Ts Eliot’s Key to The Wasteland Essay

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There is no question that fragmentation is an important motif throughout The Wasteland. The entire poem is an odorous potpourri of dialogue, images, scholarly ideas, foreign words, formal styles, and tones. The reader’s journey through this proverbial wasteland is a trying one, to say the least. Unless one is endowed with a depthless wealth of literary knowledge, Eliot’s cornucopia of allusions and overzealous use of juxtaposition may leave them in a state of utter confusion. Luckily, there is hope for the wearied reader. At the close of his poem, Eliot presents his readers with a small offering: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”. This line, presented in the midst of seemingly nonsensical fragments, serves as a clue to Eliot’s intentions. Indeed, it is my belief that this line is the ultimate declaration of Eliot’s poetic project.

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After the first few stanzas of the poem, readers are bound to feel jolted and somewhat overwhelmed by Eliot’s avant-garde poetic approach. Indeed, while reading The Wasteland, I myself am oftentimes overcome with the burning desire to scream heavenwards, “What on earth is going on here? ” When I’m not grappling with incomprehensible German words, my mind is being twisted with oxymoronic, juxtaposed imagery. Fertility is tangling with death, tulips spring from dead earth, and winter is presented as a source of warmth—none of these images make any sense at all! To further the confusion, there seems to be a considerable lack of clarity throughout these opening lines. Despite my careful analysis, I am unable to draw a clear conclusion as to who is speaking and how many speakers are present! Not even twenty lines into the poem, and my psyche feels considerably damaged. However, I believe this—this damaged, broken feeling— is exactly what Eliot intended his readers to feel. Eliot takes his readers on a journey through the decay of the twentieth century.

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Line 428 mashes words from the ancient poem Pervigilium Veneris with the lines from nineteenth century Tennyson! So then, what is the point of this juxtaposition? It is my belief that Eliot was attempting to integrate the canon into contemporary poetry. He very careful inserted the most essential bits of the past into his modernist poem in an attempt at enlightening readers. The end result is a poetic collage thatserves as both a reinterpretation of canonical texts and a historical context for his examination of society and humanity. William Carlos Williams referred to The Wasteland as “the great catastrophe”. While I find it grim and depressing, I do not believe that it is entirely devoid of hope. In fact, I read the line “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” as a consolation of sorts.

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