'The Waste Land' by Thomas Stearns Eliot
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"Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo."
I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
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, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(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;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
"You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
"They called me the hyacinth girl."
––Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed' und leer das Meer.
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying "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?
"Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
"Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
"You! hypocrite lecteur! - mon semblable, - mon frere!"
II. A GAME OF CHESS
The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid - troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carved dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
"Jug Jug" to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.
"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."
I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
"What is that noise?"
The wind under the door.
"What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?"
Nothing again nothing.
"You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
"Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?"
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag -
It's so elegant
"What shall I do now? What shall I do?"
I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
"With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?
"What shall we ever do?"
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
When Lil's husband got demobbed, I said -
I didn't mince my words, I said to her myself,
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He'll want to know what you done with that 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 bear to look at you.
And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He's been in the army 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
If you don't like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can't.
But if Albert makes off, it won't be for lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She's had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be alright, but I've never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won't leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don't want children?
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot -
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
III. THE FIRE SERMON
The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
And on the king my father's death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.
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.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole!
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest -
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which 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.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .
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."
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.
"This music crept by me upon the waters"
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.
The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Elizabeth and Leicester
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
"Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe."
"My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised 'a new start'.
I made no comment. What should I resent?"
"On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest
IV. DEATH BY WATER
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
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.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
V. WHAT THE THUNDER SAID
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
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
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?
What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
Dayadhvam: 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, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon - O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Waste Land: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry
Thomas Stearns Eliot's "The Waste Land" is often regarded as one of the greatest poems of the 20th century, and for good reason. Its complex structure, vivid imagery, and haunting themes have captivated readers for nearly a century since its publication in 1922. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the various aspects of this masterpiece of modernist poetry, from its historical context to its literary influences, from its fragmented narrative to its enigmatic symbolism, and from its bleak outlook to its hopeful message.
To understand "The Waste Land," it is important to consider the historical context in which it was written. Eliot composed the poem in the aftermath of World War I, a time of great disillusionment and despair in Europe. The war had shattered the illusions of progress and civilization, and had exposed the brutal realities of modern warfare and industrialization. The old world order had crumbled, and a new one had yet to emerge. This sense of cultural and spiritual crisis is reflected in the poem's fragmented and disjointed narrative, its allusions to myth and legend, and its bleak depiction of a world devoid of meaning and purpose.
Moreover, Eliot was also influenced by the intellectual and artistic movements of his time, such as modernism, surrealism, and imagism. These movements rejected traditional forms and conventions, and sought to create new modes of expression that reflected the fragmentation and complexity of modern life. "The Waste Land" is a prime example of this modernist sensibility, with its nonlinear structure, multiple voices, and collage-like imagery.
Eliot was also influenced by a wide range of literary and cultural sources, from ancient myths and legends to contemporary literature and philosophy. The poem's title, for instance, alludes to the Fisher King, a figure from Arthurian legend who presides over a wasteland, and whose wound reflects the spiritual malaise of his kingdom. The poem also draws on the works of Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and other literary giants, as well as on the mythologies of ancient Greece and Egypt.
At the same time, "The Waste Land" also reflects the literary and artistic movements of its time, such as the stream-of-consciousness technique of James Joyce's "Ulysses," the fragmentation of narrative in Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse," and the use of collage and allusion in the paintings of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Eliot's poem can thus be seen as a synthesis of various literary and artistic traditions, as well as a reflection of the cultural and intellectual currents of his time.
The Fragmented Narrative
One of the most striking features of "The Waste Land" is its fragmented and nonlinear narrative. The poem consists of five sections, each with its own title and distinct voice, and each containing a series of images, allusions, and fragments of dialogue. The poem's opening lines, for instance, juxtapose a series of disparate images, from the "dead land" to the "cactus land," creating a sense of disorientation and confusion:
"April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers."
The poem then shifts to an urban landscape, where the narrator encounters a series of characters, from the "typist home at teatime" to the "young man carbuncular," each of whom embodies a different aspect of modern life. The poem also contains a series of allusions to classical mythology, such as the story of Tiresias, the blind prophet who sees both the male and female perspectives, and the story of Philomela, the victim of rape who is transformed into a nightingale. These allusions serve to deepen the poem's themes of disillusionment and spiritual decay, as they suggest that the problems of modern life are rooted in ancient myths and archetypes.
The Enigmatic Symbolism
Another key feature of "The Waste Land" is its enigmatic and multi-layered symbolism. The poem is replete with images and symbols that defy easy interpretation, such as the "heap of broken images" that represents the fragmentation of modern life, or the "red rock" that suggests both the aridity of modern culture and the passion of human desire. The poem also contains a series of recurring motifs, such as water, fire, and decay, which serve to unify the disparate sections of the poem and create a sense of coherence.
At the same time, the poem's symbolism is highly ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. For instance, the image of the "unreal city" can be seen as a critique of modern urban life, as well as a reference to Dante's "Inferno," while the figure of the "Hyacinth girl" can be read as a symbol of lost innocence and purity, or as a representation of the destructive power of desire. Eliot's use of symbolism thus adds to the poem's complexity and richness, as well as its sense of mystery and intrigue.
