October 2022 is the 100th anniversary of T. S. Eliot’s groundbreaking poem, The Waste Land. This is considered by some to be the most influential poem of the twentieth century. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was an Anglo-American who immigrated permanently to Britain, and became a committed member of the Anglican Church. He became engaged in aspects of the culture wars of the 1930s, championing Christian and conservative values. For Eliot, tradition was a living organism whose present is intimately connected to its history.
A man of considerable scholarship, Eliot’s poem was prefaced by a dedication to another great American poet, Ezra Pound, who had edited and reshaped the original lengthier manuscript. This was in 1922, before Pound’s political radicalisation. The poem opened with these lines that include a reference to Lake Starnberg (“Starnbergersee”) in southern Bavaria, a place of beauty and vistas familiar to the present writer:
- The Burial of the Dead
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
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.
Eliot’s influence spread around the Western world. In Australia his influence on art is assessed by David Hansen in his 2019 article, “The Broken Jaw: TS Eliot, Ern Malley and Australian Modern Art”. Those who subscribe to The Weekend Australian will find a useful short article on the subject by Christopher Allen in the Review section of 15 Oct. 2022 (paywalled).
T. S. Eliot can be heard reading The Waste Land here.