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T. S Eliot’s The Wasteland, whilst being laden with rich cultural references and allusions, is a confronting representation of re-establishment and rejuvenation across the entirety of a European post-war society. Eliot addresses the cyclical nature of life and death, encompassed by carefully crafted language and structure designed to disorientate the reader. The reader is offered an interpretation of human behaviour which is akin to all beings across the cohort of society, regardless of ethnicity or social class. There is realism to Eliot’s poetry that is confronting and unflinching, perhaps disturbing at times.
While his poems are often filled with harsh imagery – imagery of death, despair and degredation –they are often indicative of his own perceptions of the changing environment around him during his time of writing, and are therefore somewhat genuine and personal. The Waste Land attempts to explore the necessity of rejuvenation in a society that Eliot considers to be tarnished and displaced, and has thus created a delicate balance between portraying a war-torn society where “the dead tree gives no shelter” and “the dry stone no sound of water”, and communicating the idea of renewal.
As the poem progresses, references to season accumulate, and the reader is given a sense of cyclical, passing time. The reader is given anecdotes set in distinctly different seasons, whether they be “under the brown fog of a winter dawn”, or “[listening to] the sound of horns, which shall bring Mrs. Porter in the spring”. Such references remind the reader of two things; time is passing throughout the poem, and life is ephemeral, as can be seen in the dialogue: “That corpse you planted last year in your garden, Has it begun to sprout?
Will it bloom this year? ” A similar method is implemented by Eliot in The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock, where the prime focus of the poem is the passing of time and the complications that arise from its influence. Furthermore, The Waste Land draws on a wide range of cultural reference to depict a modern world that is in ruins yet somehow beautiful and deeply meaningful.
Languages such as German, French and Latin are implemented alongside abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, in order to convey the idea that there are no exemptions to Eliot’s interpretation of common human qualities and experiences. Conversely, social class is also explored – in part II of The Waste Land, “A Game of Chess”, Eliot juxtaposes a lower-class bar conversation with satire of the opulent, while endorsing – via the comparison of the two – the idea that sexual fulfilment is a critical element in feeling valuable and secure in the society depicted.
Indeed, it was Eliot’s opinion at the time that too much emphasis was placed on the importance of fertility, aesthetic appeal and marital security – an idea which is also explored in Portrait of a Lady through the satirical portrayal of a fussing woman, who is described as sitting in “an atmosphere of Juliet’s tomb”. It could perhaps be considered that Eliot’s prime objective during the early years of his poetry was to paint a picture of the uncertainty and social decay that resulted from the aftermath of WW1 and perhaps even the from the end of the Edwardian era.
Consequently, readers must look upon his unpoetic diction and lexicon and remember that he is attempting to create a new type of poetry which reflects the complexity of modern living. Often the sincerity and detailed imagery in Eliot’s work results from a lot of his speakers being vessels through which he expresses himself. It has been speculated that ‘J. Alred Prufrock’ and the speaker of Rhaspsody share the same concerns and characteristics as Eliot; often being solitary, neurasthenic, overly intellectual, and utterly incapable of expressing themselves to the modern complexity of the outside world.
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