The Waste Land -1st voice Analysis + The Epigraph

Epigraph The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot is one of the most important poems of modernist poetry and the 20th century. The poem is divided into five sections. The one we will be talking about is the first one, “The Burial of the Dead”. land

“He does the Police in different voices” land

The original title of Eliot’s poem is inspired by Charles Dickens. Elliot views his generation as one of disconnected- detached voices. This line from “Our Mutual Friend” by Dickens is actually used by critics to support the theory that although there are multiple voices in the personality, there is actually only one conscious.

The Epigraph

The Epigraph roughly translates to “I saw with my own eyes the Sybil at Cumae hanging in a cage, and when the boys asked her: ‘Sybil, what do you want?’ she responded: ‘I want to die.’.”

epigraph land

The Sybil is one of the several women in the ancient world who were thought to be able to see the future. (sybil= seer; prophet; clairvoyant)

The Origin of Eliot’s Epigraph

The Epigraph is actually quoted from Gaius Petronius’s “Satyricon”. In the story, the Sybil is presented with a wish by the Greek God, Apollo, who was courting her. She asks for immortality and so he grants her wish. But she forgets to also ask for eternal beauty. After hundreds of years, the Sybil has shriveled and is now trapped in a jar. Some boys come and ask her what she wants, to which she says that she wants to die.

The Sybil’s meaning in relation to the poem

The Sybil represents the sacrifice of immortality in exchange for wisdom. The poem begins with the life of an oracle that is without meaning.

The Burial of The Dead

The first part presents the idea of rebirth. The first line, ” April is the cruelest month” is a reference to “Canterbury Tales”. Saying that April is the cruelest month is a paradox, there is no prospect of rebirthing.

The Waste Land

“Breeding/ lilacs out of the dead land”- the land is dead, nothing can save it, no plant can grow out of it.

“Mixing/ Memory and desire”- the memory he is talking about is one of a better time, there is also a desire for a change for the better. The present is sorrowful.

April brings warmth, rain, and everything plants and life need to prosper, BUT the land is already dead. The spring taunts them. Nothing can offer the land and the people a proper rebirth, only sorrow.

“Winter kept us warm, covering/ Earth in forgetful snow, feeding/ A little life with dried tubers.”- Winter was warm, it kept the land and the painful memories hidden. Snow here acts as a numbing agent. Spring comes in with it’s cruel warmth and melts away the snow that was keeping people from remembering their pain. It exposes the land for what it truly is. It only leaves false hope.

The first voice change land

“Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.”
Both the voice and the tense change. From talking in the present tense to the past tense, from the sad and depressing tone to a more cheerful one, enjoying the summer warmth. This might be a memory of the pre-war time.
Here we have the rain coming over the land again, but this time it’s not presented with irony. It is in a time of happiness and friendship. The language used is different, here we can see the human connection, even an intimate interaction.
This is all followed by a German interruption :”Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.” which translates to “I’m not a Russian, I’m a Lithuanian, a true German”. This seems to be an intrusive voice, an abrupt interruption, in a different voice, which takes us away from the happy moment we have just experienced.
“And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened.”
We find out that the speaker might be some kind of royalty, because of their relationship with the arch-duke.
“He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight.”
We discover that our speaker is a female called Marie. Eliot actually references Marie Louise Larisch von Meonnich, also known as Marie Larisch, who was an Austrian Countess.




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