Mapping "A Game of Chess"

For my map of The Waste Land, I chose to locate the locations of places alluded to and the settings of "A Game of Chess."  The map that I have created (below) uses blue pins for specific places alluded to and red pins for physical settings of this section.  The yellow pins are meant to represent potential sites of the Garden of Eden, which Eliot refers to in lines 97-8.  The lines connecting the pins trace the linear order through which the allusions travel amongst the pins.

View "A Game of Chess" in a larger map

The most salient insight that arises from the map of "A Game of Chess" is the disparity between the geographic variation of Eliot's references to the Ancients up to Milton and Shakespeare and the rather localized latter sections that are much more locally focused.  Taken in consideration with the temporal motion of this section, which is directly linear from the ancient to modernity, this differentiation could be read as both a comment on post-WWI sentiment and Eliot's larger project in The Waste Land.  The highly localized nature of the modern section of "A Game of Chess" in comparison to the geographically expansive section of antiquity could speak to a sentiment undermining the pervasive nature of nationalism in Europe leading up to and throughout World War I.  While there certainly was nationalist (or at least regionalist) allegiances in the ancient world, these allegiances never led to warfare on the scale of WWI - they never created The Waste Land.  The isolation of modern locals could be read as Eliot dissenting against nationalism.  Another reading of the map could focus on the distinct geographic separation between the past and present in this section of The Waste Land.  As we discussed in class, Eliot's continual allusions represent a formal embodiment of his project to create a new mythology, a new origin story from those of previous generations.  The distinct geographic border (nearly half of Western Europe) between the two geographic groupings could speak to this differentiation that Eliot is seeking to do away with in The Waste Land

The Waste Land in The Criterion and The Dial


In the October 1922 issue of The Criterion, T. Sturge Moore's "The Story of Tristram and Isolt in Modern Poetry" precedes T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. T. Sturge Moore discusses the ways in which Swinburne, Arnold, and Binyon appropriate the myth in their poetry. The juxtaposition of the two texts is unlikely to be accidental, as Eliot uses the German language to allude to the myth of Tristan and Isolde in The Waste Land in order to draw attention to the genetic and cultural heritage shared by England and Germany (42). In The Criterion, The Waste Land is followed by May Sinclair's "The Victim," which is set in war-time and deals with the function of memory, specifically as it concerns the deceased. After the protagonist, Steven, murders Mr. Greathead, Mr. Greathead returns as a phantasm or ghost to tell him that, in committing the murder, "[a]ll [he] did, then, was to redistribute matter" (85). Like the soldiers in the first section of The Waste Land, Mr. Greathead occupies a sort of liminal space between the earth and the afterlife, although he claims to be "alive" (85). Furthermore, while The Waste Land raises questions about how we should honor the war dead and/or be responsible to their sacrifice, Mr. Greathead asks that Steven redeem himself for the murder by ceasing to go on with his "real crime," which Greathead identifies as hatred (86). If we understand The Waste Land to be in conversation with "The Victim," we can read "The Victim" as a sort of response to the questions that the poem raises about memory and honor. Sinclair's story seems to answer that the deaths caused by war should not create guilt; instead, the hatred that causes violence is the problem.

Unlike in The Criterion, The Waste Land is not situation between any two pieces in the November 1922 issue of The Dial. This issue of The Dial is, however, permeated with questions about what constitutes national identity. The back pages of The Dial contain various advertisements for different national literatures, and the front pages of the issue contain an advertisement for BROOM: An International Magazine of the Arts, which has its "technical facilities" in Berlin and which uses the slogan, "The spirit of a people expresses itself most deeply through its artists" (iv). The advertisement is a "special offer" to order BROOM and The Dial together. Considered along with the other content in this issue of The Dial, it suggests that The Dial's reading audience might look to art to answer questions about how national identity is comprised. Among the other content in this issue of The Dial is Malcolm Cowley's "Two American Poets." In the essay, Cowley looks to art in order to attempt to determine what makes an American poet "American." Cowley decides that "[t]he adjective American is less national than temporal," so that only poetry produced by a certain generation in American can be considered "American" (563). Cowley concludes his essay by arguing that "America remains a thing seen and not a manner of seeing. America is not a point of view, a style, or a mode of thought, but a subject merely; a subject that has been most brilliantly developed in Paris or by Scandinavians" (567). In other words, national identity is as much determined by people in other nations as it is by those who claim the identity as their own. This issue of The Dial contains other material that is concerned with questions of national identity, as well. This type of discourse seems appropriate to surround the The Waste Land because the poem is, in part, concerned with the durability of national identity, as well as the varying histories of different national identities.

