"Eliot's Waste Land"

Essay by SpudfishUniversity, Bachelor's March 2002

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Thomas Sterns Eliot, better known as T. S. Eliot, is considered to be one of the most ?realistic? American poets of this time. However, his life was not as jubilant as the rest of the country during this time. The pressures of uncongenial work, the strain of his home life and the need to hide his unhappiness brought on a nervous breakdown. In 1922, while recovering in a Swiss spa, Eliot began to write one of his longest and most moving poems, ?The Waste Land.?

?The Waste Land? comes in five parts, starting with ?The Burial of the Dead,? a name taken from the Anglican funeral ceremony. The imagery of part one evokes a person, a civilization, numbed, distressed. Coherence and meaning have gone out of the world, as a prophetic voice with an Old Testament sound announces: ?Son of man . . .you know only / a heap of broken images, where the sun beats, / and the dead tree gives no shelter? (l.

20-23). To convey a vague menace, and recreate the craze for spiritualism, Eliot introduces ?Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,? with her ?wicked pack? of Tarot cards (l. 43-46).

Eliot calls Part Two ?A Game of Chess,? a metaphor for sexual maneuvering. Eliot gives us a pampered woman, immersed in anything that could arouse the senses. This passage shifts suddenly into Eliot's forte, a dramatic dialogue giving us the real measure of the jaded woman:

?My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.

Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.

What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?

I never know what you are thinking. Think.? (Eliot l. 111-114)

This painful vision of humanity swept up in lust continues in Part Three, ?The Fire Sermon,? which takes its name from...