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Biplob Prodhan
  • 2 months ago
  • 150
Comment on Eliot’s use of symbolism in The Waste Land.

Or, Show how The Waste Land is a fabric of myth and symbolism.

Ans. The Waste Land of T.S. Eliot is a fabric of myth and symbolism. With the help of symbolism he penetrates far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling. The poet resorts to symbols and images which help him create an ‘objective correlative’ of his own vision or experience in the mind of the readers. Eliot is greatly influenced by the French symbolists like Mallarme, Laforgue and the English metaphysicals.

Eliot’s symbols are mainly traditional and drawn from literatures and mythologies of the past. Moreover, the same symbols are frequently repeated. For example, the dry bones’ signify spiritual decay, and desolation, and ‘rats’ the ugliness and horror of modern civilization. In the same way, ‘dry grass’, ‘cactus land’, ‘rocks’, ‘winds singing dryly are all symbols of spiritual sterility. “The unreal city’ and the crowds moving across London Bridge are linked up with Dante’s Limbo, and therefore signify the decadence of contemporary life and civilization.

The basic symbol in The Waste Land is drawn from the Fertility Ritual which is suggested by the book, From Ritual to Romance, but this is reinforced by other devices. The common source of all the myths which have inspired the major symbol of the poem lay in the fundamental rhythm of nature that of the death and rebirth of the year and their varying symbolism was an effort to explain the origin of life.

‘Waste Land’ the basic symbol represents the modern materialistic life. Eliot refers to “A heap of broken images” and “Rock and sandy road” in order to indicate the degrading impact of materialism upon Christianity. Here “rock” symbolizes materialistic thoughts regarding money, wealth, financial success, etc. The road is the path of materialism and it is ‘sandy’ because it exists in the desert of the waste land where nothing spiritual grows. Another basic symbol is that of ‘water’ which stands for the milk of human kindness, or rather the water of selfless Christian brotherly love called Agape. To be precise “water” stands for selfless love for man and God. But the waste land has no trace of this water as Tiresias says, “Here is no water but only rock”. In his phrase “Death by Water”, which is also the title of section IV, “water” is a symbol of the ocean of material wealth and riches.

Further, Tiresias, the protagonist symbolises a noble, God-loving human soul, which possesses the powers of prophetic vision, and that is why he finds the materialistic world as a waste land. Since he is an objective co-relative, he is the symbol of Eliot’s own soul.

To sum up, The Waste Land is replete with symbols of various types. Some of the symbols are complex no doubt but by using hundreds of symbols, Eliot has added a grandeur to his poem and conveyed his theme most successfully and effectively.

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