Thursday, October 26, 2006

Week 10, Eliot

T. S. Eliot. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1420-22), “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1425-28), The Waste Land (1430-43).

General Notes on Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1420-22).

What’s the question to be addressed? Well, don’t ask. It may be Hamlet’s question—“to be, or not to be” since J. Alfred is like that character in (at least as some have interpreted him) in his indecisiveness and his feeling that “the time is out of joint.” But the only kinds of questions J. Alfred proposes directly are, “do I dare?” “How should I presume?” “How should I begin?” etc. In the plot sense, of course, the question concerns whether and how Prufrock may contact a woman he desires. He wants to declare his love, at least in the interrogative mode. But the main problem is that he is unable to pose this meaningful, portentous question, whatever we claim it is.

Prufrock’s references to nature are oddly anesthetic, which seems appropriate given his state of mind and his need for concealment. The cityscape in this poem is depressing.

There is always time, says J. Alfred, for “visions and revisions” (33). Time is a burden, and J. Alfred finds that he is unable to follow the aesthetes’ prescription to do nothing in the most elegant, artful ways, thereby redeeming superfluousness as a counter-ideal to western utilitarianism and the Protestant Work Ethic. Prufrock can’t let go of the feeling that he ought to act in the world, that he ought to ask big questions and mean something. But he’s too regimented by the quotidian—those “coffee spoons” by which he measures his existence; he’s too timid, too formulated by the gaze of other people, to give an account of himself (60). Human self-awareness is founded upon and always invaded by others—the poem reinforces the basic Hegelian idea that the self is social, a matter of social situatedness and expectations. And here, the “others” who permeate Prufrock’s consciousness seem to be sedately merciless.

Prufrock refers to the “eternal Footman” (85), a reminder that, as Denis Diderot’s Jacques says, “no man is a hero to his valet. We should be in control of life, but life just snickers at us. Perhaps Prufrock would like to play John the Baptist and tell us that he is waiting for the one who will bring completion to us all, but here the issue is, as he says, “no great matter” (83). After line 87, the issue becomes whether it is worth it for this “dead” man to play Lazarus and reawaken with a declaration of live. But why bother in such a dead world? And what if Prufrock’s meaning doesn’t correspond with what the woman “meant” (96-98)? At 111ff, the speaker points out that he’s no Hamlet—the time may be out of joint, but he’s not the one to “set it right”; he’s more like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern than Hamlet. At the poem’s end, Prufrock confesses that he doesn’t believe the mermaids will sing for him. Perhaps their magical chant is for themselves, or for others, but not for him. In the next-to-last stanza they seem to lead to another realm, a transformation or passage over the waters to new life. But Prufrock will stay where he is, will stay underwater and finally drown in his isolation. Alongside whom—who is the “we” he includes?

From Ritual to Romance, by Jesse Weston.

Eliot’s debt to the book From Ritual to Romance (1920) is significant, so here are some notes on that book: author Jesse Weston quotes Sir Francis Bacon: the soul should expand to meet the fullness of a mystery; mystery should not constrict itself to the limits of the soul. And that will be the point when T.S. Eliot uses myth—to go beyond the bounds of the individual ego and force the modern reader to confront his inability to appreciate the ancient myths by which people once lived meaningful lives.

Weston wants to go beyond and before the grail legend as we now have it—she is interested in finding out what lies behind the explicitly Christian and Romance or Arthurian versions of the grail quest. Throughout her book, she finds that ancient fertility myths are the source of the modern grail legend. She wants to trace the evolution of religious consciousness or at least to find out what lies at its base. She insists against Ridgeway that religion has always been more than simply ancestor-worship; it has always been connected with something beyond the individual self and immediate family relations. It has been about the relationship between the human and the divine.

So that is one interest Eliot might take in Jesse Weston—the way in which genuine religious consciousness connects us to some realm beyond ourselves.

Moreover, Weston says that the ancient myths are life-myths—they are about the cycle of death and rebirth, and of course they are connected with seasonal change. Eliot wants to tap into this kind of imagery and significance in his poem.

