What are the new poetic techniques used in The Waste Land?

Expert Answers
lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

T. S. Eliot is one of the major contributor to Anglo-American Modernism, the turn-of-the-century eclectic movement that revolutionized literature and the arts. Eliot's poetry strives to observe the Modernist dictum of "Make it new" by creating texts that are less emotional than Romantic poems and whose images are more concrete and less vague. In his essay on "The Metaphysical Poets", Eliot writes that poetry should respond to the complexity of modern life so "the poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning."

These are all features that we can observe in The Waste Land. The complexity and the fragmentation of modern life is reflected in the fragmented style of the poem and the juxtaposition of different images (a visual parallel could be drawn with certain paintings by Picasso and Braque). Each section of the poem is formed by several fragments put together whose narrative continuum is achieved through consistent tone and atmosphere. These emphasize the sterility of the present as contrasted to the fertility of a mythical past. Another important modernist technique employed in The Waste Land is the comprehensive cultural, historical and literary references to past epochs and mythological traditions. Talking about James Joyce's Ulysses, Eliot defined this technique as "the mythical method", a constant parallel between the writer's contemporary age and the past achieved through mythological references in the depiction of ordinary and common sketches. Eliot concluded that this techniques was "a way of  . . . giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history".

The poem's fragmentation is further heightened by the juxtaposition of different poetic styles (ranging from passages in Elizabethan English to lines that reproduce the jargon of the working class), forms such as monolgues and choruses and metres.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Waste Land" is notable for its many different voices. In presenting them, Eliot uses a poetic technique akin to polyphony in music. At most points in the poem, we're unaware of precisely who or what is speaking. Voices come and go, drifting in and out of the unfolding drama, leaving behind them the merest trace of personal identity.

This is perfectly deliberate on Eliot's part, for he recognizes that a new age has dawned, one in which all the old certainties have been undermined. Society has become fractured, atomized; the cultural hegemony of the upper classes, the traditional transmitters of high culture and learning, is crumbling. All that's left in this cultural desert, this anonymous wasteland of the modern city, are fragments, artifacts, and bits of the past gathered together by Eliot from the wreckage of history. Hence the voices from Kyd, Dante, Baudelaire, and Wagner, extracts of Elizabethan drama—their fleeting presence reminding us of a vanished world and of the state we now find ourselves in, both socially and culturally.

No more can society speak with one voice. The modern world is a democratic world, an age of many voices, each one claiming to speak with as much authority as any other. Eliot demonstrates this in his new, multi-voice poetic style. So mixed together with the fragments of high culture and learning we have the inane chatter of lower-class women in a London pub and the self-dramatized nervous wittering of Madame Sosostris, the clairvoyant.

There is no way out of this malaise; no way to turn the clock back to some golden age. All we can do is shore our fragments against our ruin as the modern world around us becomes more chaotic. In response to the modern condition we need to construct a new myth, a new voice, one that speaks with the authority of thunder:

"Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata."