Concept Of Nature In T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland

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Nature is not what is most associated with Modernist Literature however, it is important to pieces of modernist literature, such as T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’. Eliot’s novel uses nature to show the realities of how the world is because of the exploitation of the modern industrialized society and war. Eliot frequently describes the landscape and includes imagery of water to show the effect of the industrialized society on nature. ‘The Wasteland’ shows how early 20th society has transformed the landscape and nature of the world by being more focused on enhancing human experience rather than making the world a better place. Nature has been forgotten in the world Eliot described.

T.S. Eliot opens ‘The Wasteland’ with the line ‘April is the cruelest month’. Cruellest is a particular adjective to describe April, as it is a spring month and is usually associated with new life. This invocation about April that Eliot starts his poem with is to provide confusion to every reader as everyone understands the connotations that April has. The paradox Eliot creates is to show the readers what to expect from the rest of the poem. ‘The Wasteland’ presents an almost seasonless world as it does not contain the change the seasons bring. The world is in an intermediate state as it is waiting for a new season. April is usually a month where the beauty of nature is celebrated however, Eliot describes April in ‘The Wasteland’ as having ‘dull roots’ and ‘lilacs out of dead land’.

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The use of water in ‘The Wasteland’ is significant as water allows nature to flourish and is vital for living organisms. The lack of water in ‘The Wasteland’s’ ‘The Burial of the Dead’ is why nature and the world are no longer flourishing: ‘the dry stone no sound of water.’ Water promises rebirth which is what Eliot is arguing the world needs. Despite the lack of water in ‘The Burial of the Dead’ Eliot also talks about how water can bring about death in ‘Death by Water’ with Phlebas the Phoenician, who: ‘as he rose and fell / he passed the stages of his age and youth / Entering the whirlpool’. His drowning is a belated baptism to cleanse him of his sins because of his concerns for ‘profit and loss.’ This alludes to the danger of nature and arguably why it is not important to people anymore but without it they have built an apocalyptic world where they have lost their individuality and become ‘hooded hordes swarming’. Eliot is bringing awareness to the impact of modernity on nature this is supported by his book The Idea of a Christian Society: ‘Organisation of society on the principle of private profit …, is leading both to the deformation of humanity by unregulated industrialism, and to the exhaustion of natural resources,’. Eliot’s fears about the modern world with private profit and industrialism negatively impacting humanity and nature are what he is depicting in ‘The Wasteland’ to make others aware of the negative impact of modernity.

The focus is on London, which shows how the prominence of nature in people’s minds has shifted, no longer concerned with its beauty and more concerned with the human experience. However, London was not completely barren of nature as it had parks and greens, etc. Catherine-Ann Nabholz describes ‘The Wasteland’ in her thesis The crisis of modernity: culture, nature, and the modernist yearning for authenticity as an: ‘alienating experience of the industrial landscapes of modernity’ Eliot’s decision to exclude these green spaces is arguably in order to create a heightened portrayal of this alienating experience caused by modernity and to overemphasize the negative impact of living separately from nature.

Eliot is depicting the importance of nature to society in ‘The Wasteland’ but he shows this in his other works too, for example in ‘Choruses from The Rock’ Eliot states: ‘The desert is not remote in southern tropics … The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you’. Eliot is recognizing here the close relationship between nature and society and that the dependency on nature is strong even throughout urban modernity when society is less reliant on nature for survival.

As the poem and the world is coming to an end in a stand-alone line: ‘London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. One of the key features of London is the London bridge, it is a strong representation of city life and it is collapsing. Nature has been pushed out of the world by mankind and now the world is pushing out manmade structures in this apocalyptic scene, the world is resetting itself. The repetition of ‘falling down and the lack of punctuation creates a song-like rhythm to the line. This suggests Eliot is not trying to depict this line as severe and something to dwell on by creating a happier tone to the line.

However, when the rain does arrive at the end of the poem: ‘In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust/ Bringing rain’. This suggests the start of a new future and cleansing the world and every one of its sins. Similar to how Phlebas was cleansed of his sins. This is a reminder of the story of Noah’s Ark as the rain had the same purpose. Eliot is implying that nature is needed to provide the change the world and society need. The rain also comes with thunder and lightning this is ambivalent as it suggests that the new start will not be easy or that nature is punishing the world before purifying it because of how it has been treated and neglected.

Overall, nature is not often at the forefront of modernist literature but in T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland it is important in showing how nature had deteriorated because of the exploitation of the modern world. The Wasteland is alluding to how the landscape of the 20th century has drastically changed to be more concerned with human experience than the preservation of nature.


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