The Waste Land
has a not completely unwarranted reputation for being rather hard to parse and reams of critical analysis have been written. Experts recommend Hugh Kenner's essay "The Invisible Poet
", and "The Waste Land: A Critique of the Myth
" by Cleanth Brooks for perceptive readings of the poem, and descriptions of Eliot's then-revolutionary poetic technique. Many refer interested readers to John Wain's Waste Land Casebook
as a good compendium, for those who would want to go into more depth.
One of the best things to have come out of "The Waste Land" is a refreshing parody. My enjoyment of these limericks was improved immeasurably by reading;
Exploring The Waste Land:
Wendy Cope's inspired summary of the poem as a stripped down version of Eliot's rather impenetrable masterpiece is excruciatingly funny. From her book Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, she says this collection was inspired by a dream and when it was first published in 1986 it sold 40,000 copies instantly becoming a best seller by poetry standards. In the book she creates a character in the form of a male alter ego named Jason Strugnell, an intolerable egotist who pens odes to his neighbor’s cherry blossom tree using words like "senescent" and "beauteous.” Through Jason’s disdain for a finicky sort of dreary male poets, she mercilessly exposes the tricks of manner and thought of her victims, William Wordsworth, Ted Hughes and most unforgettably TS Eliot.
Parody, imitation for satirical purposes, is sometimes distinguished from pastiche, which is imitation for comic purpose. Britannica has this to say on the Art of Parody
(Greek paroidía, "a song sung alongside another"), in literature, a form of satirical criticism or comic mockery that imitates the style and manner of a particular writer or school of writers so as to emphasize the weakness of the writer or the overused conventions of the school. Differing from burlesque by the depth of its technical penetration and from travesty, which treats dignified subjects in a trivial manner, true parody yet cannot be written without a thorough appreciation of the work that it ridicules.
Limericks are always fashionable, perhaps the last form of really popular poetry, composed of five lined stanzas with an aabba
rhyming scheme that creates a quick pace and lends itself to a humorous tone. There is a particular genius to the fine art of parody and Ms Cope is very adept at combining her chic ode in high contrast adjacent to Eliot’s obscure themes of degeneracy of human relationships upon a barren landscape. Like Eliot's "Waste Land” it’s in five parts and it’s with a lively eye for absurdity in Eliot’s first section The Burial of the Dead
where she recreates Eliot’s bathetic subjects of fear, distress, and depression. It’s a set up for sure; and in the next verse tackles A Game of Chess
almost casually; rather hastily decries the exterior content with the typical nadir of couplets by adroitly getting across Eliot’s complaint of lack of communications and the result is a fragmented amusing neurotic tone. By the third elegy Cope is interpolating overt details of The Fire Sermon
with images of the river Tiresias
and the typist trivializing Eliot’s implicit and detailed theme:
The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep--
A typist is laid,
A record is played--
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.
Instead of the degeneration in emotion, relationships and morality Cope points to the ineffability of The Waste Land, which is so startlingly true to the original – she seems to capture the essence of each extended and complex section in just a few short lines. And in the pithiest of language, too: phrases such as " Wei la la. After this it gets deep" invariably set me to laughing out loud.
In her account of Death by Water she has completely abandoned Eliot’s sinister bones and whispers.
A Phoenician named Phlebas forgot
About birds and his business--the lot,
Which is no surprise,
Since he'd met his demise
And been left in the ocean to rot.
Lastly there is a witty and unpretentious satirical commentary that pokes fun at herself and this rather ineffective distillation of subject matter boiling Eliot’s poem down in the last stanza:
No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,
Then thunder, a shower of quotes
From the Sanskrit and Dante.
Da. Damyata. Shantih.
I hope you'll make sense of the notes.
Even though some critics find her summary of Eliot's Modernist classic in five bouncy light-verse stanzas, difficult to swallow, Eliot was also handy when making comic mockery but in a more, rarefied way. See To Walter de la Mare and The Hippopotamus.
On the subject of modernist parodies, the noir comic version of The Waste Land is wonderful and Wendy Cope's version of the poem in limericks is a modern classic. Certainly the humorous has always been considered a staple of light verse, and this poet can be very funny indeed. If you would like to read the entirety of her Waste Land Limericks and more parody by her uproarious male alter ego, Jason, I encourage you to check it out at your local library or bookstore. It’s going on my Christmas wish list this year.
Sixth Form Responses to T:
The Wondering Minstrels (poet):