see something of themselves in his failings. Thus Eliot deconstructs the inner world of the mind and places it clearly as superior to the outer world of the physical body, making the relationship between the two one of competition. This dynamic, however, is changed drastically in Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’, published in 1922, only seven years after ‘Prufrock’.
In the seven years between these two publishing dates Europe was ravaged by World War One. The structural and economic implications of the conflict manifest in ‘The Waste Land’ where Eliot takes a position towards the outer world that is opposed to that presented in ‘Prufrock’. The symbolic image of decimation evoked by the title can be seen in ‘The Burial of the Dead’, the opening section of the poem, in the second stanza. Here, Eliot presents to the reader a true waste land where “the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water.” Through this wilderness of Biblical proportions, Eliot creates a truly chaotic outer world. This apocalyptic creation is shown to have a direct effect on the inner world of the human mind, shown through Eliot’s depiction of the inhabitants of London, which, as a consequence to the war, has become the “Unreal City”. [Eliot, Line 60]
The title “Unreal City” suggests something of a spectral community. Max Saunders writes that in the poem there is an “inescapable presence of the war dead, whose presence certainly haunts The Waste Land” and the grief over such an undignified death can be seen in the people of London who have become emotionally stunted having lost all sense of solidity and security through the war. Eliot writes “I had not thought death had undone so many” [Eliot, Line 63] and is thus suggesting that the repercussions of the conflict have had a far greater effect on the psychology of society than he had anticipated. The fact, however, that he thought death would undo even some implies that Eliot has recognized a link between the state of the outer world and the inner world. The wastes of war have, for Eliot, created an outlook on life that is focussed on both the contingency of life and inescapable nature of death. Part IV of ‘The Waste Land’, ‘Death by Water’, can thus be read as a spiritual reaction to the world depicted in ‘The Burial of the Dead’. Here, the character “Phlebas the Phoenician” [Eliot, Line 312] lies dead on a beach. Eliot states that this character “Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell / And the profit and loss”, [Eliot, Lines 313 – 314] showing that in death Phlebas has been relinquished of all sensual and societal bonds, showing the reader that in a world ruled by post-war philosophy nothing of our present outer state counts in death. The finality of death is further emphasized by the line “Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you”, [Eliot, Line 321] reminding the reader that they too shall follow the same fate as Phlebas. Eliot is thus creating a bond between the outer world of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ and the inner world philosophy of ‘Death by Water’, the latter being a direct reaction to the first and thus creating a relationship of reaction between the two.
If we are to view ‘The Waste Land’ as a work where the relationship between inner and outer worlds is one of reaction, we may see Ulysses as a work where the relationship is one of dependence. In the novel Joyce presents several narrative voices, the two most prominent being that of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. Though Joyce largely focusses on Bloom, Stephen is a character of equal importance, especially when considering the relationship between inner and outer worlds. For the first three chapters of the novel we follow Stephen through the morning of the 16th June 1904 and here we are given insight into his thought processes. In Chapter 3 we see Stephen detach almost entirely from the physical outer world and into his own personal inner one. Joyce depends heavily on the stream of consciousness style here, following Stephens’s thoughts wherever they may lead. Stephen consistently strays away from the outer world, leaving behind all physical forms and loses himself somewhat in philosophical and literary ponderings. “Stephen closed his eyes to his hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsoever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space” is an example of how Stephen removes himself from the outer world, the physical act of walking on a beach becomes a rumination on his insignificance in the universe.
There is also, however, a metafictional separation from the outer world as the voice of Stephen takes over from the narrator, the sentence passing from third person through to second into first. This change in tense signifies that Stephen’s inner world has taken prominence over the outer world created by the narrator, which, in context to his character (a precocious artist), is symbolic of how for Stephen the inner world takes prominence over the outer. But unlike in ‘Prufrock’, this is not simply a literary tool to be exploited. Rather, Stephen’s preference for the inner world is a consequence of his upbringing. His father’s negligence, his mother’s recent passing and his own failure to succeed as an artist are all factors of his outer world that have caused him to retreat into an inner world of intellectualism in the endeavor to truly find his own identity. His theory on Hamlet for example, aligning Shakespeare with the ghost of protagonist’s father and Shakespeare’s dead son with Hamlet, shows that Stephen lacks direction from an absent father figure and this absence has affected his outlook on life. While Eliot, through the individual in ‘Prufrock’, presents the outer world as irrelevant in comparison to the endless nuances of the inner world, Joyce suggests that the relationship between the two on an individual level is no different than on the collective level. Just as in ‘The Waste Land’, the relationship is one of reaction and dependence.
