The Waste Land – T.S.

Eliot
Like many modernist writers, Eliot wanted his poetry to express the fragile psychological state of humanity in the twentieth century. The passing of Victorian ideals and the trauma of World War I challenged cultural notions of masculine identity, causing artists to question the romantic literary ideal of a visionary-poet capable of changing the world through verse. Eliot saw society as paralyzed and wounded, and he imagined that culture was crumbling and dissolving. The Waste Land juxtaposes fragments of various elements of literary and mythic traditions with scenes and sounds from modern life. The effect of this poetic collage is both a reinterpretation of canonical texts and a historical context for his examination of society and humanity. In his notes to The Waste Land, Eliot explains the crucial role played by religious symbols and myths. Earth It is obvious that images of earth should play a crucial role in The Waste Land. The poem shows us a time of infertility, the season when the redeeming powers have vanished. From the “dead land” of the opening through the “arid plain” of the closing, we are made to cross the stretches of “cracked earth” and the dryness of deserts and mountains. All are images of impotence: the impotence both of nature and of man. Round these images there gathers a web of cultural references, references to the vegetation myths of antiquity and the analogous legends of the blighted realm of the Fisher King (the legends say that the Fisher King was ill and sexually impotent, and his kingdom rendered barren and sterile). Water In Eliot’s poetry, water symbolizes both life and death. Eliot’s characters wait for water to quench their thirst, watch rivers overflow their banks, cry for rain to quench the dry earth, and pass by fetid pools of standing water. Although water has the regenerative possibility of restoring life and fertility, it can also lead to drowning and death, as in the case of Phlebas the sailor from The Waste Land. Traditionally: water cleanses, water provides solace, and water brings relief elsewhere in The Waste Land. The Fisher King The Fisher King is the central character in The Waste Land. Traditionally, the impotence or death of the Fisher King brought unhappiness and famine. Eliot saw the Fisher King as symbolic of humanity, robbed of its sexual potency in the modern world and connected to the meaninglessness of urban existence. Fish Comparable to this unnatural representation of the real world is the “carved dolphin” on the mantelpiece in the woman’s boudoir. Fish, as we know, are ancient symbols of fertility, but here

They are associated with the poem’s main concerns: sexuality and the spiritual life. opera. . and Australian troops.they are only an ironic reminder of potency. Eliot blended high culture with low culture by juxtaposing lyrics from an opera by Richard Wagner with songs from pubs. Birds Birds – and in particular their song – provide another series of images from the natural world. Music and Singing Like most modernist writers. Eliot was interested in the divide between high and low culture. including art. that adds to the visual and polyphonic effect of our symphony poem. American ragtime. which he symbolized using music. and drama. was in decline while popular culture was on the rise. And they also relate to the imagery of the Fisher King of the Grail Legends. He believed that high culture. In The Waste Land.

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