Custom «The Waste Land» Essay Paper Sample

The Waste Land


The topography of Eliot's landscape in the Waste Land is sufficiently desolate- with its barren stony wilderness and waterless deserts standing side by side with stagnant waterways and swampy morasses- to merit the same epithet. Also abundantly clear is Eliot's use of incidental symbolism, many of his pivotal symbols, including water, hair, stone, plant life, the seasons, deriving from discussions of various ancient mystery rites. It seems likely the Eliot's concern in the poem with the trappings of the Grail romances and the use of them to illustrate the demise of religion in the modern world were directly influenced by own interest in the significance of the Grail tale as an authentic historical record, thinly veiled, of the decay of once august mystery rituals still surviving during the medieval period, though driven underground into the secrecy and disrepute by a hostile ecclesiasticism.

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Of particular interest in this respect is the fact that Eliot's own work echoes, though often in a dim and inchoate fashion, many of the characteristics features of the original Grail story, to such a degree, indeed, that it may be considered, in effect, a modern Grail romance itself, complete with a Waste Land and a Grail Quest, and other supporting phenomena traceable directly to the corpus of the varied Grail tale versions during the Middle Ages throughout Europe (Bush, 98). In view of the preceding facts, it is highly probably that by the term "plan" Eliot had in mind, not the sense in which the word is often employed to designate the central organization pattern of a work, for in this sense the principal organizational plan of the Waste land is its fundamentally thematic structure, but in the sense of general intention or purpose. From this point of view, the plan of the poem is its establishment of a Grail story format, which in collaboration with other devices in the poem provides an acute reflection of the disintegration of moral values in contemporary civilization.

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The overt formless and insubstantiality of this Grail romance facade- differing as it does so radically from the carefully contrived plots of other contemporary examples of the modernization of the earlier story material such as Tennyson's Idylls of the King or E. A. Robinson's more recent modern instances works employing as fictional framework for distinctly modern truths the medieval panoply of knights and ladies and chivalric adventure- owes no doubt to Eliot's astute evaluation of the audience. Any less degree of sophistication and subtlety than that revealed by the author's own particular form of Grail romance would scarcely have appealed to the sensibilities of the postwar generation of the twenties, wary of any suggestion of moral charlatanism. To furnish a more palatable intellectual diet than Tennyson's earnest Victorian preachments, under a semblance less overtly reminiscent of the traditional Matter of Britain, while at the same time capitalizing upon the profoundly archetypal values implicit in the Grail Quest motifs themselves, was the essence of the problem.

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Eliot's actual achievement of some such optimum balance in the poem is undoubtedly corroborated by its widespread contemporary acceptance by the author's own and later generations. The end result of Eliot's efforts toward an acceptable format was his rejection of the simple story form, with its realistic rendering of detail- the chief hallmark of other contemporary adaptations of the medieval tales- for a purely impressionistic representation of the original elements: one in which all the specifics of the Grail legends are presents- the grail and its associate symbols of Lance Cup, and Sword; the Fisher King and the Quester Knight; the waterway, river or seashore, adjacent to which the Grail Castle traditionally stood; the intolerable ferocity of the cruel environing Waste Land- but only in shadowy obscurity or standing so remotely in the background as to be for all practical purposes invisible; for, as it were, a format that in its ironic and distorted mirror reflects in high degree of exactness of detail the very life-in-death existence it portrays; the somber Infernolike cities, the stricken institutions, the hooded hordes swarming over endless plains of contemporary culture. 

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The public rites at the various centers of the worship of the Vegetation Deity were marked by elaborate ceremonials depicting the various facets of the mystery teachings, involving sessions of violent weeping and ritualistic chants of mourning, and other elaborate manifestations of grief; also by a public commitment of an effigy of the god to burial place, followed in turn by further demonstrations, of relief and joy, as the god was subsequently restored to a living status once again. The characterization of the Waste Land as depicted in the poem is the result of the moral decay that has happened after the war. Hence, it cannot be denied that the society in the perception of Eliot has decayed and lost the sense of morality that it has once possessed. With this, the quest for the Grail is implying the quest for something purer and more important than possessing material wealth. It is a known fact that after the war, the society has been wounded as well as all the rest of the people living in the social matrix. With the death of loved ones and with the lost of material possession, it cannot be denied that the society has started to go on and replace their longing for love, safety and security with material possession to cover up the pain and the anger in their hearts caused by the hurts they experienced.

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With all the foregoing, it cannot be denied that the myth of the quest for the grail is about forgiving and loving in order to attain peace in the society. It also connotes the process of attaining peace in the society by looking for far more great things than material wealth.

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