Reading and Discussing T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

I’ve never read all of Eliot’s The Waste Land, partly because the recondite references and foreign language passages dissuaded me, but James Parker’s recent Atlantic write-up–or more accurately, guide– has inspired me to finally complete it. I’m going to use this thread to keep notes and process the poem.

(By the way, Parker’s prose partly accounts for my enthusiasm. You know how English teachers harp on cliches because they deaden the writing? I’m not sure if Parker uses cliches, but his writing is the opposite. His writing, by itself, is exciting. Here’s an excerpt I liked:

Great editors, like great record producers, know where to make the cut.

It’s a secondary creative act, doubling the primary one: to breathe upon the formless waters, to infuse the Kháos, the sprawling manuscript, with the Logos. Teo Macero—New York City, 1969—having recorded hours upon hours, spools upon spools, of Miles Davis jamming sulfurously and sorcerously with a crew of possessed sidemen, takes out his razor and makes Bitches Brew. Ezra Pound—Paris, 1922—licks the nib of his pencil and slashes entire sequences, entire movements, from Eliot’s new poem.

Pound was a maker and a shatterer, prancing around London with his isms—his Imagism and his Vorticism and his anti-Georgianism. His ear for poetry was almost feral. Eliot trusted him completely. So across the manuscript Pound went prowling: He jabbed and bracketed and sliced, and his marginalia popped like fireworks. “Too loose” … “Too tum-pum” … “B-ll-s” … “Make up yr. mind” … Once in a while he approved: “O.K.” or (more Poundian) “Echt,” German for “real.”

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