The wast land (1922)
So what does T.S. Eliot do in those tremendously critical years between 1919 and 1922? The already well known American poet, no longer a young man, had already immigrated to Europe – first to Paris, then to London – and had emerged from the painful experience of World War I. As had happened to many intellectuals and men of letters, he had witnessed the ruins in the bombarded cities, the battlefields reduced to the devastation of the land, both soldiers and common people disrupted, their limbs mutilated as well as their souls annihilated. The experience of war had profoundly modified T.S. Eliot’s way of thinking so as to sharpen his sight of the present time. With a new awareness, he started observing more acutely the whole miserable condition of man in the industrial city, a lonely one dispersed in the crowd, which is senseless and even hostile to individuals.
On the other hand, the modern man no longer perceives or has even given up being dependent on a God Maker, and finally gets lost in an unreal city, more like a hell instead of a home for him.
It must be remembered that, although he did not engage in war neither as a soldier nor an officer, Eliot’s sensitivity and perception of suffering was extremely acute. One certain reason for this was his wide and intense vocation to humanities, since his childhood (imbued with narratives of adventures), as he was naturally disposed to and keen on languages, philosophy and letters, which he particularly developed at Harvard. There in 1908 he could read the French symbolist poets Laforgue, Rimbaud, Verlaine. Not to speak of other fundamental readings such as The Golden Bough. A Study in Magic and Religion, 1915 (1890), by James G. Fraser, and Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (1919), or Pound’s Spirit of Romance, 1910, particularly the central chapter completely devoted to Dante, the so called “Maestro”.
Another non secondary reason for T.S. Eliot’s sensitive mind was the sad experience of his marriage with Vivienne Haigh-Wood. The marriage was markedly unhappy, in part because of Vivienne's health issues. As time went on, he became increasingly more detached from her. In a private paper written in his sixties, Eliot confessed:
“I came to persuade myself that I was in love with Vivienne simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of [Ezra] Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land.”
This poem was written while Eliot was spending a period of holiday in Switzerland to recover from a nervous breakdown, occurred between December 1921 and January 1922. Eliot sent a copy of the manuscript to Ezra Pound, who heavily intervened on it, cutting off at least half of the number of lines.
DEDICATION to Erza Pound ‘Il miglior fabbro’, which means “the best craftsman” - Here Eliot is quoting Dante's Purgatory where Dante defines Arnaut Daniel the best poet in Provence. It is also a real acknowledgement, a real a recognition for his work on the Waste Land (Ezra Pound revised and cut off many lines from the original poem)
The title echoes a passage of Dante's Inferno where he describes Crete, the land which hosted the Golden Age but which is by now ruined. Dante says that, according to the legend, in this “paese guasto” (XIV,94) rises the huge mountain where Jupiter was brought up. It is also taken form “terre guaste”.
The myth of the golden age is juxtaposed to the wasted situation of the present, which is also present in Eliot’s poem. He also emphasises it by giving the word “waste” a stronger meaning than in Dante, which is ‘full of rubbish and rocks”. It is no longer the land of the golden age but it's also a heap of broken images.
Incommunicability, idea of disorder, mess, ugly.
It is quite a fragmentary poem because it is a sequence of different situations-obscure allusions- hallucinations- images apparently unconnected and open to various interpretations, so the poem apparently escapes order and unity. A further way in which Eliot helps the reader to see an order in the poem is through the use of myth. In particular Eliot uses a myth as a framework for his own poem: the legend of the Fisher King, (Jessie Weston’s book on the Holy Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance 1920). There is a human figure, a mute narrator, a seeker who takes various forms (Tiresias) and who wanders through a modern city (London, symbol of all the modern cities), an unreal city which becomes the Waste Land. He does not go on the journey, the quest only for himself. He is not looking for salvation or hope in general, his roaming aims at saving whatever can be saved out of this ingloriously rotten civilization, even the smallest details. Eliot draws upon the story of the Fisher King whose death-impotence, infirmity (there are many forms of the myth) brought desolation and aridity to the land where he lived. The only solution is that a knight goes to Chapel Perilous, situated in the heart of it, and there asks certain ritual questions about the holy grail and the proper asking of these questions revives the king and restores fertility to the land. This is a metaphor for man’s search for spiritual salvation. With this myth together with other old myths (ancient vegetation myths and fertility ceremonies in Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough) Western and Oriental, Eliot builds up a contrast between present and past, the fertility of a mythical past and the sterility of the present world, peopled by lost and alienated characters. So he paints a picture of the modern waste land and the need for regeneration.
“In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators, any more than the scientist who uses the disoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own, independent, further investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.[…]”
T.S. Eliot, Ulysses. Order and Myth.
