The Waste Land and Other Poems

A Waste(land) of time. I hereby release all future readers from the necessity of reading this poem, regarded as the most influential in the 20th century. Whether or not this is true is impossible to prove, but the poem had little influence over me. The impact of poems and stories should be in how you respond to them, not in how best to revere them. Compare with Moby Dick, an older work that remains completely readable and interesting to modern audiences. The Waste Land continues, like Joyce’s Ulysses, to be a cryptic work requiring an army of poetry spelunkers to guide you through the underwater passages. It also comes with celebrated “Notes” from the author. That a poet needs to provide accompanying notes should be the first flare indicating trouble ahead. The Notes were meant to bolster the size of the book, so they function as filler and a way for Eliot to refute charges of plagiarism. These Notes are now considered a sacred part of the poem itself, according to the talking heads on Coursera (Victor Strandberg of Duke).
I mean, I get it. Modernism, exciting! The chaos of life post WWI. But to a currrent-day reader inundated with choices of what to fill her brain with, this is the last thing I’ll pick off my shelf, except perhaps to peruse Prufrock again, “I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard mermaids singing, each to each.”
The unsung hero in all of this is good old misogynistic Ezra Pound, who despite his other flaws, significantly edited down the poem to its current state. Eliot ends up dedicating the poem to his editor, declaring him “il miglior fabbro,” the better craftsman. Blech.