The Waste Land
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
Woolf, Eliot, Modernism, and the Emerging Faith of Early Feminism versus Victorian Values: The Role of the Feminine as a Subversive Site of Resistance
The works of T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf represent the eve of first-wave feminism, where traditional Victorian principles have been challenged by controversy in the Royal Family, the more assertive role that women played in the First World War and receiving the vote for women (although only for 30-year-old householders, or wives of householders). This meant that the challenge of sexuality, gender and the ‘biological’ and social status of women was in flux (i.e. the weaker, romantic and fairer sex was being replaced with stronger figures). The problem for women is that they had to show one face to society, whilst underneath the Victorian norms that still pervaded the early Twentieth Century, were being challenged. This is represented by Clarissa Dalloway in the mirror scenes, in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. There is conflict with this development of the feminine in Eliot’s The Wasteland, which sees it as a move from glory of the genders in the Victorian era, to the sordidness of feminism and modernity. In both texts, there is psychological stress caused by the change, although in different ways. Therefore Mrs. Dalloway represents modernism’s challenge of the weak, feminine persona, perpetrated by Victorian beliefs and replaced it with a more rationale but subversive feminine persona, that formed the emerging faith of early feminism. Conversely, The Wasteland represents a challenge to this development, because it is replacing glory of Victorian England, with the sordidness of modernism.
Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway is expected to depict the perfect genteel woman, as required by her station in society. This means that Clarissa is depicted as “the model of some human virtue—strength of character, intuitive genius, affirmation of life, transcendence of patriarchal social arrangements, empathy with the dead, unifier of society” (Bell, page 94). This is her outward appearance, which means that an over simplistic reading of the text will not engage with the feminist undertones that Woolf has in the text (Bell, page 94). There are traditional masculine figures, which are not seen in Clarissa’s husband; rather, the characters of Walsh and Smith provide this juxtaposition. Richter (2010) identifies that Walsh and Smith “function as seismographs registering the advent of modernity; despite their relative…and catastrophic failure to come to terms with the contradictory social roles with which they are confronted, they, rather than the inflexible defenders of power, patriarchy, and empire, represent a viable although precarious embodiment of modern masculinity” (page 158). This means that the traditional patriarchal model of the Victorian gentleman is not represented in these figures. Rather, there is the modern masculine (i.e. there is an overt show of masculinity, but this hides the reality that the masculine is being challenged by the feminine, as power relations are changing) (Richter, page 158).
In fact, the challenge of the masculine can be seen in the private thoughts of Clarissa (i.e. the Clarissa that is reflected in the mirror). Her husband can be seen as the traditional patriarchal character, which is seen in Clarissa’s introducing him as Wickham (Mrs. Dalloway, page 66). The traditional, handsome and masculine figure of Richard, that wants to keep and protect his wife, is seen in actions that are proper. This includes the giving of gifts, which is not done frequently; rather, when it is expected. As Woolf writes: “he never gave Clarissa presents except a bracelet two or three years ago, which had not been a success. She never wore it. It pained him to remember that she never wore it” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 124). The implication is that Richard buys her the appropriate and proper number of gifts to show Victorian reserved affection, but Clarissa does not return this act with proper appreciation (Mrs. Dalloway, page 124). This illustrates the tension of Clarissa’s character because she may seem proper outwardly to society.
However, the personal interactions show that she is not receptive to the patriarchal expectations; rather, she wants to be free of the yoke and these expectations. The result of this relationship is that Richard feels like a failure because his show of proper patriarchal masculinity is being challenged by the improper reciprocation by Clarissa (Halberstam, page 364). This is because Clarissa’s actions can be viewed as more and more masculine in private relationships, which does peek through her interactions, more generally. The so-called masculine traits have given rise to comments that Clarissa is cold. The text states that: “there was always something cold in Clarissa, he thought. She had always, even as a girl, a sort of timidity, which in middle age becomes conventionality…” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 36). The problem is that she does not engage with others as a woman should (i.e. Clarissa does not engage individuals with feminine charms; instead, she is reserved and measured in a manner that would be described as masculine). Nonetheless, these traits are identified as “timid”, “hard,” “arrogant” and “prudish” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 44). These words are negative because the personality of Clarissa does not fit with the face, that a woman is meant to show. In fact, there are more negative descriptions by the males in the book, which includes, “the death of the soul” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 44); “devilish”, “coldness” and “woodenness” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 45). These characteristics are strong and powerful because the individual is standing up against pressures (i.e. very masculine). The terms devilish and the cad are regarded as desirable qualities in men, by some because these terms can be seen as dashing masculinity (i.e. the Mr. Wickham of the book who would attract femininity and frivolity (Corwin, page 205).
