“The Waste Land”: A Critical Response

“The Waste Land”
Response Questions
You must respond to two questions (1a or 1b AND 2)
1 A.
In Part I the speaker promises to “show [the reader] fear in a handful of dust”. Has the
speaker ‘made good’ on his promise in Part V; how so? Consider the setting and tone.
1 B.
In 1932 Frank Raymond (F.R.) Leavis published New Bearings in English Poetry, one of
the first critical examinations and defenses of modernist poetry. Below are some of the
things he had to say about “The Waste Land”.
Leavis begins his discussion of “The Waste Land” by asking, “What is the significance of
the modern Waste Land?” Shortly thereafter he claims “the answer may be read in what
appears as the rich disorganization of the poem.” He boldly asserts that the
“disjointedness […] erudition[…and] wealth of literary borrowings and allusions” that
make the poem so difficult to first comprehend “reflect the […] state of civilization” at
the time Eliot was writing. Leavis continues, “the traditions and cultures mingled […]
and the result is a break-down of forms and the irrevocable loss of that sense of
absoluteness which seems necessary” as much in society as it does poetry. Leavis
concludes that every reader must “take account of the incessant rapid change that
characterizes the Machine Age” to fully appreciate how the “breach of continuity and the
uprooting of life” that Eliot so beautifully describes.
Paraphrase Leavis’ defense of Eliot’s most well-known work. What does Eliot’s poem
“do” and why, according to Leavis?
Offer up a one paragraph reading/ analysis of “The Waste Land”. Does this poem
describe an individual’s attempt to find his/her place in a rapidly changing world,
society’s effort to reconcile the war, the poet’s own quest for spirituality, or something
else entirely—you decide. Regardless of what you see this poem “doing”, be sure to
structure your response like a good paragraph; begin with a topic sentence, include
support, evidence, and explanations of the evidence.