THOUGHTS ON “THE WASTELAND”

T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” is a paradoxical combination of the esoteric and the aggressively regressive. In terms of language, Eliot incorporates multiple foreign languages and lofty biblical or historical references that are cryptic to the common reader—he perhaps did so knowingly, considering he himself added footnotes for explication of the references he anticipated could be so completely abstruse to readers who wanted to make an interpretation faithful to the intentions of the author.

However, the dichotomy is evident upon reading the animalistic blabbering noises written out in lines 203-204—which is noted to be a reference to the protagonists of the story of Tereus and Philomela, ironically another obscure literary reference—which add a gentle and seemingly playful childlike tone to the poem. Shortly after, this sense of childlike regression quickly transforms to animalistic regression with the rape scene with ambiguous insinuations as to whether or not the encounter was consensual or simply passive. Furthermore, the scene of the typist’s rape ties into the aforementioned story of Tereus and Philomela, the latter of whom was apparently raped, according to the footnotes. This contrast within several stanzas of the third section of the poem entitled “The Fire Sermon” reflect the division between the intellectual and the thoughtlessly physical characteristics of human nature.

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