Myth Serves in the Poem - The Waste Land

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      The myth technique: The Waste Land is not a straightforward narrative T.S. Eliot uses what he himself calls the "mythical method". In his opinion, the modern discoveries in the fields of anthropology and psychology made the mythical method possible. The method is a means by which an artist can give shape and significance to the disordered material of contemporary life. Thus may "the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history" be given some kind of artistic coherence Treatment of existing conditions through symbols. In a way, Eliot's poem makes use of a method which is not only the earliest but also the most direct form of human experience i.e. the symbolic mode. The mythical method is, after all, the representation of experience through symbols. The Waste Land has universal significance as well as topical interest. An important part of the poem is the presentation of the ugly emptiness and lack of direction in modern life. Ancient myth is used as symbol to convey this theme.

Various myths interlinked: The main sources for Eliot's The Waste Land are James Frazer's The Golden Bough and Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance, two works of anthropology to which Eliot acknowledges his debt. We find Eliot using the cultivation rituals from Frazer's book, and the Fisher King and Grail legend from Jessie Weston's work. The desolation of the Fisher King's land are associated with the loss of his virility through sexual maiming. Only a youthful knight willing to undertake the quest for the Holy Grail, ready to journey to the chapel or castle of the Grail, submit to trial, and find out the office of the Grail and the significance of the :"cup" and the "lances", could remove the curse of barrenness from the land. The Christian symbolism of the lance which pierced Christ's side and the cup drunk from at the Last Supper and used by Joseph to receive some of the blood of Christ at the crucifixion is interfused with the pagan significance. In myth the cup and the lance stand for the female and male elements; the god of fertility Adonis, Attis and Osiris are associated with red or purple flowers which symbolize sacrificial blood, the flow of which would fertilize a barren land.
Myths in The Wasteland

      Various myths interlinked: The main sources for Eliot's The Waste Land are James Frazer's The Golden Bough and Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance, two works of anthropology to which Eliot acknowledges his debt. We find Eliot using the cultivation rituals from Frazer's book, and the Fisher King and Grail legend from Jessie Weston's work. The desolation of the Fisher King's land are associated with the loss of his virility through sexual maiming. Only a youthful knight willing to undertake the quest for the Holy Grail, ready to journey to the chapel or castle of the Grail, submit to trial, and find out the office of the Grail and the significance of the :"cup" and the "lances", could remove the curse of barrenness from the land. The Christian symbolism of the lance which pierced Christ's side and the cup drunk from at the Last Supper and used by Joseph to receive some of the blood of Christ at the crucifixion is interfused with the pagan significance. In myth the cup and the lance stand for the female and male elements; the god of fertility Adonis, Attis and Osiris are associated with red or purple flowers which symbolize sacrificial blood, the flow of which would fertilize a barren land.

      Common source for the myths: Eliot found that all these myths showed a basic resemblance in that they all presented a recurring pattern, whether they were fertility myths or the Christian story of Resurrection. The common source of all these myths was to be found in the basic rhythm of nature - the birth, death and rebirth of the year. The symbolism of the myths was designed to explain the origin of life. Thus in these myths there was a close relationship between the physical and the spiritual, sex and religions. Eliot found these myths and their basic symbolism most apt for expressing his theme about the contemporary situation.

      Mythical method gives a "circular" shape to the poem: The order of the The Waste Land cannot be seen as a linear development of event following event. It is to be seen in the simultaneous presence of images and symbols. The myths unite the natural cults with a quest for spiritual fulfilment. Eliot saw the contemporary scene as eroticism devoid of spirituality, a spiritual aridity. In the poem, several journey are taken but they end in futility. This futility is part of the spiritual sickness in the land. The epic struggle across the desert in the fifth section does not lead to release from draught. The Thunder god's message seems more of a challenge to begin all over again than an end, for the basic riddle remains unsolved. The circular pattern is a contribution of the myth source. Within the cyclical pattern (the parallel of the seasonal cycle) the episodes form a simultaneous order. There is no development in the sense of logical cause and effect in The Waste Land.

