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The Waste Land Notes on the lecture on 'The Waste Land' by T.S.Eliot

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Nick Mount

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Third Lecture for Literature of our Time
The Waste Land, written in 1921
The early 1920s were difficult economically and politically in England. After the war, employment
collapses, not much opportunity for jobs. Much of Western Europe was in ruins because of the
war. By 1918, much of the countryside, which had been the inspiration for many artists and poets,
were destroyed.
In the poem, there are fragments and phrases, it is even named a collage by some people because
it is little pieces of culture broken up and brought together (all mixed up) to make the poem. Many
different views. No voice of Elliot in the poem, but the voice of the crowd. He did not put his
opinion, but other people’s various opinions. He tended to write in fragments in his journals, in
most of his other poems as well, over time, in pieces.
Art imitates life. If we are imitating a world that is alive and well, the poetry you make will be
more together. But if the world we are imitating is broken and in ruins, the poetry will seem like
that as well. IT is like a cubist painting but in words. He uses allusions, which makes the poem
much longer than the actual poem.
The musical CATS is based on a poem by Elliot.
Elliot was not into politics. He was not trying to repeat tradition but re-invent it.
Has an impersonal theory of poetry
Elliot is trying to represent an inclusive human consciousness
Eliot got the title, plan and symbolism for the waste land from ‘Weston: From Ritual to Romance’
Story of the Fisher King, popular story heard all over the place, Weston’s book comes from this
story. Story is about a King, who was sick and therefore his land was sick. He needed a pure prince
to find the holy grail and a lance and ask certain questions or whatever, to restore the land. The
idea that this story used to be well known, but now has various versions, and the plot is all
confused and fragmented. Therefore, in once sence, Elliot’s poem is not only representing this
story, but it also is in the same style as this story has become- fragmented, and in pieces.
The Waste Land is a lament for the loss of the stories and the ability to bring people
together for those stories. The poem might also be trying to suggests the persistence of those
stories, they are still there, but have taken different form (i.e. Ophelia reference)
Allusions add another dimension to poems, but in this poem, they close it down instead of making
it more open. If you feel something of the way Prufrock feels, then you will understand what he is
trying to say and why he cannot say it. If you get enough of the allusions in The Waste Land, you
will understand elliots despair. If ou don’t get the allusions, the lament doesn’t work. These poems
select their audience. Art is not for everybody, some art is for some people.
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