Ts Eliot's Key to "The Wasteland"

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There is no question that fragmentation is an important motif throughout The Wasteland. The entire poem is an odorous potpourri of dialogue, images, scholarly ideas, foreign words, formal styles, and tones. The reader’s journey through this proverbial wasteland is a trying one, to say the least. Unless one is endowed with a depthless wealth of literary knowledge, Eliot’s cornucopia of allusions and overzealous use of juxtaposition may leave them in a state of utter confusion. Luckily, there is hope for the wearied reader. At the close of his poem, Eliot presents his readers with a small offering: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”. This line, presented in the midst of seemingly nonsensical fragments, serves as a clue to Eliot’s intentions. Indeed, it is my belief that this line is the ultimate declaration of Eliot’s poetic project. Before I begin treating the aforementioned words as the magical key to unlocking The Wasteland, I believe it important to understand what they actually mean. What is speaker really saying in this infamous passage? There are two important dimensions to the line, one slightly more obvious than the other. Firstly, the speaker has something to proffer—fragments. So then, why are fragments—these illusive, nonsensical pieces of nothingness— something worthy of being shored? Secondly, the speaker is implying that, even in the face of madness or ruin, it is still possible to create art. Despite ruin, the speaker has a gift for the reader—fragments. So then, this leaves the reader with a burning question—why on earth are fragments something to be gifted? How can a fragment be seen as something of value, and what message was Eliot trying to convey to the reader through his use of these fragments? Firstly, Eliot used fragmentation in his poetry to demonstrate the chaotic, ruinous state of modern existence and to juxtapose a myriad of literary texts against one another. In Eliot’s view, the collective psyche of humanity had been completely shattered by the devastations of World War I and the decay of the British Empire. By collaging bits and pieces of dialogue together within one sprawling poetic work, Eliot was able to paint a vivid picture of the brokenness of humanity and the modern world. By barraging us with an onslaught of sensory perceptions, Eliot throws the reader into a state of confusion. Indeed, the first stanza of The Wasteland illustrates the point quite nicely: April is the cruellest month, breeding 1

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 2
Memory and desire, stirring 3
Dull roots with spring rain. 4
Winter kept us warm, covering 5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 6
A little life with dried tubers. 7
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee 8 With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade, 9 And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten, 10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour. 11
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch. 12

Within the first seven lines of the poem, the reader is presented with a traditional, conventional poem that adheres to a set rhyme and meter. However, this feeling of normalcy doesn’t last long. Suddenly and without warning, the foreign, German words “Starnbergersee” and “Hofgarten” appear, robbing the reader of a sense of familiarity. Then, Eliot throws everything completely off-course in line twelve with the German phrase “Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.” However, just as quickly as the poem dissolves into complete foreignness, it lurches back into the realm of convention:

And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s, 13

My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled, 14

And I was frightened. He said, Marie, 15

Marie, hold on tight. And down we went. 16

In the mountains, there you feel free. 17

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter. 18...
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