A couple of nights ago I read “The Wasteland” out loud to C, and I’ve been keeping the containing volume around and reading from it sporadically since. I am surprised at how much I still like it. I imagine that a lot of people go through an Eliot phase at some point, and then decide that the whole thing is a little too severe and get on with things. Sadly, it seems I am a bit stunted this way.
The other thing that has been standing out about it is how contemporary the apocalyptic tone feels. I mean, every era arrives at the conclusion that the world is going to end on its watch, but the particulars tend to vary. The sort of traditional return of the messiah has a certain feel, and the nuclear holocaust of my youth had a rich texture of its own.
Eliot’s interwar poetry sees the impending end of the world as a collapse into filth. Society recedes until all we have left is squalid savagery. In our political climate in which not taking any responsibility for anything is the ne plus ultra, this all starts to feel very familiar. It’s pretty shocking how quickly a handful of maniacs can reverse so much progress.