Influences Of Romanticism On The Waste Land English Literature Essay

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Eliot is certainly one of the foremost authors in the Modernist movement. His writing is often considered to fit neatly within the category of Modernism, leaving very little room for variation. Unlike many modernists, however, Eliot’s poetry is richly influenced by the romantic tradition. In his masterpiece, The Waste Land, Eliot uses the tradition of romanticism to illustrate the scale of his poem. In addition, his choice of mythic imagery and references to the epic Arthurian romances, as well as a series of common narrators, shows a Modernist perspective on the romantic conflict with society. The techniques Eliot uses to craft The Waste Land, from his rich use of medieval and religious symbolism, to his use of the single tragic figure Tiresias to unite the poem, connects the rich modernism of the poem to the grand scale of romanticism from which it sprung. The connection to romanticism’s symbolism may be apparent, but the bleak tone of The Waste Land discourages any comparison of its theme to the confident individualism that so inspired the romantic period. While it is true that The Waste Land describes a culture that is morally and spiritually bankrupt, it is a mistake to equate Eliot’s society of despair with the concept of complete pessimism.

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“Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a “character”, is . yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoeni- . cian Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince . of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet . What Tiresias sees, in fact is the substance of the poem.” (Leavis 91) . Within the context of The Waste Land, Tiresias serves as both the motivation, and the primary narrative voice. Much like Walt Whitman in Song of Myself, Tiresias is both the beginning and the ending point of the narrative. The myth of Tiresias includes his being transformed from man to woman, and back again, as well as being one of the great prophets of the Greek mythos.

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Despite the unquestioned influence of The Waste Land, few poems have inspired as much controversy. Throughout his Modernist masterpiece Eliot sparks controversy and questions, but, like the romantics before him, he maintains the possibility than an individual can break free from the inevitable degradation of society. Through his brilliant use of religious and mythological symbolism, Eliot shows how even the most modern are inseparable from the influence of the past. In his description of a fallen society he shows a modernist’s take on the romantic’s hope of an individual’s redemption from a broken society. Finally, in the uniting character of Tiresias he exemplifies the wisdom of the individual. The Waste Land is perhaps the single most powerful Modernist poem, but even it is undeniably shaped by the concepts and styles of romanticism. Eliot’s handful of dust has certainly blinded the eyes of many, and while the mastery of his art is unquestionable, virtually everything else is. One thing is completely certain, and that is, to quote the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett: “The dust will not settle in our time.” .

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