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TitleHarold Bloom T. S. Eliots the Waste Land Blooms Guides 2007
File Size1.2 MB
Total Pages118
Table of Contents
T.S. Eliot’s The waste land
Biographical Sketch
The Story Behind the Story
List of Characters
Summary and Analysis
Critical Views
Works by T. S. Eliot
Annotated Bibliography
Document Text Contents
Page 2

T. S. Eliot’s

The Waste Land


Page 59


have precipitated a crisis. He took three months’ leave from the
bank in October 1921, and went first to Margate for a month,
then to Lausanne to undergo therapy; and there, working in
solitude, he was able to complete a draft of the poem. Pound
performed his editorial role in January, and The Waste Land
seems finally to have been finished in the late spring or early
summer of 1922.

Eliot alludes often in his letters during this period to
personal troubles—to concern about the state of his marriage,
anxiety about his career, recurrent nervous exhaustion, even
the fear of mental illness—and it may be, as Ronald Bush has
suggested, that the combined traumatic weight of these worries
made writing poetry under ordinary conditions impossible
by compelling Eliot to confront emotional material that a
commitment to literary honesty made nearly intractable.3 And
there seems to have been a purely professional pressure on
Eliot as well, the pressure caused by the regular appearance on
his desk at The Egoist of the chapters of Ulysses in manuscript
from, which made him feel about his own work, as he explained
it to an interviewer many years later, that “[w]hat he was
tentatively attempting to do, with the usual false starts and
despairs, had already been done, done superbly and, it seemed
to him finally, in prose which without being poetic in the older
sense, had the intensity and texture of poetry.”4

But The Waste Land must have been difficult to write for
another, simpler reason. It was the promised major work of a
writer who, in his criticism, had exposed the delusiveness of
virtually every conventional prescription for poetical newness.
In a period when avant-garde literature seemed a function of
theories and manifestos, Eliot was an avant-gardist without
a program. Having demonstrated the factitiousness of the
traditional building blocks of poetic theory—the definition
of what literature is, the epistemological explanation of how
literature works, the notion that sincerity is a matter of being
true to oneself—Eliot must have found himself with nothing
to construct a poem on. Whatever their insight into the way
literature is perceived, his prescriptive essays are, from a
writer’s point of view, entirely impractical: the fourth of the

Page 60


“Reflections on Contemporary Poetry” describes genuine
creativity as a business as unpremeditated as falling in love,
and “Tradition and the Individual Talent” assigns the poet
the whole of the Western tradition as homework but says
nothing about how that learning might, in the actual process of
composition, be put to use.

“[I]f we are to express ourselves, our variety of thoughts and
feelings, on a variety of subjects with inevitable rightness,” one
of the early essays counsels the modern poet, “we must adapt
our manner to the moment with infinite variations.”5 The
sentence might have been the model for many of Eliot’s early
critical prescriptions. It is a formula whose lack of metaphysical
content may be satisfying to the skeptic, but whose lack of
almost every other sort of content leaves the practitioner
somewhat worse off than he was without the advice, for it
provokes the question, What is one’s manner if it is a thing
infinitely adaptable? But let us suppose that this was a question
that Eliot, as he sat, a poem in his mind but a blank sheet
before him, asked himself at some point. It would not have
seemed unfamiliar to him, for it is a particular instance of the
general question posed by the extreme ontological relativism
of his dissertation: if each thing is entirely a function of its
perceived relation to every other thing, what sense does it make
for us to speak—as we do speak—of an object’s distinctive
character? Individuality—the set of qualities that “belong” to
the object—is, by the lights of the dissertation, a phantom;
it is an accident of the shape ordinary knowledge happens to
take, the inexplicable residue that remains after everything else
about a thing has been explained, or the unlikeness that is left
after all likenesses have been used up. The notion that there
are qualities original to the object persists because we have
made the decision to treat certain aspects of our experience
as discrete. But philosophically these discriminations have
no standing; they cannot survive analysis, whose virtue, the
dissertation reminds us, “is in showing the destructibility of

This might seem a problem whose working out will be of
interest only to metaphysicians and their antagonists; but it is

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nervousness, 23, 63
wealth, 23, 27, 61

