“The Waste Land”

The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot expresses the anxieties dealing with the aftermath of WWI through multiple voices, literary quotation, and fragmentation.

The anxieties present in The Waste Land are present through the multiple voices echoing throughout the poem. The narrator addresses “we” then shifts to “I” and then “you.” Figuring out who the poem is addressing most of the time is confusing and blurs the line between which aspects of the anxieties of the war pertain to only the “I” part of the narrator. The echo of the “us” I hear addressed in the poem, is interesting because it shows the emotions and actions of everyone as a whole.

The chain of thought throughout the poem describes the chaos and mixed emotions about the war. The poem beings with the narrator stating “April is the cruelest month, / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire.” From the phrase, the reader gets the impression that this is the voice of a world war veteran. The veteran warns the reader that he mixes his memory and desire often, as it is seen carried out throughout the poem. He discusses his days at war, then his memory skips around and takes him back to his childhood. His memory skips around and jumbles up his thoughts. What I like most about the idea of the narrator mixing reality with memory is that it expresses how confusing human beings actually are. As humans, we might be walking around town, yet thinking about distant memories, then tuning out the memory to absorb the present.

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2 thoughts on ““The Waste Land”

  1. I agree with you and that The Waste Land is extremely confusing. I had to read the poem three times before I was able to follow any sort of thought process Elliot had. A lot of the sections seem as though they could stand alone and reminded me of someone with severe ADHD. All of these different stories into one did, however, remind me of the Canterbury Tales with talk of different people and places who all have different stories but come together. I also noticed too how he jumps from first, second, and third person. In some sections I believe he is talking about a soldier with possible PTSD and then in others like you said he seems to be taking in the world as a whole. I also entertained the idea that maybe his reference to she when talking about the land could also be mother nature or earth itself which is sometimes referred to as a she. But like I said this is just one of many guesses as to who is the actual speaker in the poem. The poem seems to be talking about how death is everywhere and one must me quick to action. Part 2 seemed to focus more on this idea that the speaker is a PTSD war victim that has returned to society but has flashbacks. There is even a flashback to the fortune teller when the soldier in line 124 and 125 says “I remember/ Those are pearls that were his eyes”. The fortune teller mentions this very same thing in line 48. The line “Hurry up please its time” that is mentioned throughout page 2302 reminds me of the ‘quick pace’ society went through during WW1. It also reminds me of a trigger for this PTSD war veteran. These words could be that of a female calling everyone to dinner or a captain telling the men to climb the ladders in the trenches. There are many parts to this poem and each part has a multiple of meanings that a reader can be lead to.

  2. I would agree, the switching of characters definitely made this hard to follow. They seem to provide different examples of how life is after WWI, and as you said, shows the different emotions and actions of several people. For instance in the second stanza he says, “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?,” painting a picture of a waste land. Then he ends it saying, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” which I took to mean that basically we will all end up that way when we die. Another example is the hyacinth girl. She talks about a lost love and now she is empty. So these themes of barrenness and death run throughout the poem and show what Eliot sees after the war.

    The fragmentation and jumbledness could remark on veterans but I also think that it could be talking about society as a whole. This could be the behaviors shown after the war and how people do not really know how to act anymore. He also makes a lot of literary references, especially to Dantes Inferno. This seems to suggest that they’re living in hell after WWI.

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