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Ceremonies In “The Waste Land” Essay, Research Paper

Ceremonies are prevalent throughout T.S. Eliot?s poem “The

Waste Land”. Eliot relies on literary contrasts to illustrate the

specific values of meaningful, effectual rituals of primitive society

in contrast to the meaningless, broken, sham rituals of the modern

day. These contrasts serve to show how ceremonies can become broken

when they are missing vital components, or they are overloaded with

too many. Even the way language is used in the poem furthers the

point of ceremonies, both broken and not. In section V of The Waste

Land, Eliot writes,

“After the torchlight red on sweaty faces

After the frosty silence in the gardens

After the agony in stony places

The shouting and the crying

Prison and palace and reverberation

Of thunder of spring over diezt mountains

He who was living is now dead” (ll. 322-328).

The imagery of a primal ceremony is evident in this passage. The last

line of “He who was living is now dead” shows the passing of the

primal ceremony; the connection to it that was once viable is now

dead. The language used to describe the event is very rich and vivid:

red, sweaty, stony. These words evoke an event that is without the

cares of modern life- it is primal and hot. A couple of lines later

Eliot talks of “red sullen faces sneer and snarl/ From doors of

mudcracked houses” (ll. 344-345). These lines too seem to contain

language that has a primal quality to it.

From the primal roots of ceremony Eliot shows us the contrast

of broken ceremonies. Some of these ceremonies are broken because

they are lacking vital components. A major ceremony in The Waste Land

is that of sex. The ceremony of sex is broken, however, because it is

missing components of love and consent. An example of this appears in

section II, lines 99-100, “The change of Philomel, by the barbarous

king/ So rudely forced”; this is referring to the rape of Philomel by

King Tereus of Thrace. The forcing of sex on an unwilling partner

breaks the entire ceremony of sex.

Rape is not the only way a broken sex ceremony can take place.

The broken ceremony can also occur when there is a lack of love, as

shown in lines 222-256. This passage describes a scene between “the

typist” and “the young man carbuncular”. What passes between these

two individuals is a sex ceremony that is devoid of love and emotion

(except for, perhaps, the emotion of lust on the part of the young

man). The typist is indifferent to the whole event and the young

man?s “vanity requires no response” (l. 241). For a ceremony to be

effective, the participants have to have some degree of faith in what

they are doing. They must believe that the ceremony will result in

something worthwhile. The participants in this broken ceremony had no

faith in what they were doing; they were just going through the

motions. This is made obvious when the secretary says “?Well now

that?s done: and I?m glad it?s over.?” (l. 252).

Another way that broken ceremonies (broken due to lack of

components) are presented in the poem, are ceremonies of nature. It

seems as though the waste land is always waiting for the ceremony of

rain, the bringing of water, to the dry land. For most of the poem

the water never arrives because there is always something missing. In

lines 331 and 332 Eliot says, “Here is no water but only rock/ Rock

and no water”. In line 342 there is, “dry sterile thunder without

rain”. The lack of water in ceremonies of nature that require it,

lead to a broken ceremony.. Even at the beginning of the poem Eliot

tells us that we, “know only/ A heap of broken images, where the sun

beats,/ And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,/

And the dry stone no sound of water.” (ll. 21-24). Clearly this is

wrong, and this lack of water is a main theme, and a main broken

ceremony in The Waste Land.

Conversely, ceremonies can also be broken when there are too

many components in the ceremony, a something extra that serves to

break them. In The Waste Land this is demonstrated by the presence of

a third person in a ceremony that should contain only two. In lines

139-166, Eliot presents a scene with “one too many”. A husband

(Albert) and a wife (Lil) are about to be reunited after Albert?s four

year absence. What should be a happy reunion ceremony is broken by

the intrusion of a third person- Lil?s “friend”. She belittles Lil

and then threatens her by saying, “And if you don?t give it [a good

time] to him, there?s others will, I said./ Oh is there, she said.

Something o?that, I said./ Then I?ll know who to thank, she said, and

gave me a straight look.” (ll. 149-151).

For a true bond occur in a relationship there must be a true

connection between two people. If one of the people in the

relationship is cheating on the other, this is another example of a

third person breaking a two person ceremony. In lines 360-366, Eliot


“Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

I do now know whether a man or a woman

-But who is that on the other side of you?

This passage shows a relationship between two people. One of them

sees a third party. It is unknown if this is actually another person

(as in the case of unfaithfulness) or if it is a secret “wrapt in a

brown mantle, hooded” that is manifesting itself as an intruder on the

walking couple. Whatever it is, it is breaking the ceremony of the

relationship and obviously bothers the speaker who mentions “the other

walking beside you” three times in just seven lines.

Language is very important in the genre of poetry and Eliot

makes good use of it to show components of ceremonies. The way the

language is used in the poem creates broken parts everywhere in the

poem. Eliot?s use of anaphora is reminiscent of the chant that often

accompanies religious ceremonies. The repeating in lines 121-122 (Do

you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember nothing?) is

like a catechism in form. Lines 322-324 (After the…After

the…After the…) also further the ritualistic, ceremonious feeling

of the poem. The analectic style that Eliot employs gives the poem a

disjointed, broken feeling, almost as if the whole poem is a ceremony,

and all of the analects are little cracks in what is ultimately

broken. The fragmented use of allusions, combined with the foreign

languages and different speakers, help establish the “unwhole” feeling

of the poem. Eliot shows the dry, cracked waste land, but in the

ending of the poem he gives us hope with the ritualistic chant of,

“Shantih shantih shantih” (l. 434) which translates (according to the

notes) as The Peace which passeth underezding.

Ceremonies are prevalent throughout T.S. Eliot?s poem The

Waste Land. The contrast between rituals that contain too little and

rituals that contain too much show just how broken the waste land is.

The actual literary tools that Eliot uses helps give the poem an

apparent broken feel.

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