Jesse Weston mentions several versions of the grail legend, and in some of them the sick or dead Fisher King is responsible for the desolation of the land, while in others the questor himself fails to answer the question properly and becomes responsible for the desolation of the land. Weston finds that the first version is the more genuine and ancient, but I am not certain that Eliot cares which came first—it would make sense for him to pose responsibility or agency as a legitimate question in his poem. For us, this means we must ask about the extent to which the poem itself is complicit in the condition it describes and in this way responsible for its perpetuation. What then would the punishment be? Would it have something to do with incoherence?

Weston describes the grail legend as follows: the main object is the restoration to health and vigor of a King suffering from infirmity caused by wounds, sickness, or old age. Further, it seems that the King’s illness has caused war or blight. The hero must “restore the waters to their channel,” and make the land fertile again. So the hero must restore the land to its previous condition, and most importantly make the King healthy again. Castration is sometimes the wound alluded to—loss of generative power.

That author also says that the Aryans believed in sympathetic magic. They believed in prayer and supplication, but also believed they could stimulate divine activity. According to Sir J. G. Fraser in The Golden Bough, these ancients believed that the animal and vegetable world were bound together and that the same principle of life and fertility was at work in them both. Anthropomorphizing nature is one way of showing this. According to Weston, life cults evolved beyond a belief in the vivifying power of water to recognition of “a common principle underlying all manifestations of life.”

Weston comes around to saying that the wasteland is central to an understanding of the entire myth cycle. The grail is not a horn of plenty—it does not seem to be the case that we actually feed from the grail cup. Rather, it is a kind of magic artifact. The four symbols are cup, lance, sword, and dish. They correspond to the pack of cards as hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs. The tarot pack seems to have been introduced to Europe from the East. The fish as a symbol predates Christianity. It has to do with the origin and preservation of life since it is commonly believed that all life comes from water.

General Notes on Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1425-28).

Eliot clearly rejects romantic self-expression as a justification for poetry. Instead, the poet “expresses” the Mind of Europe, the western literary and philosophical/religious canon. This western tradition is an ideal order of texts, a place we can visit to reconnect with whatever may still speak to us from the past. How does the poet do that? It is not simple—conforming to tradition takes hard work, it seems. The poet must cultivate what on 1425-26 Eliot calls “the historical sense”: Homer, Virgil, Dante, and others are still with us, if we approach them rightly. Appreciating the past in relation to the present gives us the only real chance we have of understanding the present. Individual poets are most liberated, most original, in sacrificing their eccentric egos to the “Dead Poets,” becoming thereby a medium for the kinds of feelings and subjects already explored and fixed in textual form by the predecessor poets. If modern poets return to their ancestors in the spirit of self-sacrifice, their minds may then serve as a catalyst and actually change how we read past authors. In that way, the present, as Eliot points out, alters the past. Reading The Waste Land (which Eliot wrote after his “Tradition” essay) may get us to re-examine any number of authors—Shakespeare, Ovid, Augustine, and so forth.

The past is altered by the present. We might consider this simply good neoclassicism—the past is a stable entity, yet it is not unattainable for us. It seems to me that for Eliot, European literature is one large lyric poem, unified like the poetry that Cleanth Brooks and other New Critics consider autonomous. Eliot means by historical sense something very different from historicism. It isn’t so much that ideas become obsolete, but rather that conditions render us unable to act or appreciate the relationship between past and present. It seems to be a perceptual problem brought on or intensified by material developments.

In fact, says Eliot, only the present can render the past intelligible. So how is this idea different from the romantic pursuit of ever-greater self-consciousness? The infinite march of reflective understanding, or the infinite regression of acts of self-consciousness—only not at the individual level.

Where does the individual poet get the ability to tap into this tradition? Well, see Matthew Arnold, who says that the man and the moment are necessary to genuine creation. Arnold says that we need a current of true and fresh ideas. Eliot seems to think that there is not such a current in his own day, so the poet becomes rather a bookish creature. The poet, that is, must be difficult in this modern age.