The Waste Land and Internationalism

Reading through The Waste Land in the Dial and The Critierion gave me a greater sense of the internationalism at play in Eliot's poem.  Instead of reading the non-English allusions as an attempt to dig up the past, I saw them this time as an attempt to connect with other nationalities through art.  George Saintsbury's article, which was most likely commissioned by Eliot, calls for an active readership to engage the text.  He argues, "the reader who deserves to read not only carries with him a receiver which at once admits all that is intrinsically non-dull in his author, but a transmuter which converts many things dull in themselves into what is interesting by suggestion and association" (8).  Saintsbury concludes with "Never simply pass—still less condemn—a reference or allusion that you cannot finish or play up to; an image that you cannot see with you mind's eye; a character that you cannot accept as human or reject as not; an argument that you cannot endorse or smash; and so on, without making sure that the fault is not your own" (15).  Saintsbury prepares readers of The Waste Land to engage and struggle with the allusive poem.  Furthermore, the reader becomes responsibility for understanding all the non-English allusions as well, which infuses the reader with ambassadorial obligations.

The Dial also picks up on the internationalism in Eliot's poem.  In "Reflections on the Greek Genius," Elie Faure considers Greek art in relation to other art cultures, specifically Egyptian, Chinese, Aztec, and Negro (527).  Although her focus seems to be a Nietzschean take on Greek art, she is constantly aware of traditions and cultures developing their own art.  Also, in his "Paris Letter," Ezra Pound reiterates a sense of internationalism when he informs his reader that he is "continuing the attempt to disentangle our [American and English] national qualities, an attempt begun by the late Henry James and one which our brilliant contemporary Mr T.S. Eliot constantly assures us that he is about to pursue.  This attempt leads to generalities, which are dangerous" (549).

All of this ties together and makes me wonder if the "speaker" of the poem might be an American wandering through the remains of other cultures.  I'm tempted to consider it as reverse colonization, but without any threatening or challenging intentions.  Or, and this might speak to Clint's interests, Eliot might consider his status as an expatriate as a response to the closing of the Western frontier.  In The Little Review, he says, "It is the final perfection, the consummation of an American to become, not an Englishman, but a European—something which no born European, no person of European nationality, can become" (linked below; article from the Henry James issue.  This issue pre-dates The Waste Land by a little more than three years).  I think reading The Waste Land in terms of internationalism, exploration, and the frontier might significantly change the general reading of the poem.  

Typography and Placement of The Waste Land

Within the October 1922 issue of The Criterion and the November 1922 issue of The Dial, the typography used within each and the placement of the pieces within the respective publications alter the weight given the poem and various aspects of the poem. 

The Criterion, page 50

First, the poem's division into sections within each magazine affects the flow of the reading. Within The Criterion, the poem's sections are not just labeled by their titles but also numbered, each with a Roman numeral. In The Dial, the sections are merely headed by their titles. The numbering in The Criterion serves to create a much more formal distinction between the sections, and yet at the same time emphasizes their identities as parts of a greater whole. While reading the poem in The Dial, one could almost imagine that each section is a separate poem with its own separate title. The dropped capital "A" that begins the poem in The Criterion also serves to formalize the tone of the piece (50). Additionally, the "A" pushes the first two lines of the poem to the right, separating them from the flow of the rest of the stanza and giving them an air of importance.

The Dial, page 473

The placement of the poems within the larger text of the magazine also plays a role in the interpretation of each, especially in terms of the importance of the piece within the larger purpose and goals of the publication. Within The Criterion, the piece is buried within the center of the magazine's content, seeming neither more or less important than the other pieces within the text. The Dial, however, places The Waste Land in front, as the first written piece of the issue (though it is preceded by advertisements and a visual art piece). Furthermore, the placement of the poem within The Dial creates an interesting effect: it comes just before a play by WIlliam Butler Yeats entitled "The Player Queen" (486). This placement emphasizes the dialogic nature of The Waste Land, in which the various voices in the poem are engaged in conversations with one another, with other works, and with themselves. 

