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FBernardini - The Wasteland
[author: Francesco Bernardini - postdate: 2008-01-09]


The Wasteland is probably the most famous work by T. S. Eliot. It was written in 1922 and is subdivided into 5 sections:


  1. The Burial of the Dead, about the opposition fertility/sterility
  2. A Game of Chess, lack of love in different social environments
  3. The Fire Sermon, regeneration and mysticism not through water but through fire
  4. Death by Water reinforces the idea
  5. What the Thunder Said, rigeneration by destruction of the Western civilization

The Burial of the Dead, the first section, is made up of scenes, connected only by the idea of the  journey.

The title itself suggests the idea of death and impossible rigeneration and of a negative atmosphere that permeates the whole section.


Scene 1 provides an image of waste and lack of water (and in addition a lack of knowledge in "I knew nothing", line 41), followed immediately by the figure of a sensual girl.


Scene 2 is devoted to  Madame Sosostris, a fortuneteller but a rather vulgar one,


The  last  scene is a sort of picture of a ghostly London where workers are compared to zombies unable to communicate, like the damned in Dante's Inferno. 

Eliot compares people from different ages to confirm the independence of man's nature.


Line 1 is a quotation from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that has been turned upside down: from "April is the sweetest month"you get  to "April is the cruelest month"; this is done on purpose to underline that traditionally April was thought to be the month nature rebirth (and of man and literature, from the cultural sloth in which the Wester society lives) after winter.


Differently from the traditional interpretation, to Eliot April is the cruellest month because it makes promises that will not be satisfied.  Also the expression "breeding lylacs out of the dead stone" is meaningful: lylacs are flowers used in funerals, but it is also the colour of bishops' and priests' dresses while they are celebrating funerals.


the expression "Winter kept us warm" could be analysed as the time in which people remain in their houses to be protected from the cold and other people. "Mixing memory and desire" represents the Modernist conception of time which considers present as a mixture of past (memory) and future (desire).


In the last section there is a sort of solution: the journey (theme of the whole work)of two disciples  to Emmaus, where they won't know resurrected Jesus, the arrival to the Perilious Chapter (end of the quest for the Grail), the end of European civilization.


The Mythical method is fundamental to create the atmosphere of the Wasteland. As a matter of fact sections are permeated of ancient and modern myths, taken from very far and different cultures. You are expected to rely on a wide cultural background  to understand exactly how they interview on the balance of the works.


Poetry as a Romantic outburst of feelings is refused by Eliot in favour of an impersonal and rigid scheme of composition, where the poet is detatched.