The Waste Land and Other Poems
By: T.S. Eliot
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
Considered the most important poem of the twentieth century, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is an oblique and fascinating view of the hopelessness and confusion of purpose in modern Western civilization. Published in 1922—the same year as Joyce’s equally monumental Ulysses—The Waste Land is a series of fragmentary dramatic monologues and cultural quotations that crossfade into one another. Eliot believed that this style best represented the fragmentation of society, and his poem portrays a sterile world of panicky fears and barren lusts, and of human beings waiting for some sign or promise of redemption. Mirroring the destruction and disillusionment of World War I, The Waste Land had the effect of a bomb exploded in a genteel drawing room, just as its author intended.
This volume also includes Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and Poems (1919). Prufrock contains the poem that first put Eliot on the map, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in which the title character is tormented by the difficulty of articulating his complex feelings. Among other masterpieces, Poems features “Gerontion,” a meditative interior monologue in blank verse—a poem like none before it in the English language.
I have long heard of T.S. Eliot but never read any of his works (and if I did in passing, it didn’t remain in my head). I forgot what it was that I was reading recently that piqued me to check out some of his poems but the description seemed right up my alley, that sense of confusion and fragmentation that was apparent in 20th century literature.
Suffice to say, it’s an interesting collection. His way of writing poetry is very different from others I’ve read thus far, and all of the descriptions I’ve seen used to describe is works are very apt. There’s something about the way he uses his words, constructs his phrases, that are strange and yet befitting of the times he lived in. There’s a haunting quality to them. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” hands down is my favourite from his collection though as it captures this complexity perfectly.
My only drawback to this collection? Some 4 of these poems were written in French and my edition had no translation; my French isn’t good enough to appreciate it 😛 Nonetheless it’s impressive, and I’m glad that I got around to reading some of his works.