Experimentation in the Poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

Topics: The Waste Land

One of the main characteristics of modernist poetry is experimentation. Arguably the best example of this that we have read so far is T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” This poem is broken up into different sections that do not seem to correlate with each other in any way. There is a common theme throughout the poem, that society has become a desolate land in which people have drifted away from their spiritual roots. This is largely evident in section 3 of the poem known as The Fire Sermon.

The title of this section, The Fire Sermon, is taken from a sermon by Buddha encouraging people to seek freedom from earthy passions. While there are a few religious references in this section, it is largely characterized by the total opposite of fleeing from earthly passions. We see in several parts of this section that the earth act become a desolate place. We see that the author is fishing in “the dull canal,” (page 383 line 189).

Water usually symbolized rebirth and renewal, but here it is another representation of the bleak state that earth is in. Eliot also shows us a rat creeping around on the riverbank, another symbol of desolation. Mr. Eugenides also suggests a homosexual encounter with the male narrator. This union would ultimately be unfruitful, which can also be seen as a symbol of the sad state the Earth is in. Along with the grim condition of the earth, we also see the deviation from spiritual beliefs. At the time this was written, it was still taboo in most places to deviate from Christianity.

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However, this deviation occurs many times in this section. We see the “old man with wrinkled female breasts,” who is physically blind but can see into the future, which is a huge shift from traditional Christianity.

Towards the end of the poem, there is a brief return to a spiritual aspect. In line 308 Buddha repeats the word “burning” many times like he is chanting. We then see in lines 309-310 the narrator calls out “Oh Lord Thou pluckest me out/ Oh Lord Thou pluckest,” which seems to be a cry for God to pull the narrator out of the fire he is consumed in. Buddha says the word “burning” one last time after this, which seems to communicate that man is stuck in this desolation he has made for himself no matter who he calls out to.

In this poem, we see the theme of desolation repeatedly. There is a great amount of destruction in the physical surroundings of the characters, and the characters in this section are either barren or so flawed and broken that they cannot handle a relationship that would result in a new life being created. The scenes that Eliot creates speak to the idea that he sees the modern world as a chaotic place where either nothing makes sense, or everything makes sense in the light of the surroundings. The experimental themes of chaos, desolation, and deviation from accepted religion put “The Waste Land” at the top of the list for experimental modernist poetry.

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Experimentation in the Poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. (2022, Jun 15). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/experimentation-in-the-poem-the-waste-land-by-t-s-eliot/

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