August 2022

The Waste Land

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott

It's been a brutal summer here in central Texas. Unrelenting heat, drought conditions, tempers flaring, prices rising, water restrictions, wildfires, and rolling blackouts have made daily existence miserable. The other day a young man drove up to the house and inquired about doing some yard work. I paused, looked around my kingdom of dirt and asked him what would he do? "Everything is dead," I said. He acknowledged my point and drove on.

The conditions this summer aren't unprecedented, but something seems off - way off. Bob Dylan in the song Ballad Of A Thin Man tells Mr. Jones, an average middle-class American, "that something is happening here, but you don't know what it is."  Because it's not just the heat but an onslaught of new covid variants, weak or non-existent leadership, and a breakdown in civility and common courtesy. I find myself listening to the Rolling Stones Whatever Gets You Through The Night. Who's minding the store? Evidently no one.

This whole dreadful period has me reflecting on the T.S. Eliot poem The Waste Land. Not just for the title but its ability to resonate and capture the malaise that many of us are going through. And spoiler alert – there is not much hope or optimism contained within its stanzas. In fact, Eliot's characters live in post war Europe where fate, nature, heredity determine the nature of their lives. There is no spiritual force present. There are occasional allusions to something beyond humanity, but in the end according to Eliot's notes, it was perhaps just a hallucination. At first glance and cursory reading the poem appears to be a jumbled mess. But with a little perseverance and research, the poem delivers a coherent record of that time. And because history does repeat itself, it also serves as an account of the present day. He starts the poem with one of the most baffling lines I have ever read, "April is the cruelest month."  For me currently, it would be July or August but certainly not April. Afterall, April is the month spring takes hold. It's a physical rebirth of sorts after the detritus of winter. It's also a month that Christians and Jews commemorate Easter and Passover. But for Eliot it's not a month for celebration. As noted Eliot scholar Victor Strandberg has suggested, it was not unusual for those that had died during the preceding winter to be buried in April due to the frozen ground preventing their interment during those frigid months. Also, the poem written in 1922, considered the tremendous number of casualties due to WWI and the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919 which devasted Europe.

The poem also recognizes the changes that can take place in a period of destruction, disease, and destitution. The status quo changed forever. The dynasties and principalities of Eliot's age were permanently altered. In The Waste Land, the privileged princes and princesses of post WWI Europe can only reminisce about the "good old days."  And frankly, that's where most of us are at this point in history. Without a spiritual guide many seek advice from the "famous clairvoyant" Madame Sosostris who has a "wicked pack of cards" and personalized horoscopes.

In the last section, What The Thunder Said, Eliot tells us what we already know – "here is no water but only rock."  It's a dry desultory physical existence coupled with a spiritual void. Eliot followed The Waste Land with the poem The Hollow Men which continued along the same desolate hopeless track. But with the writing of Ash Wednesday in 1927, Eliot embraced Christianity and found hope and salvation in a faithless world. So, it is with Eliot's writing, we see the gradual transition from existential struggle to one of a supernatural transcendence. Hope is what keeps mankind alive especially in times like these. The glass is not half-full or half-empty. It's broken and the shards are lying around everywhere. Hope is not an old Obama poster or a town in Arkansas, it's something as unique as the human soul and we must grasp it. There are times when a poem is not only read, it's experienced.


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Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2022 Les Marcott
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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