The Criterion, pages 53-54

The Dial, page 476-477

Finally, the experience of reading the poem as formatted in each magazine is a slightly different one from reading it online, whether on the Bartleby edition or on He Do The Police in Different Voices. Though this is for a variety of reasons, perhaps the most interesting to me was the typography and line separation between lines 115 and 130. In both of the print magazines, the line separation appears to some extent to be the result of the crowding of the page, lines that were intended to be one line running into two-- indeed, this is the case in The Dial's printing, in which "remember" must be hyphenated and put on the next line. However, in the digital versions of the text, it is clear that these line separations are being treated as intentional, as part of the authorial intent for the poem's form. This for me raised the question: was Eliot working within his limits when he devised the poem, intentionally organizing lines so that they would fit the standard publication schemes of the day, or did he write the poem and divide the lines with no thought to publication standards? 

The Waste Land in Context

Mina Loy’s “Brancusi’s Golden Bird” and Valery Larbaud’s “The ‘Ulysses’ of James Joyce” from the November 1922 issue of The Dial and the October 1922 issue of The Criterion – respectively – embody a similar discourse to Eliot’s The Waste Land in their focus on generic experimentation and emphasis on interaction.  Eliot’s work, by including footnotes written by the poet, embodies generic experimentation as The Waste Land is thus composed of the interaction between poem and prose descriptions.  Loy’s poem, by focusing on “The immaculate / conception / of the inaudible bird” (508),  alludes to generic experimentation through the simultaneous descriptive and expository depictions of the sculpture.  This experimentation inherent in these dual approaches to the sculpture is further compounded by the picture of the sculpture that immediately follows the poem, which undermines the autonomy of the poem as the reader/viewer is forced with the juxtaposition of two works of different genres that mutually inform each other.  Larbaud’s essay from The Criterion praises Joyce’s inclusion of theological, philosophic, and scientific discourse within his narrative that challenges notions of the novel.  In spite of this experimentation, Larbaud asserts that “[t]hese pieces, which we might treat as digressions, or rather as appendices, essays composed outside of the book and artificially interpolated into all of the ‘tales,’ … [form] none the less an organism, a book” (97).  Much like The Waste Land and Loy’s “Brancusi’s Golden Bird,” Larbaud’s appraisal of Joyce’s work finds its locus in his ability to challenge conceived notions of the genre, what Loy refers to as the “the Alpha and Omega / of Form” (507).

Along with this emphasis on experimentation, the pieces of Loy and Larbaud also contribute to a discourse surrounding the necessity of interaction.  In the simultaneous presence of dichotomous entities (past/present, life/death, poetry/prose, East/West, etc.), The Waste Land calls direct attention to the manner through which these are not binaries, but rather in a state of interaction as a means through which to conceive of a post-WWI world.  Loy focuses the readers attention on this interaction in her explication that  “This gong / of polished hyperaesthesia / shrills with brass / as the aggressive light / strikes / its significance” (507-8).  For Loy, meaning arises from Brancusi’s sculpture in its interaction with its physical environment, which is embodied in the light in this depiction.  This emphasis on interaction is also present in the bibliographic coding of the poem, which – as previously mentioned – juxtaposes the poem with a photograph of its subject.  Larbaud also contributes to the discourse regarding interaction when she asserts that “The reader who approaches [Ulysses] without the Odyssey clearly in mind will be thrown into dismay.  I refer, of course, to the cultivated reader” (93).  As with Loy, Larbaud makes note of two interactions – that of Joyce’s text with Homer’s Odyssey and an ideal reader with the text – that are essential in the comprehension of the text.

A significant distinction in the simultaneous publications of The Waste Land is the volume number of the respective magazines, which creates a variance in the positioning of Eliot’s text.  Created by the American Transcendentalists, The Dial is oriented as actively engaging with the discourse surrounding the foundation of the American literary tradition.  Published in The Dial’s seventy-third volume, The Waste Land emerges as a continuation of this American literary tradition.  Unlike this connection to a broader arch of national literary tradition, the simultaneous publication of The Waste Land in the first issue of The Criterion denotes a connection of the work with an emerging literary tradition.  This play between established and emerging literary traditions is particularly interesting when though of in regards to notions of modernism as Transatlantic.

