“A heap of broken images”

Before I purchased my book, it had been awhile since I read The Waste Land, so I want to post about a line in part one that jumped out at me right away, in addition to what this section makes me anticipate. Line 22, “A heap of broken images,” seems to be an apt description of the poem as a whole. First, it is reminiscent of a heap of rubble left after war, and to me, conjures up an image of heaps of bodies at the Somme trenches. Second, this isn’t to say Eliot’s poem is not interconnected, but that the images are broken (separated, disconnected) and meant to be assembled by the reader. I think this is entirely intentional on Eliot’s part; his control over imagery is extraordinary and he places images precisely where he wants them in the poem. If he had wanted to write a poem that wasn’t broken, or not about broken things, he would have. The line above (22) is speaking to the “Son of man” (20), but it is written in a way that at first seems to address the reader: “You cannot say, or guess, for you only know / A heap of broken images” (21-2). Here, Eliot’s use of “you” implies directly to the reader what they will be working with for the duration of his poem; it doesn’t take long for the reader experience the shifting “heap of broken images,” jumping from one vision to the next.

What primarily makes me curious in part one is the mention of “pearls” on line 48. After this caught my eye, I was made even more curious when the line was echoed again in part two on line 125. From this, I wanted to know more about tarot (which I know nothing about, other than the images). I anticipate that we’ll learn more about the cards. Until then, it will be hard to unpack this section without any knowledge on the significance of these broken images or their meaning.


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