Bookmas Series: 16th December 2016
A review by Jack Rowe
The Waste Land – T. S. Eliot (1923)
The Waste Land is a sprawling epic, a free verse poem consisting of various perspectives and voices in a tumultuous post-WWI London, with so many allusions to classical works of literature and switches in language that it’s easy to get lost while reading. When I was assigned to read the text in my first term at university, I struggled to understand it on my first reading…and my second…and my third…
Despite this, once I started to see meaning in Eliot’s poem I found something incredible. What seems incoherent becomes meticulously crafted upon closer inspection, Eliot’s fragmented and isolated poetic form reflecting the way in which society had changed after the so-called Great War and become, in Eliot’s eyes, a ‘Waste Land’.
Describing the plot of the Waste Land is near impossible as there is no coherent plot in a traditional sense; the narrative is told in sections, the impact of WWI being shown on various characters, some named, some not, all being held together by the theme of war and loss.
The Waste Land is an analyst’s dream. The work is made to feel bigger than itself with the constant references to other works in the literary canon, from Dante to Shakespeare to Ovid, setting the text on a grand scale – however, for a reader looking for a poem to read with a meaning that doesn’t require hours of research and analysis to discern, this may not be the work for you.
The Waste Land is a meticulous and fascinating work to study, but is much harder to appreciate with a quick peruse than most – added to this, not one to read this holiday if you’re aiming for Christmas cheer – Walking in a Winter Waste Land just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.