The problem is that these terms are applied to Clarissa who is meant to be Richard’s Lydia because he is the M. Wickham. Clarissa is not as flashy or dashing as Richard. More so, she is viewed as timid, as well as, “iron,” “flint,” and “rigid up to the backbone” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 48). These are qualities of the proper gentleman (i.e. the Mr. Darcy) because a sand-offish, rude and awkward character is part of this exemplification. However, when applied to a woman, it is a negative application, especially when the term states that Clarissa is “cold as an icicle” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 60). The so-called masculinity and dominant characteristics, which have been hidden by her reserve; begin to become increasingly apparent. This is especially so, when she is reflected in the mirror because she believes that her body is ridiculous (Mrs. Dalloway, page 27). The rationale for this application is that she is more pointed and in control, than the expected woman. When Clarissa looks in the mirror, she is faced with the tension of who she is (a dominant woman with more so-called masculine qualities). As the text identifies: “she pursed her lips when she looked in the glass. It was to give her face point. That was her self—pointed; dartlike; definite” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 27).
Her counterpoint is Sally, who is described as “extraordinary beauty of the kind she most admired, dark, large-eyed, with that quality which, since she hadn’t got it herself, she always envied” (Mrs. Dalloway, page 24). There are two factors to be identified in this quote. The first is that Sally is the type of woman that is expected in society, which Clarissa should compensate with greater femininity because she does not have the feminine form. However, she acts with greater masculinity, which is further revealed in the mirror (Butler, page 9). Secondly, there is the subversion of identity, through the mirror because Clarissa identifies how she does not fit with the cultural concept of femininity; but a more powerful and modern woman is revealed (i.e. she is the dominant character, even if her husband does not like it) (Booth, page 113). The subversion of identity in Mrs. Dalloway is part of the feminist message because the principle that women and men exemplify certain characteristics, is flawed.
The expected characteristics are not natural, but a product of society. This is the reason that the use of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice characters are used because there is an assumption that women are to play a certain role. The reality is that Clarissa is torn between these beliefs and the fact that she is dominant; the mirror allows her to reflect on this and lead to empowerment, in a subversive manner, that challenges the expected control of men (Booth, page 113). Although, the application of non-feminine terms is illustrative of society trying to control her and create a scapegoat, through her lack of good looks (and thus the lack of internal beauty) (Steinberg, page 25-26). Overall, Woolf sees the masculinity of Clarissa as a positive development because she challenges the social norms and the restricting of women to the beauty outside, reflecting the beauty within (unless compensated with heightened femininity (Steinberg, page 26). Therefore, there is a feminist message in Mrs. Dalloway that challenges traditional images of the Victorian woman, with a more powerful character that can hold her own in society (although conflicted at times due to traditional beliefs). In other words, the modern woman does not have to be tied down to her look and heightened femininity.
Eliot in The Wasteland makes a juxtaposition between the glorious past and the sordid present, which indicate that the changes in society are not a positive development. In the poem, he states: “But at my back from time to time I hear The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring” (The Wasteland, lines 196-198). The action of bringing Sweeney to Mrs. Porter is an example of the traditional roles of men and women. Additionally, Mrs. Porter illustrates traditional femininity, as the poem states: “O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter And on her daughter They wash their feet in soda water” (The Wasteland, lines 199-201). This beautiful image is contrasted against the brutality and sordidness of modernity, which have changed the role of men and women. Eliot wants to recapture traditional values.
