Critical Appreciation of T.S.Eliot's " The Waste Land": The Poem That We Should Keep In Mind Before Attending Modern Materialistic Civilization!


Introduction: Having viewed the modern materialistic civilization from the view-point of spiritualism and Christian Existentialism, T.S. Eliot has represented his reaction in the form of this poem entitled The Waste Land. It is a symbolical poem composed in the style of poetic esotericism, “Formally the poem has been described as a much of ideas and as a poetic cryptogram”. As such his is the poem of myth and symbols, of a series of trains of thoughts whose parts look unconnected with one another.

The Epigraph: The poem bears an epigraph written partly in Latin and partly in Greek. The speaker in the epigraph says that he has noticed the Sibyl at Cymae hanging in a cage and wishing to die; but she could not die because she was almost immortal by virtue of a boon from Apollo. According to recent criticism, the Sibyl hanging in a cage represents the human soul hanging in the cage of Materialism. Being immortal, the soul can’t die. But it is highly miserable, since the materialistic man is constantly haunted by anxiety, cares, worries etc. he is all “fear in a handful of dust”.
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The title words: The title of the poem The Waste Land has been inspired by Miss Dessie L. Weston’s book from Ritual to Romance. It refers to a Waste Land described in one of the Grail Romances. The Land was ruled by the Fisher king. He along with his knights ravished certain maidens who were guardians of the Grail mysteries. Because of that outrage, he became impotent and fell ill, and his land became Waste. Eliot has represented in his poem the modern materialistic world as the wasteland, and its rulers as the modern materialistic man – He has profaned the mysteries of life and being, namely the Soul and God. Consequent upon his outrage, he has become spiritually impotent and has fallen ill with misery and his land has become Waste spiritually.

The Theme stated through symbolism: The doctrine of Spiritualism, asserts that in the universe all the material forms are unreal. The immortal soul is the only reality and it has real existence apart from matter. The doctrine of Christian Existentialism holds that man must raise his soul above the sins of the Flesh and the temptation of wealth. 
In order to illustrate his point of view, the poem surveys the evil effects of Materialism on the modern society of the West. In part-I he shows that the materialistic society is ruled by sensualism, unholy love, fraud as reflected in Madame Sosostri’s Clairvoyance, and misery born of materialistic desires. In part-II the poet opines that the modern woman considers life a game of chess in which she has to keep her lover under her power by means of her beauty and cosmetics till another lover knocks at the door. In Part-III, he shows that the modern men are burning in the fire by unholy love. The part-IV, he suggests that commercialism leads the modern man only to mirage and death. In part-V the poet sums up the nature of The Waste Land and its impotence. In fact, ‘here is no water but only rock’. The water of selfless love and compassion if missing in modern sphere, there is ‘rocks’ metonymy for materialistic thoughts and deeds. If sensual pleasures, madness for worldly riches and wealth be the crux of modern Waste land, there are three gates to man’s Salvation – Datta, Dayandham and Damayanta.

Who the protagonist?: With fragmentary passages, literary quotations and allusions, there is an apparent lack of logical relationship along them. The reason is that the whole poem is a stream of consciousness in verse of one personage, Tiresias. He is the protagonist. Almost immortal, blind, bisexual he is the hidden poet, the very learned. Through memories, meditations, literary quotations, allusions and implicit contrasts his is the view of materialistic world.

Style & Versification: In esoteric style with missing links, quotations from foreign literature, use of myths and symbols are the key points in the poem. The tendency to suppress defining links may be traced back to the French symbolist. The Waste Land symbol is based on the myth of the Grail legend. This symbol has been developed by means of the vegetation myth with the rites of fertility found in ancient Eastern cults. Further, the poem is of striking speech rhythms for a sudden tightening, for a cumulative insistence, or for an abrupt change of mood. In conversational passages the speech rhythm gets down to colloquial level.

Conclusion: To conclude, The Waste Land is “the most notable single poem” of the modern age. It “goes beyond a mere diagnosis of the spiritual distempers of the age; it is a lament over man’s fallen nature, a prophecy and a promise”. According to prominent critic, it has serious defects. They are inherent in its origin and in method. He observes:
                                 “The Waste Land does not carry within itself all that is necessary for understanding. Its structural basis lies in a special branch of learning, and it involves continual references to other branches of knowledge with which few readers can be acquainted. The piece is not a self contained study”.( G. Bullough.)

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