Poetic Short-Hand: in The Waste Land

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       Introduction: The theme of The Waste Land is difficult and complex. It deals with the diseases of the contemporary society and evils lurking at the core of the modern civilization. As a nature of the subject is complex, Eliot could not help being obscure in certain passages or lines in The Waste Land. The main causes of Eliot's obscurity are extreme compression of the language, use of interior monologue, the technique of mythical method, use of symbolism, the allusiveness and suggestiveness of words and the use of indirect method.

In The Waste Land Eliot uses poetic short-hand toward the extreme compression of language, interior monologue, mythical method, symbolism and so on.
Poetic Shorthand

      The device of 'poetic short-hand': From the aforesaid reasons, it is evident that T.S. Eliot employed the device of 'poetic short-hand' as stated by I.A. Richards. Undoubtedly, this device has made Eliot's style very obscure. But he has successfully used this technique to revitalize the English language. When we read The Waste Land we find that he has brought the English language into contact with European literary tradition. This epic poem is mosaic of allusions and quotations which are borrowed from various sources. These allusions and quotations range from the various literature of Europe, from Homer to the present age, from Oriental Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. Hence, he imparts to the reader, the present of the past. Moreover, the poet is able to convey an impression of the intricacy, complexity and subtlety of the modern civilization. Here it is no need to repeat how far his style becomes obscure because of this device. We have already mentioned the reaction of this short-hand technique.

      Obscurity of words and quotations: Eliot has used some words or phrases. Their meaning is not quite clear e.g. laquearia (line. 92) Jug Jug (line. 103). Moreover, quotations in foreign languages are taken from the original text as from Wagner's Opera (line. 31-34), Verlaine's Fanciful (L. 202) Dante's "Purgatorio" (L. 427).

      Sudden jumps and omitted links: In the first section, Tiresias begins the story with April and suddenly in line eight we come across the German princess Mary. There is hardly any connection between the two. Similarly, there is no link between the song of the Fisher-men sunk in the pub and the beautiful paintings on the walls of the church situated next door (line. 263-265). Similarly, the visit of the clerk to the house of the typist girl at night is not explained. The meetings must have been fixed earlier.

      Incomplete relevance of myths: Certain myths do not completely fit into the modern setting. Their relevance is partial. Similarly, significance of different kinds of cards displayed by Madame Sosostris is not clear (line. 47-56). Similarly, significance of Bar-maids frequent shouts "hurry up please it's time" (line. 153), needs some comment and explanation.

      Mixture of philosophies: In The Fire Sermon the philosophy of Buddha is brought close to St. Augustine's Confession. Fire is a symbol of purification as well as destruction. Buddha talks of fire of lust but he does not believe in God or divine grace. St. Augustine, however, seeks the grace of God for saving him from the corrupt life of Carthage. Secondly, the last section, the story of Fisher King's wasteland and Knight's journey to Chapel Perilous is related to the thundering words of Prajapati. Besides, repentance and suffering in the story of Knight there is much more in the philosophy of Upanishad with its three words. The similarity of situation in two events is only partial.

      The music of ideas: Another cause of obscurity is the music of ideas. The poem seems to move on two plains of versification extending more than one serious and slow as in the meditations and impressions of Tiresias, and the other light and colloquial as in the conversations of the cheap women in the pub. The movement from the one plain to the other is abrupt and sudden and this creates confusion and difficulty.

      Conclusion: On account of the difficult nature of the poem, it needs to be studied carefully with the help of annotations and reference books. A serious study of the poem is an ample renewal in itself.

University Questions also can be answered.

1. Give justification for the charge of obscurity that has been leveled against The Waste Land by various critics.

2. Write a note on Eliot's technique of 'poetic short-hand.' supported by illustrations from The Waste Land.

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