Just a quick word about The Waste Land as I am working my way through your initial attempts to wrestle with the poem:
Some of you seemed to get jammed up worrying about figuring out what is occurring in Eliot’s poem, I think, because you were
obsessed with worried about the literal interpretation. The problem is, sometimes, the words don’t quite map onto the semantic world very neatly.
Here’s my advice regarding reading poetry: If the poetry is good, it captures that which conventional language cannot. Often connotations are as important as denotations, so you have to let go and experience the poem. Try to hear it. A first read should wash over you. You should live it and record these responses as valid reactions. All subsequent reads should creep closer and closer. Let the language guide you.
Here’s my advice regarding Eliot’s poem specifically: As I said in class, try to imagine nothing. Empty space. Images, ideas, emotions, colors, characters, voices invade as fragments, appearing on and disappearing from the stage. Let each fragment impact you as it will. Let your mind form the strands from which to hang them together. Let the most salient lines assail your consciousness and stick there, evoking what they will. Research references in this order. Repeat this process. Each high tide is a new experience, each low tide a time for investigating that smell you can’t place. Each time the water encroaches you will be immersed anew, but don’t fear death by drowning! Each time the water recedes you will stand again on terra firma.