TS Eliot by Wyndham Lewis, 1938
Another Thursday morning – another edition of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time on Radio 4. One of the good things about retirement is the chance to sit and think whilst listening to this remarkable programme. This week the discussion was about TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.
In October 1922, the latest edition of London’s literary magazine, The Criterion, hit the shelves. In it was a new poem by a little known American poet. The poet was Thomas Stearns Eliot and the poem was called The Waste Land. It turned out to be among the most influential poems ever written in English.
The Waste Land found a new way to express the modern world in all its bruising, gleaming cacophony. But Eliot himself has been accused of elitism, of misanthropy and high-minded despair at the paucity of 20th century living.
But could someone who captured modern life so well really dislike it so much and when he stared out at a world of radio and cinema, of radical art and universal suffrage, did TS Eliot really see only a barren, featureless plain?
A reassuring point in the discussion was made by Lawrence Rainey: that there was no need to look for coherence in The Waste Land.
The Waste Land manuscript