Traditionally, authors begin their compositions at the beginning and then proceed to an end, creating a logical flow of information towards a conclusion. T.S. Eliot threw most traditional form out the window as he composed The Waste Land. The voice changes, the structure varies, his allusions are elusive, and the first section of the poem is entitled “The Burial of The Dead.” This of course does not speak to a beginning, but to the conclusion of what could be one or many lives. Even before this heading, the epigraph evokes the feeling of something, (a something that the reader must work to comprehend) almost eternal, reflecting on a lifetime (an ‘almost eternal’ lifetime) with a melancholic eye. The reader of the poem begins with reflections on a life, a universal life, and with this understanding we can begin to unpack some of the images and make sense of the major themes of the poem.
Without reading the entire poem, one can not hope to catch the significance of the initial passage or the epigraph; conversely, one might not comprehend the poem as a cohesive unit without its opening lines. Unlike Eliot, let us start with the genesis of the poem; ‘The Burial of The Dead.’
A major difficulty of this poem is its apparent lack of a single speaker. If there is an identifiable or specific speaker, they are contained within a few lines and then disappear into the background of the poem. The first seven lines are second or third person, singular or plural is not made clear. We are not given any perspective for these lines; therefore, the reader has nothing with which to orient himself. The vertigo continues once the language is taken into consideration. What do we make of his confl...
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...events from ancient to present, coming together in one piece to produce a single feeling. Eliot sums up this feeling with the title. At once everything is connected through the poem and yet disconnected by time, place, and experience. I mentioned that the poem’s epigraph implied a reflection on an almost eternal life, The Sibyl (as well as Tiresias later in the poem) mirrors civilization’s history and the poem itself. Where Sibyl will not die she is in the process of decay, where history has not stopped it has broken down to a waste land. By bringing together these ‘broken images,’ Eliot constructed a summation of thousands of years of history. Many voices all speaking at once, alienated from one another by different times, different thoughts, and different experiences but connected through society’s common sub-consciousness and brought together by The Waste Land.
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