The Bleak Outlook
Despite its complexity and richness, "The Waste Land" is also a deeply pessimistic poem, with its portrayal of a world devoid of meaning and purpose. The poem is full of images of death, decay, and spiritual emptiness, from the "dead land" to the "heap of broken images," and from the "drowned Phoenician sailor" to the "fear in a handful of dust." The poem suggests that the modern world is a wasteland, devoid of life and vitality, and that human beings are trapped in a cycle of despair and futility.
At the same time, however, the poem also contains a glimmer of hope, in its final section, "What the Thunder Said." Here, the speaker suggests that the only way out of the wasteland is through a spiritual rebirth, a willingness to confront the darkness and to seek redemption. The poem's final lines, which evoke the image of the "new Jerusalem," suggest that there is a possibility of renewal and regeneration, even in the midst of the desolation.
In conclusion, "The Waste Land" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry, a complex and multi-layered work that reflects the cultural and intellectual currents of its time, as well as the personal and spiritual struggles of its author. Through its fragmented narrative, enigmatic symbolism, and bleak outlook, the poem captures the sense of disorientation and despair that characterized the aftermath of World War I, as well as the broader cultural and spiritual crisis of the modern age. Yet despite its pessimistic tone, the poem also contains a glimmer of hope, suggesting that even in the midst of the wasteland, there is the possibility of renewal and regeneration. As such, "The Waste Land" remains a timeless work of art, a testament to the power of poetry to capture the complexity and richness of human experience, and to offer a vision of hope in the face of darkness.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The Waste Land: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry
Thomas Stearns Eliot’s The Waste Land is a landmark work of modernist poetry that has captivated readers for nearly a century. First published in 1922, the poem is a complex and multi-layered exploration of the disillusionment and despair that characterized the post-World War I era. Eliot’s use of fragmented imagery, allusions to classical literature, and a range of voices and perspectives make The Waste Land a challenging but rewarding read. In this article, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary techniques that make The Waste Land a masterpiece of modernist poetry.
At its core, The Waste Land is a meditation on the spiritual and cultural emptiness of the modern world. Eliot’s poem is a response to the devastation of World War I, which shattered the illusions of progress and enlightenment that had characterized the pre-war era. The poem is filled with images of decay, death, and desolation, reflecting the sense of disillusionment and despair that many felt in the aftermath of the war.
One of the central themes of The Waste Land is the breakdown of communication and connection between individuals and between cultures. Eliot’s use of multiple voices and perspectives, as well as his incorporation of a range of literary and cultural references, highlights the fragmentation and disunity of the modern world. The poem is filled with characters who are isolated and disconnected from one another, unable to communicate or find meaning in their lives.
Another important theme in The Waste Land is the search for spiritual renewal and redemption. Eliot draws on a range of religious and mythological traditions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and the Grail legend, to explore the possibility of transcendence and salvation in a world that seems devoid of meaning. The poem’s final section, “What the Thunder Said,” offers a vision of rebirth and renewal, suggesting that there may be hope for the future even in the midst of the waste land.
The Waste Land is a highly structured poem that is divided into five sections, each with its own distinct voice and perspective. The first section, “The Burial of the Dead,” sets the tone for the rest of the poem, introducing the themes of death and decay that will recur throughout. The second section, “A Game of Chess,” explores the breakdown of communication and connection between individuals, using the metaphor of a chess game to highlight the power struggles and misunderstandings that characterize human relationships.
The third section, “The Fire Sermon,” is perhaps the most sexually explicit and disturbing part of the poem, depicting a world in which sex has become a meaningless and destructive force. The fourth section, “Death by Water,” is a brief interlude that offers a moment of reflection and contemplation before the final section, “What the Thunder Said,” which offers a vision of spiritual renewal and redemption.
One of the most striking features of The Waste Land is Eliot’s use of fragmented imagery and disjointed narrative. The poem is filled with abrupt shifts in tone, perspective, and imagery, reflecting the disorienting and fragmented nature of modern life. Eliot’s use of allusions to classical literature and mythology, as well as his incorporation of a range of languages and cultural references, adds to the complexity and richness of the poem.
Another important literary technique in The Waste Land is Eliot’s use of multiple voices and perspectives. The poem is filled with characters who speak in different voices and from different perspectives, highlighting the fragmentation and disunity of the modern world. Eliot’s use of free verse and unconventional syntax also adds to the sense of disorientation and fragmentation, creating a sense of unease and uncertainty that mirrors the themes of the poem.
In conclusion, The Waste Land is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that continues to captivate readers nearly a century after its publication. Eliot’s exploration of the spiritual and cultural emptiness of the modern world, his use of fragmented imagery and multiple voices, and his incorporation of a range of literary and cultural references make The Waste Land a challenging but rewarding read. The poem’s themes of disillusionment, despair, and the search for spiritual renewal and redemption continue to resonate with readers today, making The Waste Land a timeless work of art.
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