The Waste Land
This page links together the words that Eliot repeats in The Waste Land, and considers their significance.
- Above the antique mantel was displayed
The first occurence of antique reflects Eliot's belief in the ancient as a source of value and meaning, through myth and artistic tradition. However, The tone of the description of the room is complex: the decadent and sensuous atmosphere is at once seductive and repellent. The antique mantel leads us to a work of art (hence beautiful), its subject taken from Greek mythology (hence meaningful), but the subject itself is the horror of unrestrained sexuality.
- You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
In the second case, the word shifts in the mouth of Lou to a modern, debased, demotic meaning. In both cases, the word occurs in the context of the abuse of sex. The first, ancient use of the word is associated with rape, and the Lil's premature aging acts as a punishment for her abortion - The shadow of permanent sterility falls over her, after the voluntary sterility of the abortion.
An obvious image of death
Many things are broken in 'The Waste land'. It is a record of psychological turmoil (the poem was largely written during one if Eliot's frequent bouts of illness and exhaustion), political decline (for Eliot, Democracy was a deplorable institution), cultural decay, moral degeneracy, and spiritual sterility. To what extent does it offer hope rising from the destruction?
The Waste Land is much concerned with life, death and the tentative possibility of resurrection.
The opening verses of 'The Hollow Men' use images of dryness very similarly to 'The Waste Land'. it does not represent simply death (which in Buddhist thought, is the supreme goal of Nirvana, only reached by the most enlightened beings), but a lack of real life, a dreadful, sterile limbo state devoid of redemption or spiritual meaning.
Ackroyd in his biography of Eliot (T. S. Eliot: A Life, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984) interprets the strength of this image as reflecting Eliot's acute self-consciousness.
This word signals the presence of the Fisher King in the poem.
The rain image clearly overlaps and reinforces that of water
Eliot returned to the image of the rat several times in his early poetry - most infamously in 'Burbank with a Baedecker: Bleistein with a Cigar':
- The peal of bells
- Tolling reminiscent bells
This is a deliberate repetition of the image of the bell tower by Eliot. The second bell is reminiscent because it recalls the first time we heard it, but also because it reminds us of our own destiny.
'Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.'
The rats are underneath the piles.
The Jew is underneath the lot.
From the myriad connotations of this colour, Eliot underscores its suggestion of violence and destructive emotion.
An image of the city, cultural order and authority. Also a card in the tarot pack. Eliot moves from an idealised pure tower, through destruction, to an impossible, nightmare vision of an upside tower reminiscent of Bosch.
This colour has a somewhat decadent quality, an echo of the fin de siecle poets such as Baudelaire who had a significant influence on Eliot
A key symbol of life and fertility in The Waste Land.