Depressing Themes in "The Waste Land"

Unlike several of my classmates, this is the first time I have ever read "The Waste Land".  It took several read throughs to even try and make sense of it, but the depressing and pessimistic, even morbid, vibes coming from the poem stood out to me right away.  Right off the bat, Eliot mentions April, a month in the season of life and color, yet refers to it as "the cruellest of months".  The lilacs blooming and dead land giving way to the green of nature is something  he views as less than desirable compared to the covering snow of winter.

Eliot uses descriptions of "stony rubbish" and dead ground to continue in the depressing descriptions.  He goes on to talk about the clairvoyant woman, Madame Sosostris, who warns him to "fear death by water".   Near the end of the first section, he speaks of a crowd of people in London, whom "death had undone", which I can only assume means zombies.  To end section one, he sees a friend in the crowd of zombies and asks about the corps he buried in his yard.  

This poem goes in so many directions at once yet the theme of death and misery seems to pervade many of the encounters that Eliot writes about, which is very fitting since the title of the section is The Burial of the Dead.  Even the few happy moments in the sections, such as the girl with the hyacinths, end on a dismal note.  This could be Eliot showing a pessimistic view on life as a whole, how even the happy moments can end in confusion and disaster.  

The Waste Land

I found this poem to be extremely interesting, but challenging as well. I have heard reference to it in the past, both in English classes and in movies, but have never actually read it myself. I found the language to beautiful and striking but the constant change of characters (I'll call them characters, since it seems like a more lively way to describe them) was a bit hard to keep up with. I had to reread it a few times to fuly grasp who was being spoken about and when they were being spoken about. The passages with diaglogue also were difficult to follow at first and required further investigation. 

The passage that most caught my interest was the opening passage of the first section. T.S. Elliot described April as "the cruelest month." I personally love spring and find April to be a month filled with the beauty and promise of summer. Yet Elliot seems to feel the opposite. He describes the lilacs as "blossoming out of dead land." Elliot and I also seem to hold vastly different views on the season of winter. While he describes it as "warm, covering the earth in forgetful snow.", I find winter to be depressing, cold and bleak. This flip flop of convention views of the seasons seems to set the tone for the rest of the poem however. 


Disordered Seasons and modernism

        Between various classes and research projects, I’ve probably read The Waste Land close to fifty times. That said, there is still so much in this poem that I do not understand. T.S. Eliot weaves a myriad of historical and literary references, pop culture shout-outs, and foreign languages into this masterful poem, and I find much of it to be incredibly cryptic. One of my favorite aspects of this poem, though, is the fact that I find something new virtually every time I read it. For example, in the very fist stanza, there is an interesting use of the seasons. Three of the four seasons are mentioned, but not in logical order or with any of the descriptions that one would typically associate with them. Spring (“April is the cruelest month” [1]) is mentioned first, but instead of being followed by summer, Eliot jumps to winter (“Winter kept us warm” [5]). After these two abnormally described seasons, Eliot jumps ahead to summer (“Summer surprised us” [8]), and back to winter at the end of the stanza (“I read much of the night, and go south in the winter” [18]). By starting off the poem in this manner, Eliot immediately calls attention to the disordered, disjointed nature of the world, a common trope of modernism. In The Waste Land, even the seasons—a phenomenon governed by the laws of nature—are off-kilter. Considering the importance of the seasons in human culture since the beginnings of civilization, the fact that Eliot begins his poem in this way really speaks to the state of the world in the early 20th Century. Like his fellow modernists, Eliot saw the world as a confusing, fragmented place.