Litkicks Message Board Archive

it never ends...

Posted to Poetry

hmm, asking for thoughts or little tidbits on 'the waste land' is a pretty damn loaded question, one somewhat akin to asking a priest for any casual musings he might have on the bible (including the apocrypha). exaggeration, you say? well, fine, without the apocrypha. but whatever.
this poem is so packed with allusion and possible interpretation that 1. as you've probably noticed, it's impossible to do any kind of comprehensive reading of it without notes (unless you're harold bloom or some other kind of literary giant) and 2. everyone reads it their own way. it's also impossible to dictate which way is the right way to read 'the waste land,' as eliot tried to write it out of 'the mind of europe,' the collective consciousness and historic awareness of the entire western literary tradition. however, we all must do our very best to get through it intact in order to get something out of it in the end, for which i'd suggest a little investigation into eliot's personal poetic theory (try reading some of his critical works, like 'tradition and the individual talent.') another thing to take in mind throughout the poem is the fact that the original opening section (that ezra pound, the 'better craftsman' of the dedication, excised) was called 'he do the police in different voices,' a reference to dickens' novel, 'our mutual friend.' the idea of the 'different voices' throughout the poem is fundamental--it may seem obvious, but there are times in which the voices grow ambiguous, and in which the question of identity is particularly important-- who is speaking? from where? why?
the poem itself is a bit of a literary monster to tackle; the tracery of allusions is infinitely complex. just keep in mind the overarching themes of water imagery (that progressively moves from negative to positive), the idea of fertility/barrenness and literary/cultural references to the latter (the myth of the fisher king, the grail legend in general, and the image of ancient fertility gods, adonis, etc), the constant juxtaposition of highbrow versus lowbrow culture, and the stagnation of midcult in between. also, don't let any section of the poem go unanalysed; it's often tempting to let 'death by water' just kind of slide by, but keep in mind the fact that pound called it the most important part of the poem. anyway, this has been a very brief overview of my thoughts on reading the poem, sorry if disorganized and vague but there's just so much to be said...this is just the tip of the iceberg.