However, as Booth identifies, in The Wasteland there is discussion of how greatness and power are being moved from an exclusively male realm, to include women (page 231). The problem is that Eliot does not view this as a positive development because there is the loss of a glorious past, where there are values and beauty. The sordidness that is described in The Wasteland is linked to the empowerment of women (and most notably their sexuality). As Eliot states: “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” (The Wasteland, lines 249-252) This is a negative view of the woman who does not comply with the glory of marriage and is not swooning after her lover (i.e. she sees that encounters with her lover as a chore and not a celebration of love). This is an illustration of her empowerment because she is not emotional about the actions; rather, she is logical and links such actions with a duty to quickly relieve herself from. This is an example of sexual emancipation, which is a change in the genders.
In fact, a description of men, with women’s breasts (The Wasteland, line 219) illustrates that there is a crossing over of gender, which is overt. There are elements of the subversive, such as the statement: “I do not know whether a man or a woman — But who is that on the other side of you?” (The Wasteland, lines 364-365). The implication is that the glory is being lost through the aligning of genders, through figures that represent both, which is illustrative of a subversive change. This change is not celebrated in The Wasteland, which is supported by the “Murmur of maternal lamentation” (line 367). Thus, the empowerment of women is a negative occurrence because it is contributing to the sordidness of modernity. The problem is that Eliot recognizes that it is not possible to return to this past, which is why there is a lament and not a struggle.
The aligning of the male and female, is present in both Mrs. Dalloway and The Wasteland. The former sees it as a subversive action to positively empower women, although there are elements of tension between the new role of the male and female. The main truth is that there is a change in faith (i.e. Victorian beliefs to modernism that with it, changes the role of women). Nonetheless, Eliot sees this as a negative development, because there is loss of the feminine. Where Woolf sees the Victorian era as oppression for women; Eliot sees it as an overt loss of glory. The implication is that Eliot is challenging the feminist developments of modernity; whereas Woolf identifies that this movement is important, but can only be undertaken subversively, due to opposition from the faith of the Victorian elite. Both authors engage with gender and sexuality, which is centered from changes in identity for women. Therefore, the impact of this is a significant amount of stress of the psychology of the genders, but the end result is positive for Woolf because it should result in empowerment; whereas it is sordidness for Eliot.
Eliot, TS. “The Waste Land” (1922). Bartleby. Web. Accessed December 11, 2016
Woolf, V. Mrs. Dalloway (1925, 2nd ed. Vol. 1). Orlando: Harcourt, Brace, & World Inc. 1953
Booth, A. “Greatness Engendered: George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.” Cornell University Press, 1992.
Butler, J. “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.” New York: Routledge, 1999.
Steinberg, E.R. “Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land.” Journal of Modern Richter, V. “Women constructing men: Female novelists and their male characters, 1750-2000”. In Sarah S. G. Frantz and K. R. Lexington (Eds.), The differential construction of masculinity in the writings of Virginia Woolf. Rowman and Littlefield. 2010. pp. 155-170
Halberstam, J. “The good, the bad and the ugly: Men, women, and masculinity”. In J. K. Gardiner (Ed.), Masculinity studies and feminist theory: New directions Vol. 1, 2002. pp. 344-367)
Bell, V. M. “Misreading “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Sewanee Review, 114(1), 2004. Pp. 93-111 Corwin, DP. Women as Part of the Patriarchy: Masculinity, Women, and Relationships in Virginia Woolf’s Novels. Cultural and Religious Studies, Vol. 3(4), 2015, pp. 201-210 Literature. Vol. 10, 1983. pp. 3-25.
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.
