The Waste Land T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot • Born in St. Louis in 1888 • Moved to London just before WWI; eventually became a British subject • New Criticism • Scholar (languages, philosophy) • Married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915, but the marriage was not a success • Neurotic • 1917-1925: worked at Lloyds Bank in London • Nobel Prize
“The Waste Land” • first published in 1922 • The manuscript was heavily edited by Ezra Pound: original drafts contained twice as much text as in the published version • “il miglior fabbro” • Hailed as the most important Modernist poem; still highly influential • Always consider the poem in the context of post-War Europe
“The Waste Land” Themes • Sweet As! • Post WWI-Europe: • fragmented, destroyed • Sexuality • frustration, repression • Globalization • Technological advancements, communication • Multiple voices • Comments on the problems of modern society • “Turning and turning in the widening gyre” • Lacks spirituality, lacks community
Repeated Symbols, Motifs, and Keywords • Complex imagery; multiple voices; myriad allusions • Earth, air, fire, water • Death; Something being lost or destroyed • The future and prophecy
The Epigraph • The Sibyl • Deiphobe, the Sibyl of Cumae was an oracle. She was granted long life by Apollo, as many years as grains of sand she held in her hand, but she had forgotten to ask to retain her youth. With her aging she withered away and she was suspended in a bottle in the temple of Hercules at Cumae (near Naples). • The Aeneid • In Virgil's Aeneid the hero, Aeneas, meets the Sibyl and uses her as a guide in a trip to the underworld to meet the shade of his dead father. In Virgil's account he was previously told how the Sibyl wrote Apollo's oracles on leaves which the wind could scatter. The Sibyl gave no help in reconstituting the oracle. Thus, just as in The Waste Land, assembling the fragments to mean something has the work of the reader. Aeneas, not wanting to have to piece together Apollo's oracle, asked the Sibyl to tell it to him orally. • Tone of desperation; inevitable suffering • Acknowledgement to Pound
Part 1: The Burial of the Dead (1) • First Stanza – Meditation on weather Story of Marie • Ironic imagery of nature • Who is Marie? Possibly a symbol, but also: • Marie, the historical figure, Marie Louise Larisch Von Moennich, a participant in an imperial scandal still not forgotten in 1920s. Eliot might have mentioned the Archduke here to bring to mind the sterile sex of the Mayerling affair. • Marie, the woman. This is the middle-aged hausfrau that might never have been a Countess. This is the woman who went sledding with a boy in her youth but now travels south for the winter. It is she who had a conversation with a young American poet and MAY have told him of escaping from her husband by staying at her house on the lake in the mountains. This MAY have caused the older poet to think of being free from his own wife while at another lake in the mountains (Eliot wrote part of "The Waste Land" while undergoing psychiatric treatment at Lausanne, Switzerland near Lake Leman, also known as lake Geneva).
Part 1: The Burial of the Dead (2) • Second Stanza – • Biblical references – Isaiah, Son of Man; shadow imagery – sanctuary, hiding place, darkness • Tristan and Isolde Opera – nostalgia; parallel between longing for woman and for lost community and culture • The Hyacinth memory – lamentation, ecstasy, more sadness (“desolate and empty the sea”); narrator’s inability to respond to her
Part 1: The Burial of the Dead (3) • Third Stanza – Madame Sosostris and the Tarot Cards • Two of Wands which, like the Three of Wands in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, shows a merchant or a wealthy man looking out to sea. The tarot deck consists of 78 cards, 22 constitute the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana has four suits of 14 cards each. One suit is known as either rods, wands or staves. The Minor Arcana was only first fully illustrated in 1910 in the Rider-WaiteTarot Deck partly named for A.E. Waite who wrote "The Pictorial Key to the Tarot" (1910).
Part 1: The Burial of the Dead (4) • Third Stanza (continued) – • Pearls/Eyes – The Tempest, Riches • Rocks and Stones – rubble, waste, collapsed civilization; Also a reference to the structure of the poem • Fourth Stanza – ends with address to reader • The City - London’s financial district • Death/burial/garden imagery – flow of souls to hell • Who’s Stetson? Is he a double of Eliot? • Dog imagery – Sirius, • The Battle of Mylae in 260 B.C. – Romans and Carthaginians; - the secret weapon
Part 2: A Game of Chess (1) • Importance of Chess – game, war-like, elegant, boring • First Stanza – description of a lavish scene; candles, marble, fireplace, pictures; • The myth of Philomel – sounds of nightingale; sexual references (brutality behind luxury) • The Conversation – what is the tone of it? • Shakesperian Rag – ragtime tune • Lil’s conversation in a bar – her friendship and Albert’s arrival; abortion, adultery, alcohol, bad teeth, and lust • Last call – the impending coming of death
Part 2: A Game of Chess (2) • Albert in the Army 4 years – what war? • How does this section characterize post-WW2 romance? How might it suggest causes of this dissolution?
Part 3: The Fire Sermon (1) • First Stanza - Lamentation about the River Thames • Second Stanza – rats, bones, infested water; The Fisher King; Mrs. Porter, madam in a brothel, singing a song • More sounds of a nightingale • Third Stanza – the city – Mr. Eugenides; invitation to a homosexual liaison • Fourth Stanza – Tiresias, the seer (tells Oedipus of his mistake, maintains reason in Hades) • visions of a typist, a clerk (the young man carbuncular – i.e. pimply) – to line 256 • Fifth Stanza – The travel of the music – thoughtless chatter of fishmen, lavish church
Part 3: The Fire Sermon (2) • Sixth Stanza – poetic description of river; wailing song (from Wagner’s operas) – relates to relinquishing of love and death of gods • 7th Stanza – more description of river; Elizabeth and Earl of Leicester; wailing • Thames Daughters – Highbury, Moorgate, and Margate Sands – lament about the beauty of the river being gone; their sexual abuses • Burning and Fire – 2 Sermons; Buddha’s charge to disciples to avoid the consuming fires of human passions; Bleak spiritual existence
Part 4: Death By Water • Phlebas, the sailor, reappears • Choice between resurrection or death • Does Eliot believe that people can change or that they are doomed to experience profit and loss because of their greedy ways?
Part 5: What the Thunder Said (1) • First Stanza – Christ in the Garden of Gesthemane • Second Stanza – the water-dripping song of the hermit-thrush; longing for water, rejuvenation • Third Stanza – third person walking beside two people • Fourth Stanza – starts 366 – unreal cities high above the mountains, collapsing • Fifth Stanza – dark imagery; Dracula (or Hell) • Sixth Stanza – Chapel, rooster, St. Peter and 3x denial
Part 5: What the Thunder Said (2) • 7th Stanza – thunder speaking in the Himalayas – speaks 3 times – Give, Sympathize, Control; images of sailors, prison, tests of man • Final Stanza – • The Fisher King – hoping rain comes • Dante’s Purgatory – purifying through fire (and succumbing to the fire all the same) • “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” – meaning of “shored” • Shantih, Shantih, Shantih – sanskrit, peace that passeth all understanding
Final thoughts on “The Waste Land” (1) Why is the modern world a waste land? • The Loss of God • No resurrection • The corpse that doesn’t sprout • “He who was living is now dead” (V, 328-332) • The Failure of Love • Numerous examples
Final thoughts on “The Waste Land” (2) • The form of the poem reflects and reproduces the sense of modernity as chaos, through its: • ruptures and disjunctions, • juxtapositions of past greatness & modern squalor • the "litter" of allusions, high art, pop songs, religious music & din of city streets, etc…