To stand as a contrast to the intellectually centered Stephen, Bloom is recognized as being a character that truly embodies the physical sense of being a biological entity. While Stephen barely acknowledges himself as part of humanity, Bloom is unmistakably a human character. In Chapter 4 we are introduced to Bloom as he goes about his morning routine. He consumes a pig’s kidney, sexually lusts after a woman at the butchers and he concludes the chapter by going to toilet and wiping himself with a strip torn from a newspaper and then checks himself for faecal stains, the narrator describing Bloom having “eyed carefully his black trousers”. [Joyce, pg. 85] At the end of Chapter 5 Bloom has a masturbatory fantasy, envisioning his genitals in a bath, “the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.” [Joyce, pg. 107] Concerning the latrine scene Marilyn French writes that the “scene, matter-of-factly described even to the extent of Bloom wiping himself … symbolizes Bloom’s mental acceptance of body and bodily functions.” Joyce therefore gives Bloom a place in humanity, unlike Stephen. While Stephen secludes himself to his inner world, Bloom unashamedly celebrates his body and sexuality, the essence of his outer world. This celebration, however, does not mean that his inner self is ignored.
Bloom’s thoughts and feelings are given equal importance in the novel as his physicality, but when compared to Stephen, who exists almost solely as a process of thought and not a physical being, the reader cannot help but be particularly drawn to these examples of a bodily outer world. Once again, however, there is, on an individual level, parallels between Joyce’s character and Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’. Both characters famously suffer some form of sexual inadequacy and both feel like the outsider in society. But it still stands that in ‘Prufrock’ Eliot subjugates the outer world for the inner, while in Ulysses Joyce gives the two equal voice and importance. In that way, Ulysses has more in common with ‘The Waste Land’ in that both works provide equal opportunity to the outer world of society and the inner world of the human psyche.
Jewel Spear Brooker notes that the second stanza of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ “is rich with associations, and satisfying, in part, because it provides what Eliot’s title promised: a waste land.” This passage is satisfying not simply because it lives up to its titles promises, but also because it provides some form of solid setting that the reader can recognize, an outer world that is easy to imagine and free from the disorientating literary allusions that puncture the rest of the poem. Similarly, Dublin serves as a cohesive focalizing setting in Ulysses. Throughout the novel Dublin becomes as much a character in its own right as Bloom or Stephen, Joyce providing it with both an inner and outer world. In the novel Joyce pays meticulous detail to street and shop names, mapping his characters journeys. In Chapter Five Bloom starts his journey walking down Lime Street, crosses Townsend Street and then on to Westland Row where “he halted before the window of the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company”. [Joyce, pg. 86] Such specificity creates a physical sense of the city, blurring the line between fact and fiction. Joyce truly creates an outer world where Dublin dominates as a presence. But, just like Stephen, Bloom and ‘The Waste Land’, there is an inner world to also explore.
From the date of Ulysses’ publication 1922 the reader will have been reading the novel in the wake of the Easter Rising of 1916. Hugh Kenner writes that “Joyce is carefully reproducing the spurious Dublin life of an embalmed past.” Set twelve years before the Rising, the Dublin depicted in Ulysses serves as a record of the city before the fight for Irish independence. The citizens of Dublin act out the part of a colonized people who have had their culture ripped from them. The old milk maid in Chapter One, who fails to recognize Irelands native Gaelic language, ironically spoken by an Englishman, but says she’s been “told it’s a grand language by them that knows”, [Joyce, pg. 16] comes to serve as both the collective inner world of the colonized Irish but also a mockery of W. B. Yeats Irish heroine Cathleen ni Houlihan and thus symbolizes a lack of national identity. Joyce depicts a Dublin with a fully recognized physical form and a colonized and anti-British collective mind, a character in its own right with interconnected inner and outer worlds.
By 1922, the year both Ulysses and ‘The Waste Land’ were published, both Eliot and Joyce depicted worlds and characters that demonstrate that the relationship between inner and outer worlds is one of reaction to the modern world, whether that be conflict or lack of identity. Together, Ulysses, ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ form a group of texts that have become synonymous with modernist writing as a movement, and thus the relationship between inner and outer worlds presented in them come to represent, in part, the relationship in modernism as a whole. Symbiosis is key to the modernists handling of inner and outer worlds, in both Ulysses and ‘The Waste Land’ the outer world defines the inner and the same can be said in reverse. The modernists, as exemplified through Joyce and Eliot, created a literary tradition that rejects the constraints of language and literature and where there is no true definition of an inner or outer world but rather a whole, the inner and outer blending seamlessly together to create one world of thought.
 T. S. Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, in Modernism: An Anthology, ed. by Lawrence Rainey (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), Line 41
 James E. Miller, T. S. Eliot : The Making of an American Poet, 1888 – 1922 (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), pg. 156
 T. S. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’, in Modernism: An Anthology, ed. by Lawrence Rainey (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), Lines 22 – 24
 Max Saunders, ‘Tradition and the march of literature: T. S. Eliot and Ford Maddox Ford’, in T. S. Eliot and the Concept of Tradition, ed. by Giovanni Cianci and Jason Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pg. 198
 James Joyce, Ulysses (London: Penguin, 1922), pg. 45
 Marilyn French, The Book as World, (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1976), pg. 159
 Jewel Spears Brooker, Reading “The Waste Land”: Modernism and the Limits of Interpretation, (Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), pg. 65
 Hugh Kenner, Dublin’s Joyce, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), pg. 214