Treatment of Time in the Waste Land

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Treatment of time: juxtaposition in The Waste Land.

The Waste Land is a modernist poem by T.S. Elliot, published in 1922, which introduces us into a world of different voices, situations, places, times and states of mind; creating a great contrast and the feeling of being wrapped in a confusing jigsaw. This contrast is here exaggerated by the use of juxtaposition, a resource which contra-poses two different things without a proper union. Throughout the poem we find many cases of this abrupt juxtaposition, most of them in which past and present are the two sides of this confrontation, this is what going to focus on. Very often the past refers to a former glory, a better world, while the present seems to be somehow lamentable.

Part of the complexity of the poem relies on the introduction of juxtaposition of the past and present in the text. The changes of time in the poem are sometimes introduced with punctuation marks, in others it appears directly; this makes an illusion of merge between them, confusing the reader, which is why the poem requires for the reader to be active. In order to follow the poem, the reader must pay special attention to the unexpected changes of the use of time.

 

 A good example of juxtaposition is found in part I, “The Burial of the Dead”. There, we find in line 59 “One must be so careful these days. / Unreal city/ Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, / a crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many.” In this example we can see how the poem has moved from the present, which was being used while Madame Sosostris was speaking, to the past with no markers to indicate it, introducing us into a whole different situation which at first may appear independent and unrelated but which later on turns out to have an indescribable but perceivable interconnection. By using the juxtaposition of time the poem not only changes abruptly from different moments in time but it also allows change of...
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