Eliot uses the term depersonalization. We might look at this demand of his from a few different perspectives. Northrop Frye, for example, writes in his book T. S. Eliot that Eliot is interested in eastern mysticism and religion. In such religious contexts, one achieves a sense described by the phrase “thou art that.” The terms karma and atman come to mind—karma is due to selfishness or desire, and atman is a kind of identification with the world without completely losing one’s individuality—it is a “total self.” And of course, this is what romanticism is always trying to accomplish—recovering a loss unity between mind and nature, between an individual and all others. Well, we might also bring up Matthew Arnold, who writes about the need for disinterestedness, the ability to remain aloof from the goings-on of the world in all its self-interested frenzy. Arnold’s term refers to criticism, of course, not so much to poetry, but the point is that one needs to get outside one’s ordinary skin and achieve a certain degree of objectivity about the object of one’s attentions. Like Matthew Arnold, Eliot offers a formulation that betrays a certain pathos, a personal need to escape from personality. Notice that Eliot uses terms such as self-surrender. Perhaps his scientific metaphor of platinum covers up this romantic pathos. Indeed, we might compare his metaphor to romantic inspiration theory. The mind of the poet serves as a catalyst for language drawn from tradition and culture; tradition itself speaks through the poet. In a sense, then, this is an expressive theory—but what is expressed is not the poet’s personality but rather something much larger than himself. The poetic process is rather like the achievement in Hindu religion of “atman.” It is fair to remind ourselves that romantic theorists do not necessarily advocate simple theories of self-expression—they capture the complexities of language as a medium for spirit, and it makes sense to describe romanticism as an encounter between language and the poet, not simply as self-expression. In any case, the reward for readers is a truly new, authentic experience with art.

The poet has an experience with language and tradition, and is not simply expressing desires that flow from autonomous consciousness. Language and tradition use the poet; they express themselves through poetry. Again, it is worthwhile not separating Eliot entirely from romantic theory. Do good poets ever simply express their feelings? Oscar Wilde points out that “all bad poetry originates in sincere emotion.” When Eliot uses the term “fusion,” there is something in that term of the romantic symbol. The metaphor is scientific, but it carries theological overtones. The romantic symbol fuses things that were disparate, overcomes the gap between subject and object.

See the nightingale reference—this is a concrete image that serves as a focal point for disparate feelings. A complex, traditional literary image of this sort has the power to unify and embody otherwise disjointed feelings. So the poet is a medium who wields such images, he is not a personality that needs to express itself. His primary task is to combine images and words drawn from the literary tradition.

The New critics claim that poetic context warps ordinary or denotative meanings to suit the context of the poem. On this page, Eliot refers to emotion in this way. He rejects Wordsworth’s theory that emotion is recollected in tranquility, favoring instead a different kind of concentration. He seems to like the older or combinatorial terms of faculty psychology—for an author like Sir Philip Sidney, remember, originality was not the point of writing poetry.

We should mention imitative theory—the poet does not imitate but rather serves as a catalyst for the past, for tradition. Repetition is not the goal, but rather a scientific version of poetic creation comes to the forefront. It is as if Eliot is trying to achieve a balance between neoclassical respect for culture and modern faith in “making it New,” with a trace of romantic creative pathos thrown in for good measure. Eliot does not assume that tradition is simply stable, so pure imitative theory would not make sense for him. I don’t think he would agree that we can simply point to touchstones, as Matthew Arnold would call them.

Eliot calls emotion impersonal, and he means that emotion is embodied in the poem and sustained by its contexts. Up to now, we have listened to Eliot offer advice to the poet, as many poet-critics have done. But let’s ask at this point where the reader fits into Eliot’s scheme. The implication of what I just said about emotion getting embodied in an image or in the poem is that the reader, like the poet, must go out of himself and be willing to engage in a certain kind of transaction with language. So reading a modernist poem like The Waste Land turns out to be a very difficult endeavor.

General Notes on T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Section I. The Burial of the Dead.

Major themes: Frustrated hope for regeneration; frustrated desire experienced as confusion; “undeadness.” London is an unreal city, a place that represents the death of human purpose and meaning. There is an obvious reference to the seasonal cycles of nature, which here seem to be disjointed. (April should not be the cruelest month, but it is.) Another theme is the possibility that an authoritative voice might emerge either to help us get out of our predicament, or at least to explain clearly what it is.

What Eliot introduces us to in this first section is a Dante-world in which individuals are profoundly alienated from themselves and from one another and from any system of meaning that would make sense of their lives. In order to be reborn, a person first must die a genuine death, but that kind of death seems to be denied the characters whose voices we hear in the wasteland. Northrop Frye points out that in The Wasteland, the characters do not seem to know their situation; they are uncomprehending, neither living nor dead. They cannot even die—a problem we encounter in the first part of the poem generally.

