ELIOT’S “THE WASTE LAND”
by Darman Sitepu
Universitas Islam Sumatera Utara
Hubungan sex merupakan kegiatan sakral yang dilakukan dengan penuh kasih sayang oleh pasangan suami istri untuk melanjutkan keturunan. Namun pada The Waste Land karya T.S.Eliot, sex telah berubah fungsi. Sex digunakan sebagai alat pemuas birahi, obat menghilangkan stress dan bahkan diperdagangkan sebagai barang komersial untuk memperoleh keuntungan materi. Penyimpangan sex tersebut menyebabkan kemandulan peradaban modern. Eliot menyerukan pembersihan spiritual sebagai solusi masalah tersebut. Namun masyarakat modern tak terketuk hatinya karena terbius oleh kenikmatan duniawi semata.
Keywords: sexual perversion, moral values, guilty love, sex exploitation
According to Eliot, sex is an important aspect of life. It is an expression of love and a means of procreation. But in modern society, sex has been perverted from its proper function and is utilized for animal pleasure and monetary benefits. Easy sexual relation could be found among all sections of the society.
Eliot cites the instances of guilty love in the first section of the poem with reference to Waqner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. Then he goes to another guilty love of the hyacinth girl.
In the section of Game of Chess we are introduced to sexual violation in high-class society where a lustful duke seduced a young married-woman. Sex also prevails among the lower class of society. Eliot mentions the story of Lil and the experience of three daughters of Thames. Another example is that of mechanical sex relation between the typist girl and her boy friend. A homosexual relation is exemplified by Mr. Eugenides. Eliot sums up the story of European lust through the words of St. Augustine.
To carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
(Lines 307-308: The Waste Land)
Eliot means that the whole of Europe is being destroyed by the fire of sexuality.
Sex occupies a very prominent place in human life. At one time sex was considered as a means of human development. Unfortunately in modern time, sex has become an animal urge without any moral or social commitment.
Eliot gives two examples of guilty love or the pain of satisfied love. The poet refers to the story of Tristan who had a guilty passion for Isolde in Waqner’s opera Tristan and Isolde.
I will show you fear in handful of dust
Frisc weht der wind
Der Himat zu
Mein Irisch Kind
Wo weilest du?
(Lines 30-34: The Waste Land)
This guilty love proved fatal. The song in the poem refers to Tristan, who morally wounded, awaits the arrival of his beloved. Tristan inquires of the watchman if the ship is bringing his beloved. The reply is negative “Empty and desolate is the sea”. It sums up the despair and the grief of the guilty love.
Then the poet gives another example of guilty love, the story of the hyacinth girl.
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl
Yet when we came back, late from hyacinth garden
Your arms fell, and your hair wet, I could not speak,
And my eyes failed
I was neither
Living nor dead, and I know nothing.
Looking into the heart of light, silence.”
(lines 35-41: The Waste Land)
Like the love of Tristan, the love of this young man is also a guilty love as he makes love to the girl secretly in the garden. This sort of love is not free from fear and anxiety. The feeling of the lover is summed up in the line “I was neither living nor dead and I knew nothing (L 39-40). So love offers neither joy nor relaxation under the condition of modern life.
‘Oed’ und leer das Meer
(line 42: The Waste Land)
This is another quotation taken from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. The meaning is Empty and desolate is the sea. The dejected Tristan is lying on the sea stone waiting for his beloved Isolde. But unfortunately, there are no signs of the arrival of the ship. The sea appears empty to the lover. The poet means that their love is guilty as it is outside married. Thus there is tragic end to this kind of love. Such guilty love does not give a sense of satisfaction.
Sex in High and Low Level of Society
The second section of the poem is A Game of Chess. The title is borrowed from Middleton’s play Women Beware Women. A Game of Chess is played to distract the attention of an old woman, while her daughter-in-law is seduced by a lustful duke.
The first implication in that violation of sexual discipline brings frustration and spiritual decay. The second implication of a game of chess is a situation of check-mate where the game enters a blind alley, meaning thereby that married life becomes dull and boring. The third implication of the title is a life of emotional starvation in the process of mechanical routine.
The moral of the section is that the foundation of healthy society is a disciplined sexual relationship. When sex is free from restriction or control, it leads to perversion and creates a sense of frustration and failure in married life.
The following quotation is the scene of sexual triviality in high society.
And we shall play a game of chess,
pressing lidless eyes and
waiting for a knock upon the door.
(lines 136-138: The Waste Land)
These lines again have reference pertaining to Middleton’s play Women Beware Women. A game of chess is played with the mother-in-law in order to distract her attention and to enable a lustful duke to seduce her daughter-in-law. The knock upon the door will be a signal that the love affair should be brought to an end.
