Nesbit Likes: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

TS EliotIn light of Halloween (or perhaps the dark?), I thought this weeks edition of Nesbit Likes should be somewhat horror themed. Of course, the obvious choice would be The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe – no other poem is quite as scary and no other poem is associated more with terror and fear. Whilst Eliot’s The Waste Land isn’t known for being scary, nor particularly frightening, it is unsettling, and I’m certain that word falls under the Halloween category.

The section below is taken from the first part of the poem titled The Burial of the Dead. Because the poem is such a mismatch of themes, it’s sensible to include only this one (also, it’s over 400 lines long!). I studied the poem a few years ago and this stanza always stuck with me. The imagery, of the ghosts of people walking like zombies to the dead tolls of the bell, flowing in a mass of sad, sulking death, shook my bones and rocked my core. It was first to come to mind when thinking of this weeks feature.

It’s clear this isn’t a happy piece, what with the images of the corpse, the dog that could dig it up, the unresponsive Stetson potentially shellshocked by the First Punic War, and it’s all wrapped in references and allusions to Dante’s Inferno which truly exemplifies what kind of a Hell this is.

The opening to the poem really sets the tone for the piece:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

…but I feel it’s with the section below where the depressing nature really catches wind and thrusts the reader into a world they might not want to be aware of.

Along with Joyce, Eliot was considered the most major of poets for Modernism, propelling the movement further than anyone could have thought. This section is only a small example of his work but nonetheless disturbing, and brilliantly depicts a vision that thoroughly haunts. Hopefully, this will be enough to send a shiver through you!

Happy Halloween!

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

3 thoughts on “Nesbit Likes: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

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