I would like to introduce the problem of narrative unity. How are we to construe the speaker of this poem? Is there one? Would it make sense for there to be only one speaker in the context of T. S. Eliot’s poetics? He firmly rejects what he considers romantic egocentrism—the poetry of pure self-expression—but he also rejects Matthew Arnold’s version of disinterested objectivity, as well as the Victorian Sage writers and their strategies for garnering authority. I don’t think we are going to get a final version of the truth from any single narrative voice, even though Eliot says that Tiresias’ vision is the poem’s central one. Several voices emerge in this first section.

Marie. The first voice is that of “Marie,” an alienated aristocrat. She speaks of fragmentary childhood experiences that she cannot put together or properly interpret. The cosmopolitan figure Marie represents the kind of decadence that led to the First World War—she is among the living dead. She hides in her books and fragmentary childhood memories, her sense of racial pride. There is no genuine sense of place, origin, or tradition for her. Apparently, this character is modeled after Marie Larisch, the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Bavaria Ludwig Wilhelm and the actress Henriette Mendel. She was a confidante of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and acted as go-between for Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Mary Vetsera. Eliot actually met Marie.

The imagery associated with Marie as well as the comments she makes bespeak frustrated desire, desire frustrated by the world in which she lives. The setting of the poem seems to be post WWI Europe, most particularly London, but the reminiscences of Marie refer to a time before that. She introduces unwittingly the theme of descent into an underworld, which for her seems to involve frustrated sexual desire—a world in alliance with what Eliot might call death’s dream kingdom, a division that stops short of full spiritual enlightenment. She or her interlocutor—it is difficult to see which—claims to be neither living nor dead, and looks into the heart of light uncomprehendingly. She is the “hyacinth girl,” and this may be a reference to the fertility myths that Eliot got from Jesse Weston—the cult of Adonis employed the hyacinth flower to mimic the blood of the dying God. But the hyacinth girl does not seem to understand her relation to this mythology. Moreover, I’m reminded by the criticism I’ve read that this imagery appears in other Eliot poems—a male figure meets a young girl who is holding flowers. Perhaps Dante provides a clue to the meaning of this symbolism: in purgatory, Dante has a vision of a young woman named Matilda, who is in Eden. This vision of Matilda eventually gives way to the higher vision of Beatrice, so Matilda is a lower-level figure for Dante. She gives him a lecture on the properties of seeds—in Eden, things grow with unbelievable ease; there is no question of sterility or painful birth into the light of day. In Purgatorio Canto 28, Dante exhibits some resentment of what he has seen. Now, generation is no easy matter. The references to Tristan reinforce the theme of frustrated desire.

The Prophet. Between these passages where Marie and a lover speak, we are treated to the language of biblical prophecy reminiscent of Ezekiel. This voice promises to show us “fear in a handful of dust” (30). What is the function of this kind of language? Dryness, drought, predominate in this passage—there is no hiding from the sterility of the desert, and it is possible that the references to “something different” refer to Christ. Or perhaps they simply refer to death, which Marie and her lover cannot comprehend because they are neither living nor dead. The kind of desire they exhibit is bound to fail them in age, for it leads nowhere beyond the boundaries of the self. They are self-isolated characters. Prophecy of radical change is no shelter or comfort for them.

Immediately following this voice, or interrupting it, rather, we find a reference to Ezekiel. Perhaps these references are meant to remind us of the deeper significance missed by people like Marie, but as a student of Victorian literature, I would add that biblical prophecy is one of the more common strategies employed by the Victorian sage-writers. So I am not certain that I trust this style, which Eliot as a modern author is almost bound to reject as a marker for deeper significance in the poem. In any event, the prophetic voice challenges us with the fact that we know nothing but broken images and that drought is the prevailing condition of life. It is clear that what “the freeing of the waters” cannot yet occur.

Madame Sosostris. This character is a fake prophetic voice, and she is not even certain that she can transmit the insight into the future she believes she has to offer—”one must be so careful these days.” The tarot pack she wields seems to be somehow related to the fertility cults or life myths, at least indirectly. She refers to a drowned sailor, telling her interlocutors that this is their card. So the theme here is drowning, immersion, transformation. Is the Hanged Man the Fisher King? In any case, I don’t think we will get the answers from her, though her reference to the need to fear death by water is interesting because this sort of death may amount to a genuine “sea-change,” genuine death and transformation.