The mythical method.--> recognizing the signs that operated in the past are still operating in present time.
Old myths are still present but they have lost their deep meaning--> "Myth is not falsity, instead it is the symbolic representation of reality"
History is our teacher, we want to know what happened in the past.
"This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity"
This poem is divided into 5 sections:
1) The burial of the death --> which centres on the basic opposition sterility and fertility, life and death;
The very beginning of the poem presents the cycle of the seasons but with a reversed meaning. The opening is a complete reversal of the traditional values celebrated in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. April, which is usually associated to rebirth, seems to be incapable of regenerating. The image used is that of April as the cruelest month, which tries to “breed” and “stir” lilacs, flowers, life out of the dead land which does not want to be regenerated despite its need. In front of the rebirth of nature modern man, who is hollow and hopeless, does not want to be disturbed. He would rather stay hidden in winter, which “kept us warm”.
Modern man is like wrapped up in his little life. He juxtaposes scenes (winter vs April).
Invitation to go on a journey into the waste land with the seeker.
The part finishes with a reference to an Unreal city, which is the City of London, the financial core, the symbol of the aridity of capitalism. A crowd of “hollow men who walk over London Bridge to go to work. They sigh, they keep their eyes fixed, they look alienated, depressed, without any individuality. Eliot compares his fellow citizens to Inferno ignavi, who were sinners incapable of taking a stand in their life. By referring to Dante’s ignavi, Eliot does not only manage to emphasise the moral death and paralysis of Modern man, he also manages to universalize the condition of modern man, who is the modern business man in London but at the same time everybody. In this way, the problem of the condition of moral aridity and paralysis of modern man becomes the problem of every man as the last sentence, a quotation from Baudelaire’s Au Lecteur, in Les Fleurs du Mal, proves: we are all involved.
Reference to the Punic Wars. He meets one of his friend that he met in a battle of the Punic wars and he asks if the corpse has bloomed. He also warns him to keep his dog away or it would prevent regeneration from taking place. Fertility rites used by ancient civilization in the past to help the land regenerate: idea of regeneration.
2) A game of chess- present squalor vs past splendor
3) The fire sermon- where the theme of present alienation is rendered to the description of a loveless, mechanical, squalid sexual encounter;
It introduces the figure of Tiresias
Many references to Dante.
4) Death by water- idea of a spiritual shipwreck
Water is the only way in which the seekers can be regenerated only if he accepted to die. Dying is the condition for a new life. Death instance way to life. Under that there is the idea of baptism
Water vs Rock (rock represents sterility but in this rock the church will be built)
5) What the thunder said- possible solution: sympathy with other human beings.
shifts setting from the sea to rocks and mountains. The narrator cries for rain, and it finally comes. The thunder that accompanies it ushers in the three-pronged dictum sprung from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "Datta, dayadhvam, damyata": to give, to sympathize, to control. With these commandments, benediction is possible, despite the collapse of civilization that is under way – "London bridge is falling down falling down falling down."
The poem ends with “Shantih”, ineffable peace, the hope for the rain and for a renewed spirituality. However the falling of the rain is only awaited, not described.. It is impossible to come out of the Waste Land and the Grail remains a hope and cannot be reached.
La queste del Saint Graal (the quest of the holy grail)--> in this novel we find a knight from this legend in search of the mystery of life passing through a waste land, a land of no sense, of despair, of rubbish.
It's full of alienation but there is something that has to be rediscovered, just because it is lost. There is hope. (Man has become incapable of hearing the smallest sound, like the rain). Hope of regeneration.
Tthe journey of the Magi (1927)
1927- He was baptized in an Anglican Church.
A few months lather he published this poem. This conversion was not superficial, it was the result of a struggle/internal turmoil but the struggle was overcome. He managed to find some answers.
FORM: dramatic monologue
We have a speaker of a Magus, who goes on a journey with the other Magis following a guiding start to pay Omaha to Christ. He addresses a silent listener who is actually the reader.
The journey has already taken place and now the Magus is recounting the journey to the reader. In particular the outcome of the journey: epiphany. Literary and metaphorically.
It was a hard experience: it was cold because winter was sharp, they hade a bad time because people were unfriendly, hostiles, it was such a folly. At some point they regretted going on the journey. Despite all of this the Magus endures, he doesn't give up.
The situation Improves and the Magus states that eventually the journey was satisfactory, which means not bad.
He addresses the reader: he wants to communicate his epiphany. He witnessed the birth of Christ. Moreover he thought that birth and death were separated but now he realizes that they are connected, Jesus Christ's birth implies our death. This is the concept of conversion. Dying is a way to come to a new life.
His friends are now aliens because "I should be glad on another death"