“hurry up please”

it’s time

A little wile ago I posted an impromptu mid-American lit assignment-reading of the first part of “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, and just for the fun of it, I’ve decided to make this into a mini series. The post, where I discuss why I really like this poem and read the first part can be found here, so in this post I think we’ll talk a bit more about the second part on its own!

“II. A Game of Chess” is where Eliot’s fragmentation really starts to show: this is not only where his character voices start to blur and go hazy, but where the shape and format of the poem starts to change.

The first part of the second part (okay, hang tight, this might get a bit confusing) sketches a noble woman taking in her surroundings, questioning her life and her everyday. In this part, Eliot’s use of imagery is exquisite and exuberant – you as the reader can almost feel yourself revelling in satin fabrics and lush candle light. The noble woman’s thoughts are disjointed and fragmented, however, and her existence is not a happy one, no matter the jewels and riches she owns.

The second part of the second part (told you this was gonna get bad) is a disjointed conversation between two speakers, neither of which we know the identity of, but whose state of mind we know is anxious, paranoid or at the very least strongly uncertain. This is one of my favourite stanzas of the poem, if only for the line “I think we are in rat’s alley / where the dead men lost their bones.” Normally lines like this don’t really get to me, but this one is just so wonderfully creepy and kind of stands out starkly from the rest of the poem. This is also where Eliot quotes Shakespeare for the second time in about 5 stanzas, saying “those are pearls that were his eyes”, and thus writing himself into the literary historical canon, changing the meaning of that sentence to no longer be about 15th century ships but to now pertain to desperate back alley abortions. Awful subject matter, wonderful poetic implementation.

The third part of the second part (nearly there!) is The Gossip’s part, and this is also delightful. This part is another one that starkly contrasts the rest of the poem, but to be fair, that’s kind of the point of the whole poem, isn’t it – to just be one big contrast, conveying a conflicting set of confusing emotions and situations. In this last part of “A Game of Chess”, we meet a woman in what seems to be a pub, dishing out the gossip on another character whose husband has been away fighting in the first world war. The story gets more and more into the dark secrets and life of the woman not present, Lill, it feels like it is told on a single breath with half a pint recklessly clutched in an eager hand, and it is only occasionally interrupted by the bar keep or pub owner shouting “HURRY UP PLEASE, IT’S TIME”. Time to close the pub down, no doubt, time to get the gossips out, but as a reader you’re inevitably left wondering “time for what else, though?”

Gosh, I love this poem and all its strange features and characters.

(Gosh, this thumb nail is wonderful – definitely keeping that one)

-Andrea

“You gave me hyachinths first a year ago”

They called me the hyacinth girl

“The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot was one of those poems I could not find myself enjoying when I read it for a poetry module in my first year of uni. It’s fragmented, it’s confusing and it has myriads of speakers, every new voice stranger than the last – I wanted to like it, I just couldn’t get the hang of it and there was never enough time in the syllabus to actually cement any real understanding of it.

With time, this lanky, strange old poem has grown on me, though. I’ve kept dipping my toes tentatively back into it now and then, and now that I’m taking a couple of new American literature modules, I’ve finally been able to do the proper deep dive I’ve wanted to, and over the course of the last few weeks I’ve fallen more and more in love with all the things I used to not like about it at all. There are still so many things I do not understand, so many notions and ideas and elements that escape me, but that’s one of the reasons I feel so drawn to it now.

Of course, it also helps that the lecturer teaching the literature module I’m currently doing is such an inspiring and enthusiastic academic, and her lectures are a delight. Her essay questions are also of another world, and part of why I’ve been able to finally give “The Waste Land” the undivided attention I have wanted to give it for a while, is because I’ve been analysing the living daylights out of it for an assignment.

From not really having managed to get through it before, I’ve now read this poem way too many times, and I keep finding new and exciting things with every read. I wanted to share the first part of the poem with you guys – in a little reading from my very-intensely-and-not-at-all-neatly-annotated copy of the Norton Anthology, with the noise of a lorry droning in from the outside and the bunched up blanket on the sofa from where I was sat reading this to myself not even a minute before this.

I hope you like these words as much as I do.

-Andrea