Important: Impotence

The most obvious and emphasized idea in Ritual to Romance that was paralleled in The Waste Land was the idea of impotence. In Weston, it is described through Perceval, in which the hero “fail[s] satisfactorily to resolder the broken sword.” The text also mentions in general how “the main object of the Quest is the restoration of health and vigour of a King suffering from infirmity caused by wounds, sickness, or old age;” In other words, the quest is to cure the impotence of a king to cure the waste land. The text also mentions a Norwegian (?) piece of work where “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 process of Nature,” linking the King’s impotence to the wasted land.

In The Waste Land, the tone of the poem exudes a feeling of impotence in the general meaning of the word. The idea is clearly presented though, in Part 3: “Unreal City/Under the brown fog of a winter noon/Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant/Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants/C.i.f. London: documents at sight,/Asked me in demotic French/To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel/Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.” This stanza illustrates a homosexual encounter, which is sex without fertility and relates to the theme of impotence. On the next page Eliot writes “Time is now propitious as he guesses,/The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,/ Endeavours to engage her in caresses/Which still are unreproved if undesired./Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;/Exploring hands encounter no defence; his vanity reuires no response,/And makes a welcome of indifference.” This excerpt describes a sexual encounter between a typist and clerk, but the encounter is a very passive acceptance. This idea hovers over the entire poem, and also represents impotence in a way that is representative of humanity at this time.


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