T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland
Traditionally, authors begin their compositions at the beginning and then proceed to an end, creating a logical flow of information towards a conclusion. T.S. Eliot threw most traditional form out the window as he composed The Waste Land. The voice changes, the structure varies, his allusions are elusive, and the first section of the poem is entitled “The Burial of The Dead.” This of course does not speak to a beginning, but to the conclusion of what could be one or many lives. Even before this heading, the epigraph evokes the feeling of something, (a something that the reader must work to comprehend) almost eternal, reflecting on a lifetime (an ‘almost eternal’ lifetime) with a melancholic eye. The reader of the poem begins with reflections on a life, a universal life, and with this understanding we can begin to unpack some of the images and make sense of the major themes of the poem.
Without reading the entire poem, one can not hope to catch the significance of the initial passage or the epigraph; conversely, one might not comprehend the poem as a cohesive unit without its opening lines. Unlike Eliot, let us start with the genesis of the poem; ‘The Burial of The Dead.’
A major difficulty of this poem is its apparent lack of a single speaker. If there is an identifiable or specific speaker, they are contained within a few lines and then disappear into the background of the poem. The first seven lines are second or third person, singular or plural is not made clear. We are not given any perspective for these lines; therefore, the reader has nothing with which to orient himself. The vertigo continues once the language is taken into consideration. What do we make of his conflicting concepts? April is the first month of spring; it breeds, mixes, stirs, covers and feeds. These are all life giving action verbs, and yet in these same lines we hear the echoes of the section’s title. April is also cruel. There is a “dead land” containing “dull roots” and “dried tubers.” (ll. 2, 4, 7) The regeneration spring assumes is alienated from the reader, there is not hope for a new year, but a reminder of a painful past.
Our action verbs come at the ends of each line, giving that line a momentum towards the next. These verbs also work as the action for the next line. In its initial use it is a driving force, in its secondary use it has a negative connotation as the action causing April’s cruelty. “Breeding” is procreation; life, in the first line, though if we continue to the next line it is “breeding, /Lilacs out of the dead land.” (ll. 1-2) We also see “mixing” as including different aspects to create a whole, and then “mixing/ Memory and desire.” (ll. 2-3) This trend continues through the first seven lines. Each line’s enjambment does not necessarily make for a confusing or disturbing passage if taken on its own. However, each line is a reflection of an inherent cruelty. Therefore breeding...