Sir Gawain’s Quest & The Waste Land

In the second chapter of From Ritual to Romance, Weston discusses different versions of the hero’s quest. I was particularly struck by the quest as undertaken by Gawain and its similarities with certain passages from The Waste Land. Weston writes that “from the records of [Gawain’s] partial success we gather that he ought to have enquired concerning the nature of the Grail, and that this enquiry would have resulted in the restoration to fruitfulness of a Waste Land, the desolation of which is […] not clearly explained” (Weston 11). The suggestion that there is a Waste Land that needs to be returned to fruitfulness is clearly echoed in The Waste Land not only by the title but by the repeated references to impotence. The poem even begins by describing an inversion of the natural springing to life of April: “April is the cruellest month” (Eliot 5). The later allusion to abortion continues this theme: “It’s them pills I took to bring it off” (Eliot 10).

However, Weston explains that Gawain, by asking about the Lance, succeeds in partially restoring the land: “so soon as Sir Gawain asked of the Lance … the waters flowed again” (Weston 12). The importance of water in the natural world is emphasized by this passage. Water is also of utmost importance in The Waste Land with every section including at least one allusion to water. Although water is associated with death a few times throughout the poem, the need for water is also highlighted: “Here is no water but only rock / Rock and no water and the sandy road” (Weston 16).  Considering the story of Sir Gawain’s quest, The Waste Land can be read as describing a world that needs saving. The awaited hero, however, may not know where he is needed or what is expected of him.

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