Citizen or Dantean Pilgrim in the Unreal City. This voice gives us a vision of a dying civilization. As Dr. Johnson would say, if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. Everybody in the Citizen’s London seems to be tired of life. This part of the poem associates London with Dante’s Inferno. What we have seen so far is characters who are among the living dead, so the entire first section is a descent into the underworld. At the end of Section 1, the theme of death and regeneration surfaces. What would it mean if the corpse were to sprout? The dead here seem resentful, sterile, and seek no regeneration—it would only disturb them if a corpse were to reawaken.

Charles Baudelaire is mentioned here, too, in the last line of the first section. This poet concerns himself with a teeming city of anonymous souls wrapped up in themselves and not connected with the bustling life around them. Yet, Baudelaire sees that it’s necessary not to deny the present state of affairs. He is someone who could immerse his language and himself in a bustling urban environment and not get lost. That’s what connects him to the prophetic authors and the Hindu holy texts in Eliot—all are able to immerse themselves in a hostile environment and return alive to bring us insight. We might use that standard to judge the voice that speaks at the poem’s end, incidentally—he asks in borrowing a thought from the Bible, “shall I at least set my lands in order?”

II. A Game of Chess.

Themes: The consequences of the frustration and confusion we saw in Section I.

It seems that two main voices are heard in this part—an upper-class voice and a lower-class voice. Sterility is common to them both. The first is shot through with ornate poetic references, one to Cleopatra and her splendor, another to Dido of Carthage, another to Ophelia, and yet another to Philomela, who was violated by the barbarous King Tereus and turned into a nightingale. This is a legend about swallowing one’s own increase, as the King was made to do when he was served his own son, Itys. But here, there is no mention of a tapestry telling the whole story. Ovid had managed to find beauty in Philomela’s sad tale, but here the nightingale sings to uncomprehending “dirty ears,” and no vital connection between mythic narrative and nature emerges.

“A closed car at four” (136) is an important line because even if rain came, the speaker would not allow it to penetrate. There is a total absence of any inspiration or genuine life in this section—the wind stirs, but to no real effect. And the culture of the past, most particularly Shakespeare, is turned into a silly ragtime hit. Fire is mentioned, but it is not the kind that purifies leading up to the releasing of the waters. The lower-class woman of this section bears children and has abortions, and both acts seem to mean about the same to her. From such an attitude will come no regeneration at either the individual or societal level. The reference to Ophelia at the end of this section underscores the craziness of the sexuality to which the poem alludes.

As Northrop Frye says, the title of the second part may well refer to Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. There, of course, the issue is whether Ferdinand and Miranda will marry and help regenerate the social order. Certainly, the women in this second part have little in common with Miranda. But the stakes are high, even if they don’t know it.

III. The Fire Sermon.

Themes: The vision of Tiresias; a call to purification.

We arrive at the autumn, the nadir, of the poem, a point at which physical and spiritual regeneration have been denied. Of course, this part hardly sounds like a sermon, but it teaches us by the light of a mythic synthesis—Tiresias, Buddha, Augustine. So what is the point? Something seems to be happening because at 173, we hear that “the river’s tent is broken.” The River Thames is flowing to the ocean, carrying no more filth with it. But the entire section seems to be about seductions, and the poet works in previous references to Philomel as well as Sweeney, commonly glossed as the low and sensual man. The prophet Tiresias has been both a woman and a man, so he can judge the scene he describes. In his note, Eliot claims that Tiresias is central to the poem, but that needs explaining. I’ve heard it said that the poem’s references to sexual sterility are to be replaced by poetic engendering or reproduction—the capacity of poetic language to reshape the cultural heritage just at the point when all seems lost and irretrievably alien, fragmented. But that notion sounds a bit too optimistic for this poem, doesn’t it? It sounds like a concerted effort to make the poem offer a standard modernist thesis about poetic language. I don’t think Eliot is necessarily offering us one big claim about art’s regenerative power.

