The waste Land
After the earliest stage, the author Eliot reaches a more universal vision of a spiritually dead world in The Waste Land, the most significant and influential poem in his first phase. Although the first idea of writing can be traced back in 1919, the actual composition of the poem took place in 1922. It was, however, the decisive intervention of Ezra Pound (who gave him detailed advice and suggested extensive cuts) that, as Eliot himself said, "turned The waste Land from a jumble of good and bad passages into a poem". Considered by some critics the poetic equivalent of Joyce's Ulysses, the poem is the increasingly hallucinating description of a vast "waste" landscape, both physical and symbolic, in which myth and reality developed. For this poem, Eliot drew above all on two famous works on anthropology, as Eliot himself wrote in the notes that he eventually attached to the poem: Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail and The Golden Bough.
Frazer provided information about primitive myth and sacrificial rituals to ensure the continuing cycle of the seasons. But it was Weston's book that actually inspired the main theme of the poem through its account of the Fisher King and the Grail legend. She in fact narrates how, in a kingdom called the Waste Land, the ruler, the Fisher King, has been sexually maimed and as a consequent the country lies under a terrible curse: all springs dry up and the whole land becomes sterile, its most evident manifestation being the lack of water. The curse can only be lifted by the arrival of a stranger, who, however, must know the meaning of the Grail symbols (which are the bleeding Lance and the Cup where Christ's blood was collected). The stranger arrived and starts on his quest for the Holy Grail but, in the end, fails.
Jessie Weston sees the story of the Waste Land and of the Grail legend in terms of fertility rites and sexual symbolism, and it is on the interpretation that Eliot bases his poem.
Talking about the themes he really regards our modern world as a Waste Land as much as the Fisher King's Kingdom, but also includes themes partly dealt with in other poems such as:
- the meaningful link with the past: the past in the poem is introduced both as a mythic past and a historical past. The past often merges with the present and, by juxtaposition, makes it look even more squalid and lifeless
More important is the theme related to symbolism. Eliot presents sterility at various levels.
-natural: the land is dry, rocky, polluted and unfruitful
-social: people find it difficult to communicate with each other ( as also possibly symbolized by the quotations from foreign languages) and are unable to love.
-spiritual: people no longer believe in religious values and in Christ as the spiritual savior.
So only through rain, love and faith will our "waste land" be saved and restored to fertility.