"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...
"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."