Wednesday, 20 October 2010
The waste land
The conventional reading of this passage makes reference to the Old Testament texts which are quoted and taken as illustrating the desertification of modern life. But there is hope in shelter under the red rock - taken as a reference to the Messiah. Bosh, says FB. All nonsense.
There is an overt clue that critics have ignored in the phrase 'The cricket no relief' Conventional views assume, on the basis of no evidence, that cricket here refers to the insect. Wrong. Once the interpretation is correctly ascribed to the game of cricket, it all becomes clear.
This poet is referring to the English despair at the dominance of the Australians during the 1920s. Eliot wrote the poem as the 1920-21 Aussies achieved the first whitewash, largely through the use of express pace bowling. The dryness refers to the alien arridity of the Australian wickets that the MCC players encountered; the shadows are references to the extremes of sunlight and the length of the playing day in those pre-Murdoch times. Fear in a handful of dust refers not only to the quality of some of the wickets but the impacts of the pace attack on the frafile morale of English batsmen. On this last point FB accepts that an alternative interpretation may be that the handful of dust is in fact a reference to the Ashes themselves.
Get this passage, and the rest of The Waste Land's meanings are obvious. Look at its famous opening line - 'April is the cruellest month' - obviously, since that is when outdoor nets generally begin.
Don't take Fantasy Bob's word for it. Enjoy the poem yourself - text on this link.