T.S. Eliot\'s "The Wasteland"

Module three

Q5 "Much of what Eliot writes about is harsh and bleak, but he writes about it in a way that is often beautiful". Comment fully on both parts of this assertion.

Most first time readers of Eliot\'s work would, probably, agree that his poems read as bleak and depressing. They would also say that many of his poems portray society as having a terminal illness, but when we look deeper you can see that amid the anguish not all is lost and there is hope to be found among the ruins. "The Wasteland", is an amalgamation of fragmented images that are disturbing and, yet, at times beautifully poetic. The juxtaposition of the ugly landscape and the lyricism with which it is conveyed lend the poem an authenticity and originality. \'In this decayed hole among the mountains In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing…\' The very fact that decay can be seen bathed in romantic moonlight and serenaded by singing grass reinforces the fact that out of something so desolate, something good can be seen or created. The narrator, though despondent with the degeneration of society, seems to have a genuine belief that there is good inside all men and if they could create as much as they destroyed the world could be a better place and not the barren wasteland that is before us now. This, I believe, is why he chooses to convey the desolation in this lyrical fashion. The fragmentary form of the poem reflects the fragmentary nature of man. Eliot has achieved this affect by applying various techniques. One example of this is how he uses time as a way of looking at the past, mixing modernity with the historic. In most cases the result is a mixture of regret with a strong desire to return to the past. At first glance this makes the poem appear to have no structure at all, but on further analysis you can clearly see the connection of one image juxtaposed with another. This reinforces Eliot\'s claim that, \'Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood\'. The theme\'s that run throughout \'The Wasteland\', such as sterility, isolation and death, are applicable to both the landscapes and the characters. When drawn together, it is these themes that give the poem structure and strength, and the use of myth mingled with historic, anthropological, religious and metaphysical images reinforce its universal quality.

In part one \'The Burial of the dead\', Eliot opens with a scene of isolation and desolation. [1]\'April is the cruellest month…\'which is an inversion of what spring represents, this being new life and hope. It is seen here as cruel because, for Marie, it stirs memories, which are no longer there and have led nowhere. He follows this image of isolation with an image of togetherness, \'Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow…\' She recalls being free in the mountains, but freedom involves taking risks and she hesitates and goes \'south in the winter\'. [2]Marie\'s memories portray the shallowness of the aristocracy and in many ways we are reminded of the ladies in Prufrock who [3]\'come and go talking of Michael Angelo\'. There talking leads nowhere and so by implication their lives are meaningless and dead, as dead as the wasteland.

The next stanza shifts to images of the dead land with clutching branches and roots. We can see from this the futile struggle, but it also shows us that there is still a possibility of life. This is also true of mans chance to communicate, which is reinforced by the shift back to Marie\'s memories, which are more melancholy in tone with talk of hyacinths and wet hair. We also have an injection of German lyric, which highlights the romantic nature of the memories. We can see from Marie\'s recollections of the rainy afternoon spent with her lover, that there was a chance of something meaningful developing between two people. Sadly, the words \'I could not speak, and my eyes failed\'… show that the moment came to nothing and the \'heart of light\', was cruelly extinguished.

From the bittersweet memories and dead landscape we are then introduced to the mystic [4]Madame Sosostris, who offers the chance of foresight into the future. Although,