      Recurrent reference to myth: The Waste Land is built on the basis of the fertility myth, Grail legend, and the Christian resurrection. The barrenness of the situation is reflected though "a heap of broken images", the waterless desert, "Desolate and empty the sea".The Hyacinth garden recalling the fertility festival, and the story of Tristan and Isolde, gives way to the terrible feeling of being neither "Living nor dead". The old Egyptian diviners and magicians find a vulgarized reflection in Madame Sosostris. The earlier diviners used to use the Tarot cards to forecast the rise and fall of the Nile waters. Madame Sosostris is a fraud with superficial comments on the different characters. The Lady of the Rocks, Belladonna, is an antithesis of the idea of fertility. The Fisher King is imaged in the man with three staves. The wheel, obviously, indicates the cyclic pattern. The Hanged God in Frazer's book is a symbol of sacrificial death, and in Eliot's poem we find a clear association with him in the Hanged Man. A clear reference to the myth of Osiris as the god of corn is to be found in the line.

...that corpse you planted last year in the garden.

      Osiris died to give life to the people, he gave his body to feed the people. But the question is whether the modern waste land will be rejuvenated.

      The modern scene is infested with sex but the meaning, the human as well as mythical significance behind the "fertility", is totally lacking. Marriage and love relationships are sterile, recalling the impotence of the Fisher King. "The Game of Chess" deals with this aspect of artificially in the contemporary world. In 'The Fire Sermon'; the gas house and the dull canal' are the modern counterparts to the Grail Castle and the sea of myth. The Fisher King and Prince Ferdinand fuse into a single figure. Sterility and the loveless sex of the modern men and women is signified through the seduction scene and the violation of the Thames maidens. The quotations from St. Augustine and Buddha hint at possible purification. In 'Deathby' water' we have an allusion to the old fertility cult of throwing the effigy of the god Adonis in the sea and welcoming it as reborn at the end of its journey. However, the words, picked his bones in whispers also indicates a disintegration of the old life, and whispers, also indicates a disintegration of the old life, and whispers, suggests a sense of mystery and half-hearted nature of the new, life. In the last section, 'What the Thunder Said', we have the Christian paradox of life through death linked with the vegetation myths in a rhythm of hope and rebirth. The protagonis's journey to the Chapel Perilous lies through a tremendous drought. He sees a vision, may be a mirage in the desert, of the rise; Christ, a hooded figure, who brought the Disciples to the village of Emmaus. The imagery suggests the nightmare contemporary civilization as well as the ghosts and ghouls haunting the Chapel and Cemetery in the Grail legend. The Chapel in The Waste Land is an empty shell, surrounded by the graves and dry bones of those who failed in the quest. There are mere suggestions, admittedly very slith, of regeneration the living bird, a cock, and a damp gust of wind. But there is no rain, only a parable of the Thunder, drawn from the Upanishad. At the end, the protagonist sits upon the shore.

Fishing with the arid plain behind me.

      But only words of wisdom from various poets come to his mind, not complete freedom from the sterility. The commands of the Thunder. Gioe, Sympathise, Control, have all been flouted within the poem. But they remain commands, the obedience of which may lead to fresh life, regeneration and peace - Shantih.

      Conclusion: Decay and growth are cyclical processes inevitably associated with the nature myth and the seasonal cycle. The pattern of recurrence is to be found in the Grail legend, for the quest for the Grail has a never-ending quality. The same cyclical pattern is to be found in the fertility myths as well as the Christian scheme. This cyclical pattern is woven into the structure of The Waste Land. The poem is primarily a religious poem, but the poet does not deal with the Christian material directly. As Cleanth Brooks says: "The theme of resurrection is made on the surface in terms of the fertility rites.

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