Wednesday, April 30, 2014

T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," Part 5: The Grail

How at the Castle of Corbin a Maiden Bare in the Sangreal and Foretold the Achievements of Galahad: illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1917
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Sangreal.jpg
The most important symbol in all Fisher King legends is the Holy Grail, usually described as a sacred cup which holds the blood of Christ.  However, the original French word for the Grail, the sangraal, also could be interpreted as a stone, which is also religiously significant because of the symbol of the foundation of the Christian.  Since the Grail is an important symbol, it too must play a significant role in The Waste Land’s thematic exposition, not as a nourishing symbol of a cup, but as the unwieldy stone which provides refuge.

Monday, April 28, 2014

T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," Part 4: The Quester

"Parsifal in Montsalvat, the Castle of the Holy Grail"
by A. Spiess
Source: http://arcadiasystems.org/academia/nschgrailcastle2.jpg
The protagonist of the Fisher King legend is not the Fisher King himself, but an outsider who enters the Waste Land on a quest for the Holy Grail.   Although the Quester may not realize it, his destiny is not only to attain the Holy Grail, but to deliver the Waste Land and its inhabitants from their suffering.  In The Waste Land, however, Eliot strips the Quester’s character from any of the religious goals found in traditional romance cycles.  Without spiritual initiative, his journey, like that of all the personae in The Waste Land, is one traveled in a world of secular humanism gone stagnant.  Unfortunately, the Quester’s ignorance is not confined to his lack of identity, but also of the actions required to fulfill his quest.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," Part 3: The Fisher King

As I mentioned in my introductory post, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was influenced dramatically by Jessie L. Weston’s book From Ritual to Romance, which focuses on the medieval cycles about the Fisher King, the Holy Grail, and other aspects of what we normally call “Arthurian Legends.”  The Fisher King is the guardian of the Grail, and his close proximity to this object of supernatural healing makes it impossible for him to die of his injury, although this injury is somehow so profound that even the Grail is unable to completely heal it.  Thus the Fisher King, like the Waste Land and its inhabitants, can neither change nor end his existence. 

His presence in The Waste Land is as a solitary symbol of the entire land’s agony.
Although the Fisher King is not directly named in The Waste Land, Eliot alludes to him indirectly in several instances, such as the Man with Three Staves (745), which Eliot associated, “arbitrarily, with the Fisher King” (757).  His character is also referenced in the act of fishing, such as “While I was fishing in the dull canal” (749), the fishermen who are lounging on the banks of the Thames (751), and “I sat upon the shore / Fishing” (756).  Even the actions of the ambiguous character of the Smyrna merchant Mr. Eugenides (750) echo the Fisher King role, inviting the poet-speaker to his house just as the Fisher King invites the quester to his castle.

Source:https://lesstewart.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/fisher_king_wound.jpg

In medieval romance cycles, the setting and the eponymous character of the Fisher King legend are interconnected.  Because the Fisher King is suffering, his land cannot prosper, and those inhabitants who rely in the land for their own livelihood must suffer with their king.  That he has brought this suffering on his people is not lost on the Fisher King.  Because his injury is so closely connected to the plight of his people, he is painfully aware with the situation in the Waste Land and its inhabitants, saying:

‘…I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing’ (752)

Despite the Fisher King’s desire to bring relief to his people, he has neither the knowledge nor the resources to help them, since he cannot even help himself.
            The suffering the Fisher King brings upon his land and people contrasts with the symbolism of fishing that is associated with him.  According to From Ritual to Romance, the Fisher King’s title is one that symbolizes fertility, which may pertain to his guardianship of the life-bringing Grail.  However, the Fisher King of medieval romance cycles—as well as The Waste Land—is not only a symbol of life, but also of suffering without the option of death. 
The Waste Land continues to exist long after its prosperity has ceased, but the Fisher King is helpless to do anything for his people because he himself is helpless.  Since he is also denied the possibility to end his suffering through death, the only remaining solution to restore his reign and land to its former prosperity is through an outside influence, the Questing Knight.

Monday, April 21, 2014

T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," Part 2: The Setting

The setting is one of the The Waste Land’s most important thematic contributions.  Scene by scene, Eliot fully explicates an image of the Waste Land, eliciting a sense of illness and decay through scenes that are “decidedly unwholesome and destructive of harmony or coherence” (Jay 149).  Even in the poem’s initial lines, “April is the cruelest month” (744), the spring rain brings false hope with seemingly no true possibility of renewal, a false hope that continues throughout the poem, when “There is not even silence in the mountains / But dry sterile thunder without rain” (753).

Source: http://i1.sndcdn.com/artworks-000068261675-jjudqi-original.jpg?77d7a69

Monday, April 14, 2014

T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and Arthurian Legend: Part 1

To celebrate April’s being National Poetry Month, I am going to indulge my love of two favorite things: my favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, and my interest in Arthurian legends.  So bear with this overlong series of posts, as I wax both academic and fangirl at the same time….

T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land uses the Fisher King and Grail mythology from medieval romance cycles.  The poem establishes themes of humanity’s mortal existence and spiritual thirst for redemption from depravity and suffering, while simultaneously demonstrating these themes’ relevance to contemporary society.  Repeatedly the poem invokes imagery from various myths and legend to illustrate these themes to the reader.  Although these various allusions to traditional works are seemingly unrelated, Eliot particularly focuses on the Fisher King legend as a main plotline which unifies all the other mythologies.  From the epigraph of the Cumean Sybil to his concluding words of shanti, Eliot interweaves elements of different cultures into his poem, thus unifying a narrative on the themes which the Fisher King myth represents.  Through the omnipresence of this myth throughout the poem, Eliot is able to convey the single message, affirming that despite humanity’s lack of idealism, loss of identity, and vitality, there is nevertheless a constant hope and possibility for deliverance from these inadequacies.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Major Spoilers Ahoy

Instead of talking about poetry like I’d planned (April being Poetry Month), my sister has demanded I talk about Frozen. 

Why is talking about a Disney movie okay on a blog devoted primarily to books?  Because my sister has a valid point: Frozen has a lot in common with Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

The main character, Anna, is a spunky, impulsive, adventurous girl. 
Source: http://www.rotoscopers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/frozen-anna-disney.jpg
Much like Marianne Dashwood, though admittedly less hipster-emo-romantic.

Her sister Elsa is a much more restrained character, dealing in secret with her own problems.  
Source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-MEfi2UDtTJk/Um95AqOS9PI/AAAAAAAAxf4/ebKPVpHplZw/s1600/Frozen+new+still+Anna+2.jpg
Like Elinor Dashwood, only trading the Edward Ferrars for awesome ice-wielding powers.


Also, (and since it seems everyone has seen this movie already I won’t worry too much about spoiling the “twist,”) Anna falls in love with a guy who turns out to be a villain.  At first, anyway.  Then she falls in love with a normal dude.

Source: http://media.tumblr.com/f3526321c852aceb65d5c6bf495cf693/tumblr_inline_muhaxjPwFC1s2uefr.jpg

In Willoughby’s defense, at least he doesn’t try to kill the Dashwood sisters…though maybe that’s because they weren’t Norwegian royalty.