The Waste Land and the Effects of War

This was my first time reading The Waste Land, and the piece I kept returning to repeatedly was the first section, "The Burial of the Dead," and the seasonal and temporal imagery within it. The idea of spring, traditionally conceived as the bringer of change and growth, interacts with suggestions of the recently concluded Great War in complex ways. Eliot characterizes spring as cruel, ending the first three lines with action verbs to be associated with spring: "breeding," "mixing," and "stirring." By contrast, the winter is constructed as the comfortable, even warm state of being, and lines 5 and 6 end with the associated words "covering" and "feeding." It seems as though winter, representing the war, was better and more nurturing than the postwar atmosphere of spring, in which things, perhaps, are not-quite-war but not-yet-peace. In winter, in wartime, one could forget, living on "dried tubers" (which have long ago outlived their growing-in-the-ground phase) (7).

 By contrast, the growing, breeding, stirring movement of spring is characterized as painful, a mixing of "memory and desire" which suggests both the remembrances of summers and peacetimes past, as well as the desire for the upcoming summer and peace. Intriguingly, though summer is mentioned and constructed as merely surprising, fall fails to appear (8). Summer's characterization as surprising, as well as spring's depiction as negative, suggests that the peace fails to live up to expectations, memories, and desires, and that perhaps something about winter made spring and summer imperfect. 

I think the part that perplexed me the most was the ending, in which things become relatively fragmented. I had trouble determining what the Sanskrit words meant within the context of the other allusion and voices within the poem. I am charmed by the contrast between the juxtaposed lines "Shall I at least set my lands in order? / London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down" and the suggested chaos they create, but I had trouble relating them to the surrounding text. 

The Waste Land


Prior to this reading, I had read T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land a few times, but I had never studied it in depth. This time, I noticed a few things that I had not noticed before. Most notably, I discovered some words and phrases that permeate throughout the poem, across the cacophony of voices. Among these words and phrases are "unreal" (1.60; 3.207; 5.376), the "jug [. . .]" of the nightingale (2.103; 3.204), and "London Bridge" (1.62; 5.426). Also, "Death by Water," in addition to being the title of the fourth section, is also what Madame Sosostris instructs the persona to "[f]ear" in "The Burial of the Dead" (1.55) Furthermore, I discovered that the poem is self-consciously fragmentary in that fragments are referred to in both the beginning and end of the poem (and perhaps at other times that I did not pick up during this reading). In "The Burial of the Dead," the persona mentions "[a] heap of broken images" (1.22), and in "What the Thunder Said," "[t]hese fragments I have shored against my ruins" (5.430) are mentioned in the final stanza. This reading of the poem ultimately uncovered more of its unity (aside from death/birth for me.

During this reading, I had a difficult time with the last stanza of the poem. The first two lines, "London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down/Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina" (5.426-27) create a fire/water binary similar to the adjacency of "The Fire Sermon" and "Death by Water," but I found the rest of the stanza to be incomprehensible. I did not understand the significance of the swallow, Le Prince d'Aquitaine, Hieronymo, or the series of "Shantih[s]" (5.428-32). I also noticed the lack of punctuation in some parts of the poem, and while I found that it helped me to distinguish among the different voices, I am also curious about why it is omitted -- particularly as "The Fire Sermon" concludes with the word "burning" and no period (3.311). Finally, I am wondering, too, where Tiresias's voice is understood to begin within "The Fire Sermon."

Just a note: Having never written about The Waste Land before, I am not sure about whether my parenthetical citations are correct or not; I decided to cite the section numbers as well as the line numbers. 

Eliot anticipating the Roaring Twenties

As I read The Waste Land, I was interested in the poem's historical position between WWI and the "Roaring Twenties" (Wikipedia).  I often consider these two time frames to be cleanly separate from each other as if the War ended and the Roaring Twenties began without any overlap.  Although I usually read Eliot's poem as an attempt to cross the body hewed No-Man's-Land of literature, I read it this time as a pivot between the trauma WWI and the guilt of surviving and prospering after WWI.  "A Game of Chess" turns away from the unearthed corpse "planted last year in your garden" towards the "burnished throne / Glow[ing] on the marble" (71-78).  The first stanza of this section catalogues a nauseating amount of commercial items.  Eliot intensifies the commerciality here as the "flames of the sevenbranched candelabra" and the "strange synthetic perfumes" fumigate the scene.  The neurosis of the woman whose "nerves are bad tonight" exposes the toxicity of using materials and items to suture the post-WWI societies of England and Europe.  