Relations between Men and Women in “The Waste Land”
In his poem “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot presents multiple relationships between men and women, both historical and of his own creation. The interactions that he describes allow the reader to infer how Eliot views relationships, sexuality, and gender. He presents relationships as dysfunctional while only focusing on their negative aspects. Through description of various couples, Eliot presents gender in a stereotypical fashion which allows the reader to gain insight into how Eliot views the sexes, especially women. Throughout “the Waste Land,” Eliot alludes to many historical events, mythical traditions, and literary works. He references three famous relationships that serve as a background for the relationships that Eliot creates and describes in “The Waste Land.” The first allusion presented is to Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde.” In this work, Isolde is unwillingly engaged to a King, a man she does not love. She instead falls in love with a knight, Tristan. The play ends tragically; both lovers die rather than give up their love (“Synopsis of Tristan und Isolde”) Eliot also alludes to the relations between a King and his sister-in-law as described in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” (fn 1, p477) King Tereus, upon being overcome with lust for his wife’s sister Philomela, drags her to the woods where he rapes her and then cuts out her tongue to silence her. Later, after her escape, she is changed into a nightingale (“Philomene”). A third and final reference from the poem is to Cleopatra. A woman in “The Waste Land” is portrayed as sitting on a “Chair…like a burnished throne,” (l. 77) which is described in the footnote as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play “Antony and Cleopatra.” In this play, Mark Antony believes that his lover, Cleopatra, is dead and he therefore impales himself on his sword. Cleopatra, awakening from a sleep, discovers that her lover is dead and commits suicide by means of a snake bite (“Mark Antony”). In these literary allusions, Eliot presents three relationships that are associated with despair and violence. In the “Metamorphoses” and “Tristan und Isolde,” women are forced to be with men they do not love nor desire. All of the relationships involve violence and all end in tragedy. Examining the three relationships together gives the impression that any fleeting pleasure that relationships or love can bring will be insignificant to the ultimate violence, pain, and despair that is involved. The examples give the reader context for interpreting the relationships invented by Eliot in “The Waste Land” which are described in three sections of the poem: in a conversation between an aristocratic woman and her lover (l. 111-138), in a bar scene in which a woman gossips about her married friend (l. 139- 172), and in a sexual encounter between a typist and a clerk (l. 215-256). In the first of these relationships, a woman speaks to a man assumed to be her lover. The woman is of high social class. She sits upon a “throne” (77) in her house which is furnished with luxurious things. The woman is frantic and seemingly irrational during a conversation with her lover. We first hear her exclaim, “My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.” (111) This gives the reader an initial impression of an emotional and frightened character. She continues by demanding that her companion speak to her and tell her what he is thinking. She repeats herself frantically in her attempt to get him to respond to her (l. 112-114). This suggests that the woman and the man have poor communication with each other. When the man finally speaks, he is calm and enigmatic. He says, “I think we are rats’ alley/ Where the dead men lost their bones.” (115) This contrast with the woman makes her seem out-of-control on account of her emotions, her “nerves.” She continues by asking, “What is that noise,” to which he answers “The wind under the door” (117). Again, the woman is compelled to speak because of her emotions, in this case fear. The man is calm and rational, recognizing the sound as merely wind. She continues to be frightened by the sounds she hears and continues to be reassured by the man, “nothing again nothing” (120). Throughout the dialogue between this aristocratic woman and her lover, she is compelled to speak and act because of her flighty emotions. She recognizes herself as the weaker of the two as she early on begs the man to stay the night. This section can be interpreted as Eliot’s perception and commentary on the differences between genders. The dialogue is revealing about Eliot’s perception of women, as the man is portrayed as calm and rational in comparison to the overemotional, irrational, and weak woman. The second relationship described in “The Waste Land” is the marriage between a man and woman, Albert and Lil. We are hearing about this marriage as the narrator, an unidentified woman in a bar, describes the advice she gave to her friend, the wife Lil. Albert is returning from war and while he was gone, Lil’s appearance became more ragged and unattractive. The narrator therefore rebukes Lil, saying, “You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.” (156) The narrator points out that Albert has “been in the army four years, he wants a good time” (148). The narrator is expressing the view that it is Lil’s duty as a wife to be sexually available to her husband. If she is not willing to satisfy his sexual needs, or if she has not kept herself attractive enough to be desired by her husband, he is allowed to seek sexual satisfaction from other women. The narrator reminds Lil of this by pointing out “if you don’t give it him, there’s others will” (149). Lil attempts to defend herself by explaining that