Waste Land Essay: All is Not Well

Waste Land Essay: All is Not Well

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All is Not Well in The Waste Land        


Eliot's "The Waste Land" doesn't make sense. No matter how many symbols and allusions are explained by critics or Eliot himself, no matter how many fertility gods and Eastern philosophies are dragged into it, the poem does not make sense. But then, it doesn't need to in order to be good or to have a purpose. All it needs is to have meaning, and something need not make sense to mean something. The meaning "The Waste Land" holds for me is of something wrong - something so twisted and "rotten," as to be intrinsically wrong. For me, this wrongness winds itself in and out of the passages and images of the poem and doesn't seem to have any hope of being righted until the end - in the last few lines.


In every time, in every place in "The Waste Land," something is wrong. The world of the poem is one where April, the season when growing things return after winter, is "the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land," the "son of man" knows only "a heap of broken images," and there is "fear in a handful of dust." Each symbol and each allusion contains a grotesque element - one that was already there or one incorporated by Eliot. Lines 72-73 are such a nice, normal way to speak about a garden ("'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?/'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?'"), except that the thing which has been planted is a corpse, and it's in danger of being dug up by a Dog.


T'ie different ways of looking at life are all tainted. Someone says, "'I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street/'With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?/'What shall we ever do'?'" The talkative woman gossips of the problems in another woman's marriage and of her abortion, ending with the last words of Ophelia, spoken in her madness. Tiresias, the blind prophet, foretells the scene of a woman who endures the caresses of her lover, and, glad when they are over and he is gone, forgets about the incident entirely. She merely "puts a record on the gramophone."


The descriptions are often shocking and ugly, especially in the midst of a beautiful scene.

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"The river sweats/Oil and tar/The barges drift/With the turning tide/Red sails/Wide/To leeward, swing on the heavy spar." In a place of mountains, "there is not even solitude.../But red sullen faces sneer and snarl/From doors of mudcracked houses."


Other things point to the wrongness that pervades the poem. The mountains are all rock, and there is no water ("If there were water/And no rock/If there were rock/And also water"). And what if there were? "But there is no water." The poem does not answer its own question, maybe because the presence of water would make things right.


The end of "The Waste Land" seems to hold some comfort, some hope that the wrongness in the world need not be perpetuated. "Shall I at least set my lands in order?/...Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata./Shantih shantih shantih."


The poem does not offer a cause or an explanation - a reason why, - nor does it have any real solution, but it seems to me that each situation presented in Eliot's "The Waste Land" is another way of showing how all is not as it should be and never has been, although there is a possibility that it could be.

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