The Waste Land as Grail Romance: Eliot's Use of the Medieval Grail Legends

The Waste Land as Grail Romance: Eliot's Use of the Medieval Grail Legends

The Waste Land as Grail Romance: Eliot's Use of the Medieval Grail Legends

The Waste Land as Grail Romance: Eliot's Use of the Medieval Grail Legends

Excerpt

In acknowledging his indebtedness in the notes section of The Waste Land to Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance1—a seminal study of the medieval Grail sagas against the background of the ancient Mystery cults of Greece and Rome—Eliot declares that not only his title but the “plan” and, to a large degree, the “incidental symbolism” of his poem owe to his reading of her work; that her book would, as a matter of fact, “elucidate the difficulties of the poem” much better than his own notes.2 The derivation of Eliot’s title from Miss Weston’s volume is clear enough, for it is the designation she herself uses throughout her work for the mythical realm of Logres, the traditional setting of the medieval Grail romances; and truly, the topography of Eliot’s landscape in The Waste Land is sufficiently desolate—with its barren stony wildernesses and waterless deserts standing side by side with stagnant waterways and swampy morasses—to merit the same epithet. Also abundantly clear is Eliot’s use of incidental symbolism from Miss Weston’s study, many of his pivotal symbols, including water, hair, stone, plant life, the seasons, deriving from her discussions of the ancient Mystery rites.

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