The second scene of A Game of Chess deals with life at lower class society. The scene is laid in a tavern. Here is a story of Lil who is conversing with another lady about her husband. The woman is nervous and afraid because she has lost her charm and yet wants to make her husband stay with her.
This is the comment of the lady about Lil’s appearance.
You ought to be ashamed, I said to look so antique
(and her only thirty-one)
(lines 156-157: The Waste Land)
Lil is no longer attractive and she is now ugly. Even the lady who talks to Lil could not bear to look at her.
Lil replies that it was because of abortion pills that she took to get rid of pregnancy. The lady asked Lil why she married if she did not want children. Married and children go together.
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
(line 165: The Waste Land)
The above quotation throws light on the tragedy of Lil who has lost her health and yet is unable to keep her husband around. It reveals perversion of married life where child bearing has to be controlled and at the same time the wife should be looked attractive to prevent her husband from mixing with other women.
Sex in London
The title of the section The Fire Sermon is borrowed the sermon of Lord Budha. But the essence of this section is that lust burns up life. One can conquer lust by suffering and pain by passing through fire. This is opposed to modern idea. That sex should be enjoyed without any regulation.
See the following quotation:
And their friends, loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed have left no address.
(lines 180-181: The Waste Land)
After a wild party, rich businessmen left no address to their sex partners. For businessman sex is the same as any other commodity. It could be bought and enjoyed without any sense of moral.
Then the poet calls London the unreal city because unbelievable things happen in this town. Rape, lust and cheating prevail without any hindrance.
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f’ London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French.
To Luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole”.
(lines 208-214: The Waste Land)
The poet recalls a scene in London in the fog of winter noon when he meets Mr. Eugenide, merchant from Smyrna, who is ugly and unshaven. His pocket is full of samples of currants and business documents. He stays at Cannon Street Hotel and spends the weekend at the Metropole Hotel. Both hotels were notorious for sex perversions including homosexual contact.
The above picture shows us that merchant of today besides making money has his eyes on lust.
Now Eliot gives another instance of mechanical sex relation. A typist girl, like a human machine, gets home from her office, prepares her tea, cleans dishes and prepares dinner. The girl waits for her lover. He is a young clerk of a house agent who has a look of confident but he is actually nervous. He approaches the typist and knows that she is bored. He starts the game of love. The girl is indifferent to his love game.
After the sex act, the clerk gives farewell kiss and goes downstairs.
Exploring hands encounter no defense.
His vanity requires no response
And makes a welcome of indifference
Bestows one final patronizing kiss,
And grapes her way, finding the stairs unlit.
(lines 240-248: The Waste Land)
The girl has gone through mechanical sex without any sense of regret. She does not even realize that her lover has departed.
She turns and looks a moment in the glass.
Hardly aware of her departed lover.
(lines 249-250: The Waste Land)
The essence of the above scene refers to the seduced girl in Goldsmith’s The Vicar Wakefield who is full of shame and repentance. In the past, the loss of chastity was considered worse than death for a girl. But in the modern age it is a mechanical routine as done by the typist girl.
Sex Exploitation in Low Society
The last scene of “Fire Sermon” shows some sexual violation experienced by three daughters of Thames. The first daughter was born at Highbury which is full of trams and dusty trees. She visited Richmond and Kew, which are picnic sports on the bank of the river.
At Richmond she was criminally assaulted by a man while she was lying on her back on the floor of a small boat.
Trams and dusty trees
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe
(lines 292-295: The Waste Land)
The second daughter was ravished at Moorgate.
My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet after the event
He wept. He promised “a new start”
I made no comment what should I resent?”
(lines 296-299: The Waste Land)
The girl was raped by a young man. After the act, the man felt repentant and wept. He promised to reform himself. For the girl there is nothing to regret because rape is a common experience of the poor girl’s life.
The third daughter was ravished on the Margate sands.
On Margate sands
I can connect
Nothing with nothing
The broken fingernails of dirty hands
My people humble people who expect
(lines 300-305: The Waste Land)
The girl does not remember anything. She compares herself to the broken fingernails of dirty hands which are useless. Poor people could not do anything against such violation. They just accept it as a common experience of life.
The title of the poem “The Waste Land” suggests the bareness of modern civilization. The sterility is caused by various factors but Eliot believes that sexual deviation gives significant contribution to the problem. Sex has been perverted from its proper function and is utilized merely to gratify human lust. Sex is also traded for commercial purpose. Therefore easy sexual relation could be found among all sections of the society.
This condition has become a source of degeneration that leads to the erosion of moral values and become a hurdle in man’s spiritual progress.