Is there any Structural Principal in The Waste Land?

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      Introduction: The Waste Land has generally been criticised as lacking structural principle. The work has been regarded by some people as a collection of separate poems - "a piece of literary carpentry, scholarly joiner's work" Karl Shapiro finds no unity or form in the work. Graham Hough feels that the mixture of so many style - narrative, dramatic, lyric, allusive - within the short space of the poem damages the unity, lowered, while it is not possible to agree with the reviewer who found the poem a "full rigged ship built in a bottle," i.e. perfect in construction, we have to admit that there is a kind of unity in the poem.

Apparent disorganization has significance. All the disjointedness in the poem is closely related to the learning and wealth of literary borrowings. Together they represent the state of modern civilization. The fragmentary quality of the poem expresses the vision of fragmentary world - a civilization in ruins. The theme of The Waste Land form a series of scenes fading into one another - as in a film-seen from the point of view of the protagonist who is identified with the impotent Fisher King and also with Tuiresias, the legendary blind Greek prophet.
Structural principle of The Wasteland

      Apparent disorganization has significance. All the disjointedness in the poem is closely related to the learning and wealth of literary borrowings. Together they represent the state of modern civilization. The fragmentary quality of the poem expresses the vision of fragmentary world - a civilization in ruins. The theme of The Waste Land form a series of scenes fading into one another - as in a film-seen from the point of view of the protagonist who is identified with the impotent Fisher King and also with Tuiresias, the legendary blind Greek prophet.

      Is the unifying principle a stream of consciousness technique involving Tiresias ? Some critics, such as Grover Smith, have suggested that this is so. The suggestion has been made on the basis of Eliot's note about Tiresias that he is "the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest". Eliot said: "What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. Grover Smith contends that the poem is Tiresias's "stream of consciousness". The view is not quite tenable. Tiresias is not a single human consciousness, but a mythological catch all a man who has once been a woman, who lived for ever and could foretell the future.

      Unity of an inclusive consciousness and a musical organisation: F.R, Leavis feels that The Waste Land has unity - not narrative or dramatic or metaphysical unity, but a unity of an inclusive consciousness. Its organization is musical. V. Sola Pinto considers the technique of the poem to be "the music of ideas" in five movements. The main themes are introduced in the first section and are developed in the second and third. The fourth section "Death by Water" forms a short lyric interlude which reminds us what the rest of the poem is about. The fifth section is the climax. Several critics such as Bergonzi and I.A. Richards also feel that the poem, like Prufrock and Gerontion, is musical in organisation. The themes, in other words, flow together and recur, making a powerful emotional impact but having no regular structural quality. I.A. Richards feels that in the poem, abstract, concrete, general and particular idea are arranged in such a way as to create effects on us which may cohere into a unity of feeling. We are to respond to, not ponder and work out, the themes of dissolution, loveless love-making, squalor versus grandeur, meaninglessness of modern life, the symbols of the waste land, the nightingale, Cleopatra's barge, and the smoking candle-end as they occur and recur in the poem.

      Musical quality is, however, not enough for a poem's unity. Ideas expressed verbally are not, after all, musical phrases. Words have to tell smoothing before they can produce coherence of feeling and attitude.

      Unity of concentrated impression: There is greater credibility in the view that the poem's unity lies, not in a frame-work of narrative, but on a series of highly concentrated impressions. "April is the cruellest month...": the very beginning of "The Burial of the Dead" indicates the pain that accompanies the birth of new life. In the same section we have death-in-life of the unreal city. "The Games of Chess" gives illustration of the deadness of wealth and poverty in the city. In splendour, contrasting with its present state. This section also broadens the perspective with the invocation of St. Augustine and his conversion, and brings in the hint of a redeeming conception again tells us that water brings life as well as death. In the fifth and final section. "What the Thunder said", what hapens after Christ's agony is recalled. Christian and Arthurian symbols unite to indicate the end of one period and the beginning, perhaps, of a fesh life after a sacrificial death. The thunder is muttering signifying the storm to come on the waste land, but with it will come also water which gives life.

      Recurrence of theme: The obvious unifying factor in The Waste Land is the myth which Eliot used to convey the theme. The theme, which links all the sections, is the barrenness, emptiness and aridity of the modern world and its accompanying sexual disorder and religious unbelief. The atmosphere of despair and desolation, sexual frustration and spiritual void is built up by the various images - Madame Sosostris, the Unreal city and its crowd, the nervous lady and her bed-room, the conversation of Lil and her lover, the modern Thames, Sweeney's visit to Mrs. Porter, the clerk seducing the typist, the situation of the four Daughters of Thames, the drowning of Phlebas, the dry stones, the tumbingtowers and the empty chapel. The themes recur with variations and the repetition gives a sense of unified mood and atmosphere to the poem.

      Myth as an organizing principle in the poem: The themes are reinforced by Eliot's use of myth. The central myth is the mysterious sickness of the Fisher King in the Grail legend whose lands were blighted by the infertility - a blight which could be removed only when the destined Deliverer performed some magic. Related to this central myth are other myths of death and rebirth. Eliot uses all the research into the past of the human race done by anthropologists. He also uses the psychologists knowledge of the human mind. The method gives a form of unity to the poem.

      The poem's progression: F.R. Leavis denies any development in the poem. He tells that the end of the poem is as its beginning - the sterile world remains unchanged. If anything, it is presented, with an even more terrifying intensity:

There is not even silence in the mountains.

      However, the poems does show a kind of progression. At the end there is an apocalyptic quality - " What the Thunder said". The parched and uncreative world is not meaningless at the end as it was at the beginning of the poem. The Thunder reinforces the evidence of the Buddha and St. Augustine, proclaiming that there is meaning in the universe which is founded on the eternal moral principle of "Datta, Dayadhavam, Damyata" or "give sympathise and control" as Eliot himself translates. The Waste Land is a strongly Christian poem based on the belief in Man's original sin. The poem is about the human condition seen from the Christian point of view. Man's condition is what it is because he has broken the eternal moral law. It is a matter of individual response whether the poem ends on a note of despair, or whether at the centre of the spiral movement there is the void, the terror of the unknown which cannot be finally evaded as Helen Gardener observes, or whether, like Bergonzi, one is to feel that there is a way out with the hopefulness of the word. "Shantih" The new insight into man's situation offers hope of release from the barrenness. The leadership once contained in the chapel, now deserted, can be rehabilitated, The rain remains a possibility, but it is a possibility that can be realized; so is salvation. E.M. Forester called the poem "a poem of horror." The earth is barren, the sea salt, the fertilizing, thonderstorm broke too late. Hieronymo (from Kyd's Spanish Tragedy), whose words are quoted by Eliot, sacrificed his life to achieve his ends. Similarly, in the waste land, each man must fulfill his role to the extent of sacrifice before salvation comes. Thus the poem is not of unrelieved horror. Certainly, the way is painful, for the self has to be subordinated to external control.

      Conclusion: The Waste Land is not a poem with "a formal structure" in the usual sense of the term. There is little of logical sequence. It is not a perfect piece of construction. It is a poem which invites us into a world of "broke images". But though there may not be logical sequence in these "broken images", the leaving out of any one picture may seriously affect the value of the whole composite picture.

University Question also can be Answered:

Q. "The Waste Land has no structure; it is only a series of images underpinned by a common theme." Discuss.

Or

Q. Is there any structural principle in The Waste Land? Does it seem a poem full of brilliant debris or unified by its theme like a piece of music?

Or

Q. Is there progression in Eliot's The Waste Land? Do the last lines of the poem strike you as benediction or an ironic comment on the waste land situation?

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