"A Game of Chess" concludes with a similar scene of decadence.  The speaker at the bar gossips about Lil's appearance.  Clint has discussed the misogynistic rendering of these women and has linked the deterioration of nature (figured as the female body) with pharmaceuticals and the "chemist" (161).  To add on to this, I think the references to medicine doubles as a symbol for a commercially driven society.  The speaker criticizes Lil for looking decayed and "antique" (156).  This critique also serves as a criticism of Lil's (mis)use of money.  The speaker says, "Now, Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart. / He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you / To get yourself some teeth" (142-144).  This passage conflates money (materials, like the "hot gammon") and appearance (beauty/health, reproduction, decay).  Eliot opens this passage with Albert's demobilization, which (if Wikipedia is right) instigated the economic boom.  Soldiers, unable to spend their wartime wages during the War, returned with a lot to spend.  I think the objects that litter this poem not only mingle myth with modernity, but cautiously warn against materialism as a coping mechanism.  Eliot seems to anticipate Fitzgerald by imbuing this literary No-Man's-Land with commerciality.    

  (The first upswing is the middle of 1921.)

The Waste Land and Female Sexuality

Reading The Waste Land this time (full disclosure, only the second time I’ve read it), I was struck by Eliot’s positioning of female sexuality as a site of a crisis of modernity initiated by the influx of technology.  Near the end of the second section, the bartender comments that the woman “ought to be ashamed…to look so antique” (166) to which she responds:

It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.

(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)

The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.

You are a proper fool, [the bartender] said. (159-62, emphasis his)

This woman serves as an embodiment of the myriad depictions of nature as barren and decaying that permeate the entire piece.  By implicitly referring to abortion-inducing medications and the scientist that prescribes them, Eliot traces this embodiment of natural decay directly to the rise of science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This alignment of female sexuality and a crisis of modernity is echoed in the next section in the typist, who – after the invasive sexual encounter – “smoothes her hair with automatic hand, / And puts a record on the gramophone” (255-6).  The woman’s despondence, both during and after the man’s forceful efforts, exemplify a rupture in the natural, regenerative act of sex.  As with the woman in the bar, Eliot locates the problem in the media producing machines that surround the woman, to the point of defining her as she is only referred to as “the typist” (222).  Just as the influence of pharmaceutical science has created a noticeable change in the woman at the bar, the omnipresence of machinery has created a cyborg/posthuman existence for the typist, wherein she exists in a state of complete “indifference” to herself and her surroundings (242).

While I had noticed both of these depictions of female sexuality individually, it was not until this time through that I have begun to attempt thinking about them together.  At this point, I have no clear thesis or argument as to why Eliot chooses these women as corporeal representations of the decay brought on by technological innovation.  I do, however, have some scattered thoughts on the matter.  Firstly, the choice of female sexuality is interesting when thought of in relation to the depictions of decay in nature, as much discourse surrounding imperial expansion (I’m thinking particularly of American westward expansion) envisioned and discussed nature in terms of being feminine and offering resources that would allow the birth of a new civilization.  There is also the misogynistic perversity of these two episodes, as each woman is clearly objectified in their lack of name, voice, or control of narrative; rather, these crises of modernity are projected upon them by men (complicated with the typist, as Tiresius is transgender).  This act of projection could speak to the rising anxieties surrounding the rise of the New Woman, as the first woman embodies sexual freedom and the typist exemplifies economic freedom.  Again, I’ve not yet come to any definitive conclusion about these episodes, but am merely putting forth my thoughts thus far.

Cerebral Excess

One difference that I noticed between some early content in The Little Review and transition is their contrasting takes on intelligence and "cerebral irradiations."  Jane Heap defends Joyce's Ulysses in the The Little Review and argues that only a few people "become aware of cerebral irradiations" and "cerebration."  She argues that Joyce conceives and records without regard for his audience.  This ties into the The LIttle Review's refusal to compromise taste for the public interest.   (This is the very end of the article.)


Jean George Auriol's article, "The Occident," seems to counter this disregard for public interests and esoteric knowledge.  Criticising European cutlure in general, Auriol specifically attacks "French literature [that] is becoming anaemic by reason of an excess of cerebrality" (157).  I think that this sample exemplifies transition's and possibly later generations skepticism for science and esotericism.  Rainer Maria Rilke's "Against the Age" picks up on this idea as well.  This poem ends with "More has happened than we all could learn" (138).