1 RANDY ABLACK #00020156 The Moderns Mr. C. Dial 10. 03.

09 Assignment #1 Discuss Eliot’s portrayal of the absence of communication and love in ‘The Wasteland’ as a major element in his vision of an emotionally and physically sterile landscape.

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” (Hamlet and his Problems, T.S. Eliot)

The epigraph that prefaces ‘The Waste Land’ where the ancient Cumaean Sibyl begs for death, serves to symbolically present the essence of Eliot’s vision of a post- World War 1 Europe. The agony of a pyrrhic victory from which the victor must soldier on indefinitely also parallels the failure of Eliot’s marriage at the time of writing. Both are linked to an absence of communication and a lack of love. In the case of the Sibyl, it manifests in the unending

sterility of old age, resulting from a misunderstanding of the true nature of a wish fulfilled. In the case of Eliot, it cumulates in the emotional fragmentation of a nervous breakdown. It is therefore not surprising that the multiplicity of voices echoing throughout the poem is consistent, in form, with that of a mind close to madness. Eliot uses these voices and their relationships as “objective correlatives” to structure his impression of an ailing landscape, when the poem is taken as a whole and placed in

2 context (i.e. viewed objectively). This technique is further evident in the alternative choice of epigraph and title (“The horror! The horror! ”-Heart of Darkness; and “He Do the Police in Different Voices”), which are emotionally consistent with the final titles chosen. The poem continues as a progression of blighted pastoral images alternating with unrequited utterances and unfulfilling actions. The fashion of the poem, as a kind of schizophrenic monologue, is initially set from the very first section. The switching of voices (that do not actually speak to each other), the multi-lingual interjections coupled with the absence of punctuating markers, all seem to conspire to place the reader into a state of miscommunication. This is actually what is being communicated. The landscape of the living dead and the dead living, mixed, is the action of “The Burial of the Dead”. The spirits speak unclearly to Europe’s wisest woman. Spring brings no renewal, no reproduction and no romance, only a brown confusing fog. Wagner’s tragic opera prefaces a memory of unreciprocated love by the hyacinth girl. Meanwhile, the monotony of the then familiar crowd, covers London Bridge in a cold uncommunicative flurry of activity. Even the voice of God (?) challenges the ‘Son of Man’ to emerge from under the red rock of the Unreal (false) City, to confront this dust (death). There exists naught but a passing familiarity and uneasy anxiety among the inhabitants of the snowy / rocky landscape. It kills intimacy. It denies love. So, “Why do you never speak?”…When a marriage is bereft of love, the very actions that are listed as expressions of affection take on an entirely different tenor. A man watching his wife brush her hair in front of a mirror transforms into a mocking façade. Every detail but her beauty is listed. And every last beautiful detail twinkles

3 meaninglessly. …Then, “What shall we ever do?” Here calculation replaces passion and time becomes a waiting game. Such is the confessional of Part Two: “Ä Game of Chess”. It is the rape of romance. Eliot now hears a bird calling her mate, as an eternal announcement of violation. He hears a soldier coming in cuckold from the war. The killing field levels into that of a chessboard where partners are adversaries, who stare across an ornate eternity, hoping for death to break the silence. There are no winners in this battle, for love has become war and lovers, mere allies. What is clear is that time is no friend to these faux strategists; it shouts to them the urgency of change (“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME”). Yet every attempt to abort their infertile existential ennui ends in: “Nothing again nothing.” Eliot is yet to impose insight or understanding upon the landscape. The third section of the poem, “The Fire Sermon”, identifies what was once the source of regeneration of the land, as being polluted. It is also the confluence of Eliot’s various religious allusions: from ancient fertility rituals to St. Augustine’s ‘plucking’ deliverance. The title itself refers to the Buddha’s assertion that pure burning lust, greed and attachment causes a corruption of the Real. The Arthurian legend and the myth of the Fisher King also feature prominently, to suggest sickness on the sands. The riverbank is haunted by the ghosts of empty sexual liaisons, such as Sweeny’s (the sensual man’s) threesome with Mrs. Porter and her daughter; an uninterruptible typist and her carbuncular clerk; and even Queen Elizabeth’s trysts with The Earl of Leicester, her reputed lover. None of these unions are shown to produce continuity. Instead, the blind voyeur Tiresias (made so by Juno, due to his underestimation of the intensity of a woman’s sexual pleasure) stands in impotent assessment. Love has left the river Thames;

4 it is gone with the nymphs. What remains, is activity, industrialization and alienation as Eliot digs deeper in Margate Sands, for deliverance. At long last, he can finally connect “Nothing with nothing” and so constructs “The Waste Land” (Oct. 1921). Eliot has unearthed the Rhine-maiden’s treasure (the stuff of legends: i.e. From Ritual to Romance; 1920). He discovers the archetypical figures common to all elemental religions which also persist in the parables of Christianity. These metaphors concerning death and recycle of the seasons, and the symbolism of water as a source of physical and psychological renewal (baptism), feature equally in most early cultures. It is equality in death that is the central theme of “Death by Water”. The Waste Land, being a self-referent poem, still continues with an image of refuse in this section. In this instance, it reveals the decomposing body of an ancient trader. The landscape is under water. Greed has laid the Phoenician low; like Europe, he has gone overboard and the very element that once sustained his wealth, now sterilizes him. Eliot communicates by counter-example: we are all made equal under the water; rich or poor (profit and loss), young or old (age and youth), lucky or unlucky (rose and fell), Gentile or Jew, handsome or tall. The forgotten fertility cult is an uncomfortable reminder that, the individual will die as the species continue. The archetype of Immortality has stymied the warring Christian nations: the lust for everlasting life also, is greed. God must die for love to be made flesh and blood. Mercifully, the deity is sacrificed somewhere between Sections Four and Five. As Eliot concludes his ritual with “What the Thunder Said”, we witness a crowd of followers milling about confusedly in a devastated landscape. They could almost be communists. The idea that it is the responsibility of an all-powerful authority figure to

5 heal the land has been dismembered. The solution now lies in the individual effort of each and every ordinary man. King Eliot ends the ceremony by asserting, in three loud thundering claps, that the cure for (t)his insanity, is indeed charity, control and compassion. The solution is therefore a proclamation of this Upanishad (blessing from The Master) throughout the land. Ironically the advice is easier given than followed. Not only did it prove an ineffectual repair of Eliot’s own marriage but soon enough, Europe was embroiled in the most devastating conflict ever to afflict the entire planet (World War II). Tragically, his vision of an absence of communication and love had become increasingly accurate.

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