I had an idea: I want to start reading at least one book each year published a hundred years ago. For the next several years it will be a time period that I study for work, but it was more than something I felt compelled to do for work. For as often as works are written for and of their time, there is also often works that can tell us a great deal about when they were written and still be for now. I’m hoping to find a few.
I had mixed results with my first attempt at this, The Wasteland, Prufrock, and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot. The Wasteland was first published in 1922 and had the dubious distinction of already being on my to read list as T. S. Eliot is one of the most important and influential poets of the twentieth century of whom I could remember reading not a single thing. I struggle on and off with poetry, but it seems weird to me in retrospect to have not had anything by Eliot assigned in school.
Eliot is often credited with having helped reshape modern literature and this work focusing on post war decay and redemption, is one of the pieces crucial to that credit. Divided into five sections, the poem explores life in London in the aftermath of the First World War. The poem melds different forms and traditions, Eliot alludes to the Bible, Shakespeare, St Augustine, Hindu and Buddhist sacred texts, as well as French poetry, Wagnerian opera, and the Arthurian legend surrounding the Holy Grail (I had to look some of those up). But the poem also includes references to jazz music, gramophones, motorcars, typists and tinned food, making it remarkably of its time.
In its own time it was divisive: some critics hailing it as a masterpiece that spoke for a generation of lost souls, and others denouncing it for its allusiveness. Honestly, I’m on the side of the ones critiquing it for its allusiveness. Everything in the poem is implied or inferred; there is very little that isn’t in some way metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative. Which… sure, this is poetry but when there are multiple layers in each line it becomes oppressive.
Bingo Square: Verse. (Its a book of poetry – level one)