What Lies Beneath What Branches Grow

Posted on May 1, 2013

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written instantly, on demand, for @jessifer in his’s 😉 Critical Analysis course at Marylhurst, so forgive poorganization

With The Wasteland, TS Eliot makes us think about the nature of human existence, from genesis to death and all time in between. First we see thef nothingness of winter become spring (“The Burial of The Dead”). It’s also the beginning of the Creation allusions in the poem. In today’s #digitalenglish class we discussed the references to Spring, Easter, and resurrection, and the use of the word “April.” There’s also the appearance of the letter A beginning both the poem and the English alphabet, and The Aleph, which begins the Kabbalist alphabet. The Aleph, being first uttered, is said to be The Sacred Breath of Life. Then there is water, mud, primordial stew (“…out of the dead land, mixing / memory and desire, stirring / dull roots with spring rain.”).

And it continues, the allusion to a seven-day creation:

Eliot uses growth of vegetation to illustrate growth of (a) civilization while he references creation of humanity at the same time. He compares creation of mankind to mankind’s cultivation of science and technology. He demonstrates the struggle of man to forge our way through existence until death. This is obvioulsly demonstrated in The Wasteland’s line 357: “Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop”

  1. Drip: The air and The Heavens, Earth, light and darkness (night and day)
  2. Drop: Water/mist, separate of the heavens
  3. Drip: Dry land and vegetation
  4. Drop: The sun, moon, stars
  5. Drop: Water and Air Creatures
  6. Drop: Earth Creatures and Humans
  7. Drop: Rest (the body dies/rests, falling to surrender, falling once again into winter.

Eliot seems to say “why are we here, and why the fuck did you make it so?” April was a cruel resurrection of winter (“Winter kept us warm…”). He suggests to live is to suffer and to die is to experience relief, and life is chaos to non-existence. In this way the poem is circular. It starts with mud and ends with rock and dust. Now we golem’s have thought/free will and have to consider why the fuck we exist, a la Frankenstein’s monster.

From death, life. From life, death.

His commentary suggests growth is death – growth of civilization will be the eventual ruin of it. Perhaps since Eliot has written a retrospective on this, we can go forward with that same consideration of new worlds and new creation. In the digital environment, we are gods. We are Prometheus, creating our own “living” text. We have to be considerate of growth so we don’t destroy ourselves.

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? (,) Son of man..”

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