Tiresias is, of course, prominent and wise—he sees the typist’s loveless act and the comprehends the soulless lust of the “young man carbuncular.” The typist allows herself to be used like a public urinal. Obviously, this kind of sexuality is sterile. The same goes for the scene that evokes the alleged furtive union between Queen Elizabeth and Leicester. Perhaps the point is that these lurid images and references must be worked through for purification to occur. Note the reference to St. Augustine at 307-10 (“To Carthage then I came,” etc.). Augustine dwells upon how we are at first trapped in our senses and prone to obsession, and how God needs to move us beyond them. His particular spiritual stumbling block, as he explains in The Confessions, was lust.

Edmund Spenser also makes what a cameo appearance in this section—there is a reference to his “Prothalamion,” or song in preparation for the marriage of the Earl of Worcester. The poet asks the Thames to run softly until he finishes his poetic task. Spenser wrote of the Earl’s marriage in an elegant, innocent-seeming way, which lends irony to his line, “Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song” (176). But there may be more to the story than this—it’s something to look into.

IV. Death by Water.

Themes: the meaning of death and its connection to rebirth.

Frye says that this part refers to physical death, just as burial means physical life but spiritual deadness. But in any case, the Phoenician here seems genuinely to die, forgetting everything. And perhaps forgetting is in itself a kind of purification, given where the scene occurs in the poem. Perhaps the passage indicates a drowning to ordinary life—the life of commerce, awaiting spiritual sea-change. And Carthage was a Phoenician colony, a place Aeneas needed to leave in order to found a new order in Western history. John Carlos Rowe said in a lecture at which I was present that this section may refer to a baptismal immersion in culture and history, a purgation of the ego that makes way for a more genuine self rooted in interconnection with other members of a community. Perhaps, but that seems to me a theoretical imposition on the poem’s immediate matter. Earlier, we saw the phrase “the burial of the dead” used ironically: the Anglican service renders death official, and offers hope to the living. Death is usually an institutional matter. Here, Phlebas the Phoenician gives his body to the sea, forgetting profit and loss, and entering the whirlpool. Then we are warned not to die the way Phlebas did. This raises the question, “where, if anywhere, does death lead?”

V. What the Thunder Said.

Themes: Who can make the waste land fertile and whole again? How can we escape from the prison-house of the self and merge with the divine?

Frye refers to the voice that emerges in the final few paragraphs as “fallen Adam,” who does not have the power to regenerate what he has destroyed. But Rowe says that the voice emerging is the poet himself, as both madman and Fisher King. (One of the voices is that of Hieronymo from Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, a character who uses his madness as a tool to get revenge on a world that has betrayed him.)

We hear of a walk through the desert and barren cities to the Arthurian place of testing, the Chapel Perilous. What is to be confronted there? Well, at last the torrent of rain at least promises to come from the sacred Indian River—“Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves / Waited for rain…” (396-97). The Thunder speaks, and tells us that we must practice self-control, give alms, and show compassion. The line “thinking of the key, each confirms a prison” (415) brings to the fore the problem against which that advice contends: egocentrism, the isolation of the individual from communal purpose.

But I’m not certain that this poem achieves any solution—it is easy to read it in light of the Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism in 1927, but that would be anachronistic. We have gone through the Chapel Perilous, and there’s some sense towards the poem’s end that “the waters will be freed,” some hint of progress towards spiritual regeneration and the reclaiming of the land as fertile. It may be that the attempt to put together Eliot’s poetic fragments is in itself a kind of answer or salvational quest. But the poem ends with an untranslatable Hindi quotation, really a magic incantation—“Shantih.” I see no final resolution to the predicament that has been described. Perhaps all that can be offered is some indication of how to proceed, how to undertake the necessary journey. Or we might even want to compare the overall effect with Yeats’ “Second Coming,” where the old cycle is ending and the new one is coming, but we aren’t quite sure what the new cycle is going to be. I know from my reading in the Hindu holy texts that they embrace destruction as inseparable from creation. The ancient texts treat death, ruin, and the passage of epochs as necessary, even as they offer consolation and calm. There’s something almost magical in these texts about the recounting of loss and destruction, as if the story of loss is itself the stuff of a new mythology and a new quest. The Waste Land and its strong poetic voices may well take much the same view.

Edition: Baym, Nina et al. (eds.) The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vols. C, D, E. 6th ed. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN 0393977943.


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