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VBolognese - The Waste Land
[author: Vera Bolognese - postdate: 2007-11-16]

Text: T.S. Eliot, extract from The Waste Land

Read the extract and mark the point where the poet starts imaging a possible alternative to the desolate land in front of him.


Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
                                                  If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only

Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop

But there is no water




What kind of landscape is described in lines 1-15? Identify its key aspects and say how many       

times they are repeated?

A dry land where the rain never comes. There's no water but only rock among the mountains. The word "water" is repeated six times, the word "rock" recurs five times like "mountains".



What kind of landscape is described in lines 16-29?

An imaginary landscape is described where there are water and life (the hermit-trush).



Compare the two landscapes. What do they have in common?

They have in common the presence of two elements: water and rock.



Comment on the sound quality of the words which characterise the two landscapes.

The first landscapes is described with harsh words and the alliterations of "r", "ck" and "t" make clear its hostility. It isn't a place for life, it's dead.

The description  of the  imaginary landscape is made using short and easy words. The alliteration of "s" underlines its positive connotation.



Consider the layers of meaning that the word water acquires as the poem progresses. Note down the denotation and connotation/s of water. Then identify the meaning of water symbolism in the extract.

At first water is just something to drink but it  soon becomes a symbol for the meaning of life that human beings seem to have lost. In the second part water gets a Biblical connotation: it's a means to reach purification.



Concentrate on the choice of words made by the poet. Which words in the text would be regarded as conventionally "unpoetic"?

"Rock", "stop", "sweat", "carious teeth", "spit", "sterile", "sneer and snarl" and "mudcracked". They all belong to the description of the first kind of landscape.



Look at the metre, rhythm and layout of the extract.

It isn't written in a regular metre and cannot be split into regular stanzas. The layout of the first landscapes recalls a wall of rock and gives the reader the idea of a prison. The layout of the second landscape reminds the splashes of water and communicates the idea of life and joy.


In the first part the presence of rock is made tangible through frequent repetition of the word and the absence of water. All the other desert images gather around the central one - "the sandy road", "sweat (which is) dry", "feet in the sand", "carious teeth that cannot spit", "dry sterile thunder without rain", "mudcracked houses".

The compact rhythm and the barrenness lsuit the quality of the barren rock landscape.

In the second part the presence of water is created through the repetition of the word and seems to take several shapes - those of "a pool", " a spring", "the sound of water", "sound of water over rock", "(the song of ) the hermit trush", "in the pine trees".

Water has a more melodious sound than rock and suits the pleasant aspects of the imaginary landscape. The lively rhythm  seems to echo the flowing of water.

The layout can suggest a water-fall.

The juxtaposition of the two sets of images is effective. Desert images suggest the spiritual monotonous solitude, absence of life and therefore death. Instead, water images with their Biblical and rural connotations convey the concept of what gives life and joy.