Shelley, Percy Bysshe
Adonais, 70
influences on, 9, 11

Song of Myself (Whitman), 7
Sosostris, Madame (The Waste

allusions to other characters, 22,

34, 46, 70
clairvoyant, 22, 34, 63
cold, 34, 63
tarot cards, 34–35, 40, 42

Spanish Tragedy, The (Kyd), 51
Spenser, Edmund

allusions in The Waste Land, 27,

Stein, Gertrude, 20
Stetson (The Waste Land)

survivors of war, 23, 36, 90
“Stirring” theme in The Waste Land

in “Burial of the Dead,” 30
Sweeney (The Waste Land)

lust and greed of, 24, 43, 64,
91, 93

Sweeny Agonistes (play), 18
Symbolist Movement, The (Symons),

Symons, Arthur

The Symbolist Movement, 15

Tempest, The (Shakespeare)

allusions to in The Waste Land,
40–42, 46, 64

Ariel in, 45
Ferdinand in, 42, 46, 96

Tennyson, Lord Alfred
“The Holy Grail,”
influences on, 11–12
Maud, 12

Tereus and Philomela (The Waste

rape and mutilation, 23, 38–39,
43, 51, 79, 93, 97–100

Thames Maidens (The Waste Land)
betrayal, 70
pollution, 85
spirit of the Thames, 25, 46,

83, 93
Thayer, Scholfield

and The Dial, 17, 19
Thunder (The Waste Land)

personified, 25
Tiresias (The Waste Land)

anatomy of, 50–51, 69
convergence of all characters,

24, 44–45, 60–61
mere spectator, 44–45, 94
throbbing waiting, 89–90, 92

“To His Coy Mistress” (Marvell),
43, 89

Tolstoy, Leo, 78
“Tradition and the Individual

Talent” (essay), 56
doubt in, 61–62
ideal order of, 63
Western tradition in, 59–60

Treaty of Versailles, 56
Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)

allusions and The Waste Land,
22, 33–34, 38, 44

romanticism of, 38
Typist (The Waste Land), 82

bed-sitter, 24, 43
freshening up, 87
originator, 88
sex with the young man, 44, 64,

85, 93–97

Ulysses (Joyce)

Eliot’s editing of, 17, 20, 58,
65–66, 88, 92

Upanishads, 49, 85

Verdenal, Jean

death, 15, 21, 69–72
heroism, 72

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Aeneid, 54–55

Wagner, Richard, 25, 71

allusions in The Waste Land, 27,
33–34, 44, 46

Das Rheingold, 46
Tristan und Isolde, 22, 33–34,

38, 44
Waste Land, The

character list, 22–25
critical views, 53–100
influences on, 9–15, 21
publication, 19
story behind, 19–22
structure of, 62, 64–65
success of, 19–20
summary and analysis, 26–52
writing of, 17, 19, 57–60, 62

Waste Land: Facsimile and
Manuscripts of the Original Drafts,

publication, 21
Wertenbaker, Timberlake

The Love of the Nightingale, 98
“What the Thunder Said” in The

Waste Land
biblical allusions in, 47–48, 91,

death in, 47–49, 51
eastern values in, 28
elegiac resolution in, 69, 95
infertility in, 95–96
new life in, 86

summary, 47–52
urban apocalypse, 53–54

“When Lilacs Last in the
Dooryard Bloom’d” (Whitman)

death in, 9–10
the hermit in, 9–10
influence on The Waste Land,

Lincoln in, 10

Whitman, Walt
“As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of

Life,” 12
“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” 8–9
“A Hand-Mirror,” 7–8
influence on Eliot, 7–13,

Leaves of Grass, 11
Sea Drift elegies, 9, 12
Song of Myself, 7
“When Lilacs Last in the

Dooryard Bloom’d,” 9–10
Woolf, Virginia, 20, 65
World War I, 15, 20

aftermath, 80–83
events of, 76–77
theater of war, 53, 56
in The Waste Land, 32, 35

World War II, 17, 19–20

Yeats, William Butler, 47
Young man (The Waste Land)

conceit and appetite of, 44, 81
sex with the typist, 44, 64, 85,


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