T S Eliot\'s \'The Waste Land\'


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Research Paper
T. S. Eliot

Robin Cook
World Lit II
Professor Wong
January 27, 1997

T. S. Eliot, perhaps one of the most controversial poets of modern times, wrote what many critics consider the most controversial poem of all, The Waste Land. The Waste Land was written using a fragmented style. This is a style that is evident in all of Eliotís writings. There are several reasons for his using this approach, from a feeling of being isolated, to a problem articulating thoughts (Bergonzi 18, Cuddy 13, Mack 1745, Martin 102).
What influenced Eliot the most in writing poetry was a book he read written by the English critic, Arthur Symon, titled The Symbolist Movement in Literature. This book is about French symbolist writers of the 19th century. From this book, the author who had the greatest influence on Eliot is by far Jules Laforgue. Laforgueís influence is evident in many of Eliotís poems, sometimes to the point of plagiarism. Like Laforgue, Eliot uses dialogue between men and women that doesnít seem to communicate a thing. Other authorís had an influence on Eliot as well, like Henry James and Joseph Conrad. All of these poetís had the common themes of estrangement from people and the world, isolationism, and the feeling that they were failing to articulate their thoughts (Bergonzi 7, 50, Cuddy 30, Mack 1743, Martin 41, Unger 8) .
Henry James influence on Eliotís poetry is evident in the Jamesian qualities he uses. For example, the opening verse of The Waste Land ends with the Jamesian note, "I
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read, much of the night, and go south in the winter" (Mack, 1751). Although Lafourge, Conrad, and James were used as sources for Eliot when he composed poetry, there is still a distinct Eliotic quality whenever his work is read (Bergonzi 7, 50, Cuddy 55, Mack 1743, Martin 41, 97, Unger 10).
When Eliot began to compose The Waste Land, he used all the different themes, techniques, and styleís he had been developing to this point. The Waste Land is developed entirely using fragments and quotations. This is symbolic of his despair in succeeding in ever fully articulating meaning. Although it is fragmented, it also reveals moments of continuity and wholeness quantified with recurrent themes of time, alienation, isolation, and articulation. Because Eliot used fragmentation as his style when writing this poem, it survived being cut in half by the editing of Ezra Pound. Many authorís argue that Ezra Pound could have edited many more parts out, without effecting the meaning Eliot was trying to convey (Bergonzi 11, Mack 1743, Martin 20-22, 110, Ricks 9, Unger 18).
T. S. Eliotís use of estrangement in poems is his way of expressing feelings between himself and the world. His inability to give himself to, or to possess others is an example of the greater problem of isolation. The isolation theme is prevalent throughout the Waste Land, with many of his characters entwined. This is probably related to his problem of articulating. Whatever his reason for using isolation it caused him to turn towards god for answers. In 1927 he was accepted as a member of the Church of England. Prior to this time he used isolationism and alienation throughout all his poems and plays, up to, and including The Waste Land (Mack 1745, Martin 16, Unger 12, 18).
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Perhaps it was Eiotís religious convictions, or his ideals towards culture, religion, and sex that had the greatest impact on the development of The Waste Land. He felt that if all of man had set a common goal to unite culture, religion, and sex that it would solve the illís of civilization. His feelingís towards sex was that casual sex is "having sex for the sake of sex" (Martin 108). It is evident in The Waste Land that sex has been dehumanized, no one enjoys it, it appears to be portrayed as a chore. This is obvious in verses II and III. In verse I, "The Burial of the Dead", Eliot allows an exception. In this verse I see the hyacinth girl as a woman of beauty and sensuality. However, in verses II, "A Game of Chess" and III, "The Fire sermon" , I fail to see where anybody is