Book Review: The Waste Land And Other Poems

The Waste Land And Other Poems, by T.S. Eliot

Like many booksellers and publishers, Barnes & Noble enjoys repackaging and relabeling works previously published into new collections to give them a new commercial length.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but it certainly is a notable quality of this book of poetry that separates it from many other works of poetry [1].  In the past, before the times I wrote in my blog, I read a collection of the author’s plays as well as his Four Quartets, and these are all worthwhile books as well that are not included at all in this collection.  In these poems, it should be noted that we see Eliot as a young poet, and that is not necessarily a flattering portrait.  Many people mellow and mature as they get older, and that is certainly something that can be said to have happened with the author.  To be sure, his earlier work was certainly influential, but at the same time it is not work that can be read and enjoyed without some criticism.  Many poets have had an ambivalent relationship with T.S. Eliot and it is easy to see why this is the case in reading this short volume of around 100 pages.

In terms of its organization and structure, this particular collection was originally published in 1922 as a small omnibus release of the first three works of poetry published by its author, future Nobel laureate T.S. Eliot.  Added to this venerable and now obscure volume of poetry is an introduction and notes by someone named Randy Malamud and a collection of reviews and comments about T.S. Eliot and “The Waste Land,” by far his most notable poem of his early period of writing.  The first work of poetry was from 1917, and was called Prufrock and other Observations.  The second collection, Poems 1920, includes five poems in French that were not translated in the original (and are translated here in the endnotes for those who cannot read French).  The third work is, of course, the lengthy poem “The Waste Land” from 1922 that is unquestionably the most notable work here and a worthwhile examination of a shattered Europe in the aftermath of World War I from an American expat Anglophile who was himself on the mend from a nervous breakdown.  Aside from The Waste Land, though, there are other poems here that are worthy of commentary, many of which include the author’s wittiness and love of observing others and also some disreputable views including a hostility towards Jews and women that is rather off-putting.

Overall, many of these poems have an alienating mood about them.  Some poets use the poetic form as a way of building intimacy through deeply personal reflections.  Eliot is not one of those people.  These poems show a nervous and critical person looking out at a world with some anxiety and even a bit of hostility.  To be sure, that is how some poets (and writers) view the world.  It is likely that those who read my own writings would find them to be highly mannered and full of biblical and historical and classical allusions as is the case here.  Not everyone is fond of that.  These are poems with a high degree of cynicism about the world, a world-weariness that is remarkable given the fact that Eliot was fairly young.  Some people, though, have a cynicism of the world far beyond the usual time.  Take, for example, this closing to one of the poems in this collection, “Preludes”:

“The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots (20).”

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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