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
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

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. 

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. Even in the poem’s initial lines, “April is the cruelest month,” 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."

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 plot 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. 
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.  
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.


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.