her deteriorating appearance was the result of pills she took to induce the abortion of what would have been her sixth child, “It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said” (159). The narrator implies that during the labor of the birth of Lil’s last child, she “nearly died” (160). It therefore seems understandable that Lil is not enthusiastic about the prospects of another birth. This does not sway the opinion of the narrator who asks, “What you get married for if you don’t want children?” (164) The narrator therefore presents the view that even if a woman’s life is in danger, this does not excuse her from her womanly duties of pleasing her husband sexually and consequently bearing his children. The opinion of the narrator, which may or may not be Eliot’s, is a commonly held societal view, especially in Eliot’s time. Married women are expected to serve the sexual needs of their husbands. They are expected to bear children, regardless of their personal desire for children or the threat that giving birth posed to a women’s health in that time period. Reducing a woman to a means for men’s sexual gratification and as an incubator for his children is extreme objectification. Philomela was equally objectified by her rapist, who viewed her as a means to gain pleasure and not as a human being. The marriage between Lil and Albert, which appears to be loveless, is also reminiscent of the forced union of Isolde and the King, in which Isolde was being forced into a marriage with a man she did not love. In the final relationship discussed in “The Waste Land,” a blind prophet named Tiresias describes a sexual encounter between a female typist and a male clerk. A woman sits alone in her house, preparing a meal. A man enters. Although he notices that the woman is “bored and tired,” he still attempts to engage her in sexual activity (236). The encounter begins somewhat lovingly, with the clerk engaging “her in caresses.” (237) These advances are described as “unreproved, if undesired” (238). Seeing that the woman is not going to object, the man, “assaults at once” (239). In this situation, the man is only thinking of the pleasure he will receive from the woman and has virtually no other concern for her once he has gained her consent. It does not bother him that she does not desire him or the sexual act. In fact, he “makes a welcomes of indifference,” which suggests that he would rather her be disinterested (242). The man sees the woman solely as a sexual object, put in place for his sexual gratification. He has no desire to have an emotional connection with this woman, nor does he care whether she is receiving pleasure in return for his. When he leaves, he “bestows one final patronizing kiss,” which is a condescending and demeaning gesture to impose on someone that was just used by you as an object (246). The woman is portrayed as unconcerned with this series of events. She thinks to herself, “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.” (252) The narrator of this scene is the blind prophet from Greek mythology, Tiresias. He had lived for some time as both a male and a female. Because of his knowledge of both sexes, Eliot describes Tiresias as, “the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest” and says that “…the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem.” (fn 7 p481) Tiresias’ account of the sexual act between the typist and the clerk is central to understanding the gender relations that Eliot is presenting. Tiresias comments that he “perceived the scene, and foretold the rest —/ I too awaited the expected guest.” (229) This suggests that this scene between two “lovers” is one that Tiresias has seen, and most likely experienced, before, “And I Tiresias have foresuffered all/ Enacted on this same divan or bed.” (244) If the scene is a predictable one, it must be fairly common. Therefore, Eliot could be presenting the scene with the typist and the clerk as an archetype for relationships between men and women.This scene portrays distinct gender roles that are thought of as socially acceptable. The man, like the husband Albert in the previous example, is supposed to take whatever he wants, sexually, from the woman he is dominating and the woman is supposed to let these things happen to her without complaint. Parallels can be seen between this type of domination of man over woman and in domination in the form of the rape of Philomela. She too was not allowed to complain or talk about her encounter. Her rapist ensured this by cutting out her tongue, therefore disabling her from speaking of what he did to her. In all three of these cases, the woman is objectified with the result of her being viewed as only a sexual object. The violence in the cases of all three of the historical relationships is also mirrored in the typist scene; the man “assaults at once” even though the woman is not objecting or fighting him. This sudden, violent image is not as dramatic as the violence seen in the historical relationships, yet it is telling that it is included at all. Eliot’s description of the aristocratic woman might offer insight into how or why domination of women occurs. The woman here, whom Eliot presents stereotypically, is weak and is dictated by her emotions. She is obviously inferior to her calm, intelligent companion.The purpose of the women in both the historical relationships and those found in the poem is foremost to satisfy men and to be sexually available to them. This dehumanizes the women in these relationships to an extreme degree. The three relationships in “the Waste Land” are presented as loveless, sometimes violent, and dysfunctional. The ultimate impression is that relationships between men and women are bound to fail, and lead to despair or violence. Bibliography”Mark Antony.” Oracle ThinkQuest Library. Web. 03 Nov. 2009.
