The Waste Land’s Literary Devices

What I found the most fascinating about The Waste Land was Eliot’s use of literary devices. Eliot’s poem presents a story of what it’s like to live in the 20th century, which is an oversimplification of this poem at best. Much like the inconsistency and uneasiness of the 20th century, the Waste Land lacks any true structure. The poem will have flashes of structure and at most blank verse such as in the beginning of section two, A Game of Chess. In the end though, this all falls apart. Another element that Eliot uses is enjambment. In parallel with the time period, Eliot writes this poem with a lack of closure, conclusion, and confusion. The lines bounce too and fro and never truly connect. An example of this is when Eliot wrote, “Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing” (39-40). This style is Eliot emotionally influencing the reader to feel what the 20th century felt like; confusing, lacking closure, and despairing. On top of this, Eliot’s multiple voices provide a scene that leaves the reader perplexed, like in the middle of a crowd of unfamiliar faces. This isolation appeared to be a personal journey for Eliot and one that also encompassed the feelings of many people of the time.

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“The Descent of Man” in comparison to “Our Society in Cranford”

While Darwin’s main focus is the scientific process of Natural Selection in The Descent of Man, he outlines some basic innate social policies that must “have been acquired through natural selection” (1279). The moral qualities described by Darwin are classified as “instincts… of a highly complex nature” (1279). Man’s higher intellectual power gives us the ability to have a very “distinct emotion of sympathy” (1279). The animalistic instincts to “take pleasure in each other’s company, warn each other of danger, defend and aid each other” (1279) is innate in humans according to Darwin. Darwin also suggests that this natural selection only happens in communities, not an entire species. This is highly reflected in the excerpt by Elizabeth Gaskell.

The Cranford community is as tightly knit as Darwin’s instinctual society suggests. The Cranford ladies are “quite sufficient”, and only have “an occasional little quarrel” (1433). These women abide by strict societal expectations that are naturally selected for this specific community. This selection almost always leads to men being pushed out due to not being able to adapt to the society that they enter, and accord to Gaskell, “in short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford” (1432). This instinct to aid each other is seen when a tea-party is thrown that is not up to the aristocratic par of the norm, but there is no issue brought up with it. “…every one took this novel proceeding as the most natural thing in the world…” (1434). Even after the disagreement of Captain Brown and Ms. Jenkyns over the authors, the instinct to aid and be sympathetic is seen when Ms. Jenkyns demands to have a funeral for Ms. Jessie’s father. She also demands that Jessie live with her instead of the house where she would be all alone. “Miss Jenkyns insisted that Miss Jessie should come to stay with her rather than go back to the desolate house…” (1445). The final example of the instinct to defend was when Ms. Jenkyns sent the gentleman to court Ms. Jessie, Ms. Matty was outraged and said “Deborah, there’s a gentleman sitting in the drawing-room with his arm round Miss Jessie’s waist!” (1446) All of this goes to show that this community was ruled by instinctual social norms that were created not due to human intentionality, but the human’s distinct sense of empathy and natural instinct to thrive in social settings with other humans.

The Sublime in Mont Blanc

Percy Shelley’s writing reflects Edmund Burke’s definition of the sublime in a few ways. A common theme of the poem is the infinite, eternal aspects of nature. In line 9, Shelley wrote, “Where waterfalls around it leap for ever, / Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river / Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.” He went on to write of winds that “come and ever came” in line 22. Edmund Burke does not provide much explanation other than saying that Infinity fills the mind “with a sort of delightful horror” which he also shares is the “truest test of the sublime.” Much of the writing in Mont Blanc reflects this infinite and vast idea of nature. “The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams, / Ocean, and all the living things that dwell (84).” Shelley’s writing exaggerates this notion that nature is eternal and infinite, but man is finite; man cannot comprehend infinity, but nature is and always will be infinity.

Lines left upon a seat in a yew-tree

While the Enlightenment presses the idea of reason and logic, Wadsworth offers a moral to his tale that strikes a balance between nature and humanity. The subject of this tale is an innocent youth who spurned his corrupted society to spend time in the lofty yew-tree. Nature in this work is a powerful force that is capable of inducing an “altered state” of mind. This is reflected in lines 5-7, “Yet, if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves, / That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind / By one soft impulse saved from vacancy.” The man who has turned his back on society is consumed by Nature, a force that should be feared. Wadsworth wrote that “Nature had subdued him to herself,” in line 47. He was insignificant in the grand scheme of the world. He lacked human connection and would never feel what others felt. The Enlightenment focus on the logical and rational misses this idea of inward reflection and human connection. Emotions are to be controlled according to the Enlightenment idealists, but Lines left upon a seat in a yew-tree places an important role on emotions and interaction with other humans or the lack thereof.