Taking a Step Back From Historicizing

I’m not usually one to read too much of the author’s biography into his work; however, upon reading Akroyd’s sketch of Eliot, I definitely see parallels between the poet’s personal demons and his treatment of emotional and physical sterility in “The Waste Land.”  In “Game of Chess,” Eliot explores marital breakdown, mental illness, and sexual incompatibility, issues he personally suffered through during his relationship with Vivien Haigh-Wood.  Before reading Eliot’s biography, it was easier to historicize the poet’s treatment of sterility as a reaction to the war’s aftermath, yet now the topic becomes more complex and intrapersonal.  I wonder whether the shell-shocked soldier bears any semblance to Vivien in the sense that both are neurotic and disengaged from their spouses (Vivien- sexually and the soldier-emotionally) and Eliot subsumes the wife’s role of the frazzled yet more stable marital partner.  We obviously will never know Eliot’s true intentions; however, recognizing the parallels that can be drawn between Eliot’s personal life and the poem adds a greater sense of depth to the work.

On a completely unrelated side note, I would like to know more about Eliot’s intentions for “The Descent of the Cross” since it thematically seems to share several parallels with “The Waste Land.”  Akroyd mentions that the work never came to fruition due to Eliot’s lack of inspiration.  If this was truly the case, does the poet ever claim to have achieved a necessary level of inspiration for creating “The Waste Land”?


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