Burial of the Dead: The Death of Christ’s Ressurection
When T. S. Eliot wrote The Waste Land in 1922 he was a self-proclaimed atheist. Some six years later, he described himself as an adherent to anglo-catholic Christianity and thus wrote the Four Quartets. As is possible to postulate, some scholars believe that there is an innate Christian-ness in The Waste Land and have hence tried to speculate and interpret the text in such a style. However, in order to do such would require two dramatic steps to be taken. First, one must define Christian poetry as a genre, and secondly the poem must actually be interpreted with that first principle of genre definition. In Western literary interpretation there has always been an undertone of the Christian ethic. Since Christianity has dominated for the most part all of Anglo-Saxon culture, innately there must exist in any interpretation of Western literature an assumption of a Christian backdrop in the audience. When applying this concept to genre, specifically here Christian poetry, it is plausible to speculate that atheistic poetry is in its own sense “Christian” in that it is a response to a first principle, namely that of the Christian backdrop. An analogy for illustration: Aristotle wrote his philosophical treatises as a response to Platonism. Taking Plato’s principles as initial assumptions, Aristotle argued for a different kind of philosophical world view contrary to the Platonic theses; however, he still remained entangled in the backdrop of the ubiquity of Platonic assumption when defining his own philosophy. “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato,” said British philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (“Alfred North Whitehead”). This same parallel can be applied when defining Christian poetry in the western literary tradition. That is, the ubiquity of Christianity in Western culture assumes that any kind of lashing out against it per se (to steal an Aristotelian term) is inherently Christian due to the nature of Christianity being a type of given in the culture. Therefore, this allowance grants critics the ability to interpret The Waste Land as a form of Christian poetry.As The Waste Land is an immensely complex work, any singularly focused interpretation does not do justice to the work as a whole. Hence, “The Burial of the Dead,” which seems to have some of the most prominent anti-Christian sentiment, will be the sole focus of this interpretation. Eliot alludes to a virtual litany of biblical passages and other canonical works in this section of the piece. However, when viewed in light of the modernistic theme of dissatisfaction with the Western world, which Eliot advocates by not only downing religion but sexuality and materialism as well, The Waste Land does not lend itself to be viewed as a piece of pro-Christian literature (especially in the Protestant work-ethic sense of Weber). On the contrary, his allusions tend to defile the sanctity of a religion so widely advocated in the West. Through carefully and cleverly crafter authorial commentary as well as the use of an extended metaphor (that of vegetation), Eliot manages to create a work that can be read as anti-Christian literature, which would still classify it as Christian in the sense described above. “April is the cruellest month…” so begins “The Burial of the Dead” (Eliot line 1), alluding to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales’ General Prologue in which the pilgrims begin their journey in April, the time of “sweet showers…[that] generate therein and sire the flowers” (Chaucer lines 3-4). Compare this to Eliot’s view of April, “…breeding/ lilacs out of the dead land…” and “…stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain…” and it becomes painfully obvious that this April pilgrimage to Eliot is not the happiest of times (Eliot lines 2,4). This new pilgrimage that Eliot is alluding to can be viewed in satirical opposition to Chaucer’s search for religious comfort in a pilgrimage out of religious duty. The second stanza introduces Eliot’s authorial voice and some intensive religious commentary and biblical allusion. What are the roots that clutch, what branches growOut of this stony rubbish? Son of man,You cannot say, or guess, for you know onlyA heap of broken images, where the sun beatsAnd the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,And the dry stone no sound of water. OnlyThere is shadow under this red rock,(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),And I will show you something different from eitherYour shadow at morning striding behind youOr your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust. (Eliot lines 19-30)The first step to breaking into this complex passage is to identify the multiple allusions. Then, after the source material has been established, one can then analyze the cohesiveness of the passage and see how the allusions fit together to form an overarching meaning. The root and branch metaphor has two possible origins, both of which apply to the figure of Christ. “I am the true vine and my Father the gardner. