Reading The Waste Land

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The Waste Land by T S Eliot. It's one of the most influential poems ever written. One of the most innovative. And, to many, the greatest poem of the twentieth century.

So why is it so difficult to read? Many (including those who've read it) still feel at a loss when they try to talk about the poem, let alone enjoy it. Is that even possible?

In his talk "Reading The Waste Land," Will Gray will explore these all-too-common experiences while delving into the poem itself, its writing and its sources, its difficulty and its graceful energy, its long road that out of hell leads up to light. Shouldn't your experience of such a great poem be . . . well, great?

[Note: For a maximum listening experience, you'll want to read the poem in advance, and even bring a copy if you have one. See you there!]

Will Gray is a Lecturer in Contemporary Literature at Clemson University. He writes professionally for VantagePoint marketing firm and is finishing a PhD on T S Eliot and the Metaphysical poets from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. To boot, he likes to think he's a nice guy who can talk about complicated topics in less-than-complicated ways.

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Reading The Waste Land

  1. 1. Reading The Waste Land The Bird & Baby Philosophy Club lecture series 18 September 2009
  2. 2. “a practically meaningless collection of “so much phrases, learned allusions, quotations, waste paper” slang, and scrap in general” “the relief of a personal “expresses the and wholly insignificant disillusionment of a grouse against life; it’s generation” just a piece of rhythmical grumbling” greatest poem of the 20th century?
  3. 3. shantih shantih who? languages + fragmentation = confusion
  4. 4. barriers to reading languages | jumpy structure | grandiose language | what’s it about?
  5. 5. reading The Waste Land ✤ reading I :: discovery ✤ reading II :: uncovering ✤ reading III :: recovery
  6. 6. reading I: first thoughts
  7. 7. ✤ fragmentation ✤ foreign languages ✤ stark images ✤ memorable scenes & lines ✤ cast of characters ✤ notes ✤ slight familiarity
  8. 8. Genuine poetry can communicate even before it is understood. Eliot—Dante (1929)
  9. 9. ✤ confusion? ✤ fear? ✤ alienation? ✤ landscape of the mind? ✤ search for meaning/redemption? ✤ call for change? ✤ hope?
  10. 10. reading II: method in the madness
  11. 11. gathering the fragments ✤ Origins ✤ Writing ✤ Editing ✤ Sources
  12. 12. Origins & what was
  13. 13. Origins & what might have been
  14. 14. Composition :: 1914?-1922
  15. 15. The unkindest cuts of all?
  16. 16. what is The Waste Land?
  17. 17. The Waste Land = mashup “something better, or at least something different”
  18. 18. The Waste Land = cultural critique “how the mighty have fallen”
  19. 19. The Waste Land = ecological poem
  20. 20. Myths & rituals via The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer
  21. 21. The Waste Land = spiritual journey
  22. 22. The Fisher King legend via From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Weston
  23. 23. Dante’s vision of heaven & hell via The Divine Comedy
  24. 24. Horror at the centre of life via Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  25. 25. The Waste Land = transformation
  26. 26. Water, loss & transformation via The Tempest by William Shakespeare
  27. 27. Silence & transformation via the myth of Philomela
  28. 28. Blind vision, gender confusion via myth of Tiresias
  29. 29. The Waste Land
  30. 30. Eternal life without eternal youth the myth of the Cumaean Sibyl
  31. 31. The Burial of the Dead
  32. 32. April is the cruelest month
  33. 33. I do not find the Hanged Man
  34. 34. I had not thought death had undone so many
  35. 35. You! hypocrite lecteur!
  36. 36. A Game of Chess
  37. 37. The Chair she sat in
  38. 38. The change of Philomel
  39. 39. HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
  40. 40. good night, sweet ladies, good night
  41. 41. The Fire Sermon
  42. 42. Sweet Thames, run softly
  43. 43. Lord, thou pluckest me out
  44. 44. Burning burning burning burning
  45. 45. Death by Water
  46. 46. Consider Phlebas
  47. 47. What the Thunder Said
  48. 48. He who was living is now dead
  49. 49. Who is the third?
  50. 50. Falling towers
  51. 51. I sat upon the shore fishing
  52. 52. Eliot, post-Waste Land Sweeney Agonistes, The Hollow Men, Ash-Wednesday, “Journey of the Magi”
  53. 53. reading III: shoring the fragments
  54. 54. ✤ our connection with nature is wounded ✤ our connections with each other are wounded ✤ none of us has the answers ✤ we long for deliverance & healing ✤ salvation may not be what we expected ✤ I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
  55. 55. what in the thunder it said consider The Waste Land, which is just as fragmented and human as you

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