Structure and Form of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

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      Introduction: The critics have taken objection to the form of The Waste Land. Some are of the opinion that it is a group of separate poems loosely strung together. Others feel that it is a parade of the poet's learning. Some critics understand that there is no story or movement in the poem. The poet keeps beating about the bush without reaching any conclusion. However, on a careful study of the poem it has been found that there is a thin and subtle thread which runs throughout the poem and gives it a sort of unity. This pertains to the evils of civilisation and low civilisation can be saved.

The critics have taken objection to the form of The Waste Land. Some are of the opinion that it is a group of separate poems loosely strung together. Others feel that it is a parade of the poet's learning. Some critics understand that there is no story or movement in the poem. The poet keeps beating about the bush without reaching any conclusion. However, on a careful study of the poem it has been found that there is a thin and subtle thread which runs throughout the poem and gives it a sort of unity. This pertains to the evils of civilisation and low civilisation can be saved.
The Waste Land

      Tiresias - the unifying link: Tiresias, the protagonist, imparts a sense of unity to the poem as a whole. Through the stream of consciousness method Tiresias reflects on the events of the past and the present, and sees a lot of resemblance between them. He mixes the past with the present and through symbols the distance of time and space is destroyed. Hugh Canner emphasises the role of Tiresias in the following lines: "But a five-parted work of 433 lines entitled The Waste Land, with sudden wrenching juxtapositions, thematic links between section and section, fragments quoted from several languages with no one present to whose mind they can occur, this dense textual unity... must have seemed to Eliot a little fictitious until he had got used to the poem in its final form which everyone who has encountered, knows, must take sometimes. So we discover endeavouring to square the artistic fact with his pervasive institution of fitness by the note on Tiresias, which offers to supply the poem with a nameable point of view.

      Film Technique - Montage: Eliot follows the film technique in representing scenes from the ancient world and modern life. He builts up a sequence of pictures from the parts of a scene, rather than giving a scene from beginning to end. He also recalls previous scenes from memory. This is called Montage in technical language. For example, in the first section there is the story of Marie the German princess, she goes out to a restaurant for coffee with the protagonist. She recalls her infancy when she rode on a sled in the mountains. There is no time Sequence or logical connection between one picture and another. One picture fades out in the next; feelings and moods fade into one another.

      Spiral Structure: Some critics feel that the structure of the poem is circular; the argument does not progress and it ends where it began. Helen Gardner however writes: "We are not, however, moving in a circle but on a spiral up and down." The theme is one and the same i.e. the evils of modern civilization. Sometimes the poet takes up one point and then takes up the next and reverses to the first point again. Other critics compare the poem to a symphony of five movements, each movement corresponding to one section. This musical method prevents any progression. The central theme around which the poem revolves is the birth-death, re-birth. However there is some kind of forward movement. In the beginning, the poets refers to the desert and rock but at the end there are clouds and the hope of rain. The poet makes a vow in the end that he shall start with his self-reform. He would like to practise the three principles of Prajapati. The causes, of spiritual decay of the modern waste land are examined and the poet suggests the remedies necessary for the survival of the modern civilization. Therefore, it would not be correct to say that there is no forward movement in the poem.

      Use of Myths: Eliot deliberately chase the mythical methods for obvious advantages. It helps in concreting parallelism between past and present. Secondly, it bridges the gulf between the crisis in human history and civilization. It gives a sense of the continuity of time and human consciousness. As the traditional myths are well-known, there is no difficulty for the reader to aply to the present situation. The myths employed by Eliot are borrowed from nature, ancient civilization, old literature and Christian scripture. One of the important myths which is all-pervasive, is that of birth, death and re-birth. This was the foundation of vegetation, and rituals in ancient Egypt. In the Christian faith, it is represented by crucification and resurrection of Christ. The historical myths of the Fisher King and King Oedipus of Thebes refer to the consequence of sin, which affected the rulers and their lands. Subsequently, through repentance and penance, the rulers, regained their health and their lands became fertile and productive. The idea is that redemption and salvation is possible through sufferings and purification. Similarly, the modern waste land for all its spiritual barrenness and sexual perversity can be saved through self-reformation and life of faith, service and dedication to moral values. Eliot believes that there is yet hope for the survival of modern civilization.

      Irony and Contrast: Eliot uses the device of ironic contrast to emphasize the difference between the parallel situations in the past and the present. In the past, fairies walked on the banks of river Thames; today prostitute and call-girls wander on the bank in search of sex. The fairies washed their feet in the river water. Butnow-a-days Mrs. Porter and her daughter wash their feet in soda-water.

"They wash their feet in soda water"

      Similarly, sexual purity was greatly valued in the past. Its loss was followed by the death-wish and suicide of the victim. Today sexual indulgence is a matter of routine and something no one bothers about. Eliot refers to habitual sex of the typist girl:
(L. 201. The Waste Land)

Hardly aware of her separated lover:
Her.... formed thought to pass
Well now that's done: and I am glad it's over.
Pacs about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with, automatic hand
(L. 250-256. The Waste Land)

      Similarly, the quotation from The Tempest are examples of irony:

"Those ae pearls that were his eyes."
(L. 125. The Waste Land)

      Myths give a unity to the theme and employ the sameness of humorous experience.

      Conclusion: The poem has a pattern and a purpose. Through European literature and history, Eliot has shown how periods of spiritual barrenness and decadence have been followed by the periods of re-birth and regeneration. Similarly, he feels that the situation in the modern wasteland is not hopeless. The spiritual wisdom and lesson derived from ancient tradition and culture, furnishes a clue to the survival fo modern civilization. He offers a comprehensive solution to the problems of the modern age by combining the wisdom of the East and the West.

University Questions also can be Answered:

1. Write a note on the technical devices employed in imparting unity to the material utilized in the The Waste Land.

2. Do you agree with the statement: "The structure of The Waste Land is not progressive but circular" Justify it with illustrations from The Waste Land.

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