Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Wasteland and Chaucer

During one of my other lectures in English, it was pointed out to me that Eliot's "The Wasteland" alludes to Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales". I found this comparison truly interesting, and thought it would make a good blog, so here it is!

"The Wasteland" by Eliot

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.....
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water...

From the Canterbury Tales "The General Prologue" by Chaucer

What that April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed ever viene in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendered is the flowr;
What Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
the tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath the Ram his halve cour yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye
That sleepen al the night with open ye-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgramages...

Both poems examine the month of April, however, Eliot’s poem distorts the images that Chaucer examines. April, for Eliot, is a cruel month, a painful reminder of infertility, while Chaucer’s April is a lusty, fertile rebirth of animal and man. Eliot uses images of decay, analyzing a "dead land" that includes "dull roots" and "roots that clutch" out of "stony rubbish". His view is menacing and pessimistic, a "heap of broken images" that uses fragmentation and discord. The overall feeling of this passage in "The Wasteland" is dismal and hopeless, summed up in the line "and the dead tree gives no shelter". Chaucer, on the other hand, paints a portrait of April that is filled with unity and wholeness. His April his inspired by Zephyrus’ sweet breath, and has power to regenerate. The birds sing in melodious tones, and the overall feeling is optimism and rebirth.
The comparison of the two solely relies on the idea of April and spring, yet their ideas are so starkly contrasted. Eliot takes the images of rebirth found in Chaucer’s poem and shatters their images, causing a drastically different view of the world during a change of season. Rather than "April with his showers sweet with fruit" as with Chaucer, Eliot states that "April is the cruellest month".


Post a Comment

<< Home