The Waste Land

Individual Resurrection from a Collective Death in The Wasteland

In his seminal poem "The Wasteland," T.S. Eliot vividly externalizes what he perceives to be a very internal death of pandemic proportions. Calling upon a vast catalogue of religion, classical writings, music and art, the work depicts an entire Western culture virtually dead spiritually in the wake of World War I. Some are aware of their death yet many are not, moving about numbly in a world without any true resonance or meaning. The grim diagnosis presented by Eliot is nevertheless countered by an underlying yet pervasive optimism that an internal rebirth is possible. However, that optimism, often buried deeply within the labyrinth-like text, is accompanied by the promise that any such resurrection will be predicated by a grueling emotional, intellectual, and spiritual journey. There is most definitely hope but before that hope can be fully realized, the most barren and arid landscapes of an individual's spiritual death must be experienced and conquered.

Eliot chooses to preface his poem with a Latin quotation from Satyricon about the prophetess Sibyl who was blessed with eternal life but condemned to permanent old age. Translated, the brief passage reads, "For once I myself saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at...

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