Myths In T.S Eliot's The Wasteland

1565 words - 7 pages

Submitted by- Yamini Sinha
Submitted to- Dr. Praggya M. Singh
MAE 301
21st October 2013

Myths in T.S Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’

T S Eliot’s poem ‘The Wasteland’ has diverse sources, which he is brings together in a unified form.’ The Wasteland’, which was written as a reaction to World War I is a poem not merely of despair, but of hope and regeneration. It is a call for renewal, for revival of the modern world. The war was a shock to the world; Eliot feared of it becoming barren and thoughtless. That bareness could mean the loss of myth, the loss of unifying theme. While going through this poem we are able to understand Eliot’s use of myths as a device to unite modern society with ...view middle of the document...

 The phrase ‘The Burial of the Dead’ brings to the mind several different associations. Eliot here depicts the stirring of life in the land with the coming of spring. However, in the contemporary waste land of western civilization, we see only a "dead land" filled with "stony rubbish". Here, "the sun beats" mercilessly down, while "the dead tree gives no shelter ... and the dry stone no sound of water." these lines have a reference to the land of Emmaus mentioned in the Bible. The land became barren and dry on account of the idolatry of the dwellers. Prophet Ezekiel told them to worship God and to give up idol worship so that the waste land becomes fertile again. It also recalls various other fertility myths of ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece and Western Asia, such as myths of Osiris, Adonis, Tammuz and Attis. ‘The Burial of the Dead’ can also possibly refer to the agricultural practice of planting the dried or dead seed just before spring, so that the seed may germinate and sprout in summer. The title also recalls the Christian burial service in the Church of England’s ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ and hence suggests death. The full title of the funeral service in this Anglican prayer book is ‘The Order for the Burial of the Dead’. It ends with the Priest and mourners throwing a handful of dust into the grave a symbolic reminder of the Church’s control, "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." Later in Line 30, we hear an echo of this rite in Tiresias’ utterance: "I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

Tiresias although a mere spectator and not indeed a character is yet the most important personage in the poem. What tiresias sees in fact is the substance of the poem. The story of Tiresias is given by Ovid in Metamorphoses. He lived in the time of King Oedipus in Thebes. Tiresias was cursed and transformed into a woman. He had experiences of life both as a woman and a man. Later on, he was questioned by Zeus and his wife Hera, as to whether man is more passionate than a woman. He declared that woman was more passionate than a man. The goddess Hera cursed him with blindness. Tiresias became blind and prayed to Zeus for mercy, Zeus, however, granted him a vision of prophet and such that could predict things. We see the story of Oedipus, the King of Thebes, who killed his father and married his mother here. For this crime, the god cursed him and his land with virulent epidemic and famine. Tiresias revealed the reason of the epidemic and famine and told that the king was responsible for the great calamity. So the king was advised to offer penance for his inner purification and the removal of the curse from the land. Tiresias belongs to the past and the present. He is a link between the waste land of King Oedipus and the wasteland of modern civilization.

The title "Burial of the dead" relates to the poems underlying mythological structure. It recalls the burial of the various fertility gods of different ancient cultures...

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