How does Eliot use myth and imagery in "The Waste Land"?

mstokes | Student

The Waste Land is a poem full of myth, allusion and imagery. Because of the length of the poem, five sections in total, it would be impossible to answer fully in a short section. Having said that, it would be useful if you read Eliot's own extensive notes on the poem and it would also be helpful if you considered the following.

Eliot cited two books he used writing the poem. These are Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (1920) and Sir James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890).The title of the poem is drawn from the myth of "The Fisher King" which tells of a kingdom becoming barren (waste) because of an injury to the king. In order for the kingdom to become fertile again a number of tasks or trials must be completed by a hero. This is the same theme that is prevalent in much of the canon of great world literature, in particular Epic.

The Burial of the Dead This section sets up the main themes of the poem by associating the “Unreal City” of modern London and its living-dead with the loss of any genuine mythic consciousness. Here are some suggestions - look for references to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and images of WWI, the legend Tristan and Isolde, The Punic War and Ovid's Metamorphosis.

The Fire Sermon The title refers to Buddha’s Fire Sermon, in which he preached against the fires of lust and other passions which destroy men and prevent their spiritual regeneration.  .  This section this is a sort of “answer: to the various “seductions” represented in “A Game of Chess.”

A Game of Chess The title refers to Thomas Middleton’s (1580-1627) A Game of Chess . In our age, Eliot suggests, sexual reproduction (a metaphor for cultural reproduction) has been reduced to a game of conventional moves, like a game of chess

Death by Water Like the water imagery in Joyce’s Portrait the “water” in this section of the poem can be taken in two ways: a) as the “drowning” the reader has been experiencing in these unrelated bits an pieces that Eliot had deliberately jumbled together from modern life and from history; and b) as a sacrificial, baptismal immersion in Culture and History that has been made possible by purging the “Self”

What the Thunder Said The thunder’s message, “Datta,…” is from the Upanishads, the Hindu Sacred Texts, and means: “Give, sympathize, control.


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The Waste Land

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