Waste Land Through The Lens Of Classicism English Literature Essay

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The Nobel prize winner of literature in 1948, Thomas Stearns Eliot captures the literary consciousness for more than one reason. As a modernist poet, Eliot categorically rejected the anthropocentric Romantic lamentations of the recent literary past. At the same time, he also transcended the angst-ridden, war-ravaged, chokingly fraught atmosphere of modernism to search for a substantial meaning amidst the fractured ruins of the existential ennui permeating the twentieth century. This paper aims to understand Eliot’s meaning-making process by exploring the various dimensions of The Waste Land, a 1922 creation. It tries to investigate how Eliot deploys Classicism as a tool to aid him in his endeavour. This paper, therefore, magnifies The Waste Land though the lens of Classicism. Classicism has been popularly defined as a tendency in art and literature that follows the ancient Greek and Roman principles. Though there have been minor departures from this identification of Classicism, as we shall see in case of Eliot’s The Waste Land, the broader characteristics of Classicism stand reverentially adhered to.

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The Augustans created mock epics and mock heroics, more often than not, imitating the classics. Also, they mocked the contemporary world of not being able to live up to the classical ideal, on the one hand, while on the other, they simultaneously repudiated those very ideals that could no longer be realized in the contemporary world. Eliot, however, priviledges the ‘mythical method’ over the ‘narrative methodology’ as James Joyce uses in the Ulysses. His aim at the creation of Tiresias is towards internalizing the classical precedents set up by Hamlet and others and making connections between these parallel personalities. The past, for Eliot, becomes a reservoir from where one can ‘extract’ the ‘essentially living’. In his parodic parallels, objective correlatives and conjuring up of imagist impressions – inverting the fecund Chaucerian April to ‘the cruelest month’, invoking the Shakespearian ‘burnished throne’, Spensarian nymphs – Eliot appears to ‘submit’ himself to the past ‘self-consciously’. It is pertinent to note here that Eliot announced that he was a “Classicist in literature, Royalist in politics and Anglo- Catholic in religion”. Thus, Eliot’s embracing of the Classicist tendencies is clearly a political choice than mere aestheticism. The clear demarcation of the past and the present and attempts to search for ‘pastness’ in the present is a cautiously chosen Conservative political position.

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The comprehensive way in which the contemporary world is portrayed in the lyrical music of The Waste Land has produced some critical opinions around the poem as an epic creation. Though this grand claim can be contested on various technical grounds, the epical paradigms of the poem surface in impressive proportions. If one considers ‘the wasteland’ of modern civilization as the metaphorical hero and read the poem in this light, one can negotiate with the deep rooted reach of the poem. Eliot’s The Waste Land qualifies the popularly conceived notions around Modernism and Classicism. The poet, critic and dramatist not only paid obeisance to the literary traditions he inherited across generations and space, but substantially modified the various borrowings according to the changed and changing demands of his contemporary reality. The poem contests the received canon, negotiates with each preceding and present precincts of the literary movements and tendencies. The qualified consolidated denouement of Eliot’s laboured endeavours culminated into a new idiom that edified as The Waste Land. It is this regenerated ‘sprout’ and ‘bloom’ of poetry on the corpse of ‘the waste land’ that makes this work a ‘Modernist Classic.’ .

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