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (Holy Bible, John 15:1-2). This passage offers a possible origin of the metaphor while the Parable of the Sower which tells of the seeds scattered on different types of ground, some taking root and others not, accounts for the stony rubbish imagery Eliot uses (Holy Bible, Luke 8:5-15). Thus, there is a synthesis of biblical allusions used to set up the rest of the passage’s satire. Eliot next addresses directly the “Son of Man,” a common title given to Christ in the New Testament, and accuses him of not being able to answer the question. The stream of “broken images” lends itself to be interpreted as segue into the broken images Eliot next presents. The crickets of no relief, the red rock casting shadow, and the waterless rock are again synthesized biblical allusions referring to Christ. In Ecclesiastes Chapter 12, the author speaks of a time when the grasshopper (cricket) drags himself along the ground and desire is no longer apparent in the people; the chapter taken as a whole seems to describe the modernist mindset where “…Everything is meaningless” (Holy Bible, Ecclesiastes 12: 5,8). The red rock’s shadow is taken from a passage of Isaiah Chapter 32, which tells of the coming of a Kingdom of Rightousness where men will be like “shadows of great rocks in thirsty lands” and “streams of water in the desert,” (Holy Bible, Isaiah 32:2). Finally the water from the dry stone image comes form Exodus where Moses is told to strike a rock and water will come out for the people to drink (Holy Bible, Exodus 17:6). Eliot then asks the Son of Man to come under this shadow created by the rock and uses a non-biblical allusion, a metaphor of aging seen first in Greek mythology’s Sphinx’s riddle as morning, afternoon, and evening being the equivalent of young, middle-aged, and old (Loy). Again Eliot directly addresses the Son of Man using the second person possessive pronoun “Your” referring to Christ’s shadow in the morning and evening (i.e. the birth of Christianity and the Christianity of Eliot’s time). This set up leads to Eliot’s oft quoted line, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” where dust is a commonly used metaphor to imply uselessness and decay (Eliot line 30). Now having the origins of the allusions and interpretations of the metaphors, one can explicate further on the structure of these in the passage and derive some kind of coherent meaning in the juxtaposition of such phrases. Eliot opens his second stanza with a rhetorical question, asking about the roots and branches, obvious biblical allusions. Then by addressing the son of man directly and accusing him of not being able to account for these strayed roots in stony rubbish, Eliot creates a denigration of the Christ figure’s authority in the modernist world. By stating that there is no water coming (as was promised by God in Exodus) from the dry rocks and that the crickets are offering no solace, Eliot further emphasizes the empty promises of religion so often felt in his post World War I social landscape. Concluding his stanza by asking the Son of Man to come under the shadow of this rock and promising to show him something different than his “shadow” (religion) at different periods of Christian history, Eliot manages to eloquently deride Christianity as utterly useless and dead by claiming it is a handful of dust, useless yet still inspiring fear in so many unthinking peoples. After a satire on the concept of love, Eliot again moves into authorial commentary introducing Madame Sosostris as the technology for propagating his anti-Christian sentiment. The cards themselves carry some heavy connotation of Christian references. The Phoenician Sailor with pearls that were his eyes (Eliot lines 47-48), the one eyed merchant with something blank on his back (Eliot lines 52-53), the man with three staves, the lack of the Hanged Man (Eliot lines 51, 54-55), all can be interpreted as alluding to some Christian ideal. The Phoenician Sailor, or Fisher King, echoes a biblical passage in Matthew chapter four where Jesus asks Simon and Peter, the two brothers, to come and be “fishers of men” (Holy Bible, Matthew 4:18-19). An interjection needs to be made here in order to clarify how Christ fits into the Fisher King title given to him by Eliot. By asking Simon and Peter to come help in his ministry, Christ implies that he himself is also a fisher of men, which explains the “fisher” part of the Fisher King. The King part comes from the title given to Christ at the time of his crucifixion, “King of the Jews.” Furthering the Christ implications, Eliot makes the parenthetical comment that, “Those were pearls that were his eyes…,” alluding to the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Found in the Book of Matthew, this tale equates the value of the kingdom heaven to a pearl found by a merchant. The merchant saves all his money and purchases the pearl, which makes him wealthier than he was before (Holy Bible, Matt. 13:45-46). Here, by using the past tense verb “were”, the pearls are signified as being in a state of lost value. Hence, the kingdom of heaven spoken of in the parable is no more, at least in Eliot’s mind according to this passage of the poem.The one-eyed merchant carries something on his back, evoking images of the rood or cross which a servant carries for Christ to his crucifixion. Eliot calls this something blank, something the speaker is forbidden to see, ergo it is something not there which furthers the credibility of the interpretation in favor of the cards being significant ideals of Christianity in his time period, namely the lack of religion. This is complementary to the man with three staves. Staves, which are associated with the shepherd (yet another term for Christ), being spoken of in threes also lend themselves to being reminiscent of the holy trinity of Christianity. Again this is a synthesis of sorts on Eliot’s part, where he combines Christ’s being called the shepherd and imposes this shepherd-ness on the other two parts of the trinity. With the third image of Christ in collage, Eliot chooses the Hanged Man and represents him as not being present. Again, the portrait is one of absence in which religion is simply not present; that is, God’s grace cannot be seen when “One must be so careful these days” (Eliot line 59). Also to be noted is that the Hanged Man is given capital letters in his name. Obviously not a proper name, other occurrences in which a title is capitalized in the western tradition is when they refer to the Judeo-Christian God. This capitalization then also helps a reader identify that Eliot is talking about Christ when he speaks of the Hanged Man. So by degrading the pearls as now valueless and the Fisher King as drowned (thus dead), having the one-eyed merchant carry something blank and unseen on his back, and not representing the Hanged Man, Eliot creates a trinity defiling the Trinity. The following stanza includes some of Eliot’s satire against current social situations, then again launches into a critique on Christianity, this time referring to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Again using a person as the technology to segue into the next critique, Eliot here chooses St. Mary Woolnoth. St. Mary, who could be an alluded referent to Mary Magdalene, the woman tenant to Christ at the time of his crucifixion, “…kept the hours/ With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine” (Eliot lines 67-68). According to the Gospel of Luke, Christ died on the ninth hour (Holy Bible, Luke 23:44). Eliot follows this passage of the death of Christ, with one creatively critiquing the resurrection. “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” (Eliot lines 71-73)? This passage recounts the resurrection of a corpse, presumably that of Christ, and there is some parallelism to the earlier references of the cruelty of April and warmness of winter that Eliot produces by speaking of the frost. Implying winter’s apathy and lifelessness, Eliot crafts a unique metaphor that reads in prose terms: This reawakening of the spirit that spring brings with it, the reawakening of the religious attitudes is not something we (the current society) desire. Christ’s corpse is dead, his testament is dead, and this apathetic winter has set in indefinitely.“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men/ Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again” (Eliot lines 74-75). Speaking of the corpse in the garden, Eliot warns to keep the “Dog” away, the dog with nails. Here a paradox is created. If one takes the capitalization rule established earlier and applies it to Dog, then this also becomes a referent to God (hence Christ). After all Dog is simply God spelled backward. The use of the words nails, assuming that this Dog is a referent to the Christ, alludes to three wounds that Christ received while on the cross. Therefore, the paradox here is: Christ will resurrect Christ. It is through society’s winter that the corpse has not bloomed into the vine, the “roots that clutch.” For this section is called the “Burial of the Dead,” and as far as Eliot is concerned God is dead. One needs not let the Dog back into the garden and resurrect itself for the consequences are far too great: in a Waste Land, there exists no room for God. Works Cited”Alfred North Whitehead.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 30 Apr 2006, 08:40. 2 May 2006, 23:36