Virility and The Waste Land

Elliot’s allusions in From Ritual to Romance grounds The Waste Land in an ancient tradition of fertility and barrenness. The legend of the Fisher King and the Waste Land-as Elliot’s poem does-inexorably links the well being of the land to its king. It assumes a great connection between the state of man and the condition of the earth. However, this king, unable to pass on his duty of guarding the land to the next generation because of the wound that takes his virility, wastes away, unable to pass the torch, as his kingdom and the very earth crumbles around him:

“the condition of the King is sympathetically reflected on the land, the loss of virility in the one brings about a suspension of the reproductive processes of Nature on the other…the forces of the ruler being weakened or destroyed, by wound, sickness, old age, or death, the land becomes Waste, and the task of the hero is that of restoration.[23]” (From Ritual to Romance)

Read as a parallel to post World War 1 Europe, the Fisher King takes on the broader identity of the dead men in the war, unable to continue their lines and give the responsibility of the land to their children. Throughout the poem, the sexuality and sexual encounters are barren and loveless, indicating that the impotence affects all. Europe has become as waste land just like the one in the legend: “I sat upon the shore/Fishing with the arid plain behind me/Shall I at least set my lands in order?” (Elliot 423-425). However, unlike in the legend, no hero has yet appeared to put the people to right, to continue the line, and to restore the land.

 

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