Max Maxwell's Reviews > The Waste Land and Other Poems

The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot
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Mar 29, 09

bookshelves: 50-book-challenge-2009-failed-48, poetry, avant-garde
Recommended to Max by: Andrea Zappone
Recommended for: Fans of Joyce, Pound, Miller, Hemingway
Read in March, 2009, read count: 1

I'm Canadian, and as such, I'm not terribly familiar with American literature. So when my old acquaintance Kate had a black day planner with the line "April is the cruelest month" scrawled across the cover in red nail polish, I had no idea what it was from. I asked her, and she said, "T.S. Eliot," but she was quick to add that she had no idea why April was crueler than any other given month. Flash forward a few years, and I'm living in America, preparing for my Praxis II test, centering on American Literature. I decided to give Eliot a whirl when a fellow tutor reminded me that he existed. She was able to inform me that April is cruel because the melting of the snow reveals the post-WWI devastation underneath it, and that the line was an ironic allusion to Chaucer. Sounded good to me.

I've counted this as three books for my 50 Book Challenge this year, as it contains three separate publications— Prufrock and Other Observations , written in 1917; Poems 1920 , written in 1919, and The Waste Land , written in 1922. I wish that I could give the books three individual star ratings, but I make sure that I find the correct edition in the Goodreads catalogue, and stick to it. So, the reader should note that I give Prufrock and Waste Land five stars, whereas I give 1920 only two and a half stars.

Anyway, I can only say that Eliot's work, while remarkably dense, is not so hard to get through here, where ample endnotes explain and annotate the references. The introduction is fantastic, and actually makes you feel like you've got a little knowledge under your belt before tackling the text. The poems themselves, of course, are breathtaking; the Observations speak to me in a way that no piece of literature has since I read Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, an American expatriate much like Eliot himself. The descriptions of people and cities are erudite and cynical in a way that somehow woos you not only to Eliot's brand of cynicism, but cynicism in-and-of-itself, as a way of reading society like a book, detached. Miller seems to have cared a great deal more about things. The Waste Land is like The Canterbury Tales had it been written in the vorticist/modernist era and ran in BLAST . I think I've found a new favorite.
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