Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there;
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord. — Job 1:20

For misery does not come from the earth,
nor does trouble sprout from the ground:
but human beings are born to trouble
just as sparks fly upward. — Job 5:6 - 5:7

The structure of the nonlinear narrative, so favored in the Modernist era, has proven to be part and parcel to a kind of fiction and poetry writing often exclusively associated with this age. Nevertheless, it is clear that the origins of nonlinear narratives reach back as far as the rise of the novel in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and even farther into the stories of the first ancient epics (see Frye, Lukacs, Ortega y Gasset, and Watt). What does seem to change within various works of literature are the agents, or functions, of this textual non-linearity, and the Modernist era does indeed absorb these different kinds of motivations for episodic, cyclical, or annexing narratives. At times, a narrative might turn around shifts in voice (i.e. Eliot's narrative poem The Wasteland or Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea), or at times a narrative's non-linearity may stem from a kind of layering of genres, texts, and sub-stories (i.e. Jack Maggs).

The most common — or popular — function of non-linearity in the Modernist text, however, is to represent time (i.e. Graham Swift's Waterland). Evidently, a kind of nonlinear theory of literature or narrative in Modernism seems to be always intertwined with a nonlinear sense of time. We see such nonlinear uses of time, of course, even in the novels of the Victorian era. For example, in the Dickensian novel, coincidence is something which enhances both the episodic nature of the text along with its overall sense of nonlinear time. As Peter Brooks writes Reading for the Plot, the past constantly resurfaces into the present in novels such as Great Expectations, when characters like Magwich begin to haunt Pip, and thus the seemingly linear novel takes on both a nonlinear plotline and a nonlinear construal of time. The nonlinear notions of time and their relationship to narrative in both Modernist fiction and poetry can, however, be linked more closely to what was happening in Victorian verse rather than what was happening in the Victorian novel. With the poetry of writers such as Robert and E.B. Browning, A.C. Swinburne, and Lord Alfred Tennsyon, the development of the narrative poem was conjoined with a growing conceptual interest in time. This literary venue in which cyclical theories of time maintained a close proximity with the long, and often non- or multi- linear narrative poem, thus became the basis for different structural techniques and thematic emphases in Modernism.

Once absorbed into Modernist literature, such Victorian nonlinear theories of time from (which led to even more exaggerated examples of nonlinear narrative in the Modernist era) did not undergo too many structural changes. Rather, these concepts of time simply began to take on new implications and meanings in the context of Modernism. For example, if we compare Tennyson's In Memoriam to Eliot's re-adaptation of it, The Wasteland, we note that Eliot uses the exact same structures, forms, and images of nonlinear time found in In Memoriam in his own Modernist narrative poem. What does change when Eliot takes on Tennyson's thematic and narrative obsession with the cycle is that the spiritual and natural implications behind this temporal form begin to shift. Whereas Tennyson uses the cycle to illustrate certain fundamental laws behind human time and natural time and to draw certain religious and social conclusions in In Memoriam, Eliot borrows the same images and narrative structures from In Memoriam concerned with the cycle, only to invert the religious and social significances behind this form.

In In Memoriam, Tennyson explores time as something which oscillates along a past-present-past-present continuum. That is to say, even in the here and now, Tennyson shows that we can experience the immanence of the past, that the past resurfaces in the present, patterning both large-scale, or natural, and small-scale, or human, cyclical phenomena. Part of what creates the nonlinear shape of Tennyson's verse is thus a theoretical sense of nonlinear time. Just as poetic turns center around shifts in emotion and spiritual beliefs, they also play a structural part of a world in which the past inextricably links to the present, in which dreams and illusions intertwine with reality, and in which nature, often conflated with God, forms a pattern of losses and gains. All of these binaries thus become part of the cycles within the poem.

Despite the general non-linearity of In Memoriam, however, the poem does undergo a definite progression. Much of the progression derives from the poet's (or speaker's) ultimate personal reconciliation with Hallam's death. Tennyson experiences a more general kind of spiritual renewal that accounts for his attempt to reshape the elegiac mode of the poem into a Carlylean ideal for a more social, conciliatory, and less self-absorbed, type of poetry. Thus the poem takes on a structure similar to the story of Job in which man, after undergoing the tests and trials of God, emerges out of human suffering with some kind of spiritual, and or, material gain, returning to a belief in a mysterious, and often unjust, divinity. It is no surprise then that the first section places the poem in the framework of a Joban question: “But who shall so forecast the years / And find in loss a gain to match? / Or reach a hand thro' time to catch / The far-off interest of tears?" (section 1, lines 5-8). The answer to this question, of course, becomes the speaker himself, who in a visionary moment ultimately can restore his faith in a spiritual, or natural, pattern of losses and gains at the climax of the poem, thus foreshadowing the regenerative implications of the marriage scene that takes place in the epilogue. However, another interesting progression occurs in Tennyson's In Memoriam in which all of the cycles mentioned above — of time, sleep, nature, and humankind — are conjoined in this same climatic and visionary moment. Hence, we realize that Tennyson's notions of time are initially dependent upon the strict division between human time, or clock time, and time as it exists in nature. Indeed, the speaker stresses this distinction throughout the first half of the poem, particularly in the scene of Hallam's death in section 22:

The path by which we twain did go,
     Which led by tracts that pleased us well,
     Thro' four sweet years arose and fell,
From flower to flower, from snow, to snow;

And we with singing cheer'd the way,
     And, crown'd with all the seasons lent,
     From April on to April went,
And glad at heart from May to May.

But where the path we walked began
     To slant the fifth autumnal slope,
     As we descended following Hope,
There sat the Shadow fear'd of man;

Who broke our fair companionship,
     And spread his mantle dark and cold,
     And wrapt the formless in the fold.
And dull'd the murmur on thy lip,

And bore thee where I could not see
     Nor follow, tho' I walk in haste,
     And think that somewhere in the waste
The Shadow sits and waits for me. [section 22, 1-20]

Tennyson here describes a kind of spiritual fall, in which the fall from innocence becomes the descent from immortality into death. Moreover, both the speaker and Hallam experience a second kind of fall out of natural, or seasonal, time, for whereas the two begin in a blissful coexistence with the natural passing of the seasons, they ultimately are wrenched from what appears to be a cyclical and eternal time into a more linear time endowed with the immanence of death. Once Hallam blindly descends into death, the speaker's attitude changes and, likewise, so do his surroundings. The fruitful return of the spring and the easy cycling of the seasons seem to dissipate once the speaker describes death, or the Shadow, as something which awaits him in the waste. We can, of course, assume that natural time does not stop although human, or clock time, does. However, Tennyson wishes to make a disjunction here between the two, allowing the speaker to remove himself from what once appeared to be the paradise of the natural world. This kind of world design in which human time maintains a distinct course from natural time is, however, impossible in the ultimate Tennysonian vision played out through the course of In Memoriam. Nevertheless, part of the poem's length derives from the speaker's need to reconcile human time with natural time, and even early in the poem when the speaker insists upon dividing the two, Tennyson hints at the futility behind such a phenomenological assumption. For example, in section 2, the speaker contradicts himself by asserting the difference between human time and clock time and then illustrating a world in which man is absorbed into nature:

Old yew, which graspest at the stones
     That name the underlying dead,
     Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

The seasons bring the flower again,
     And bring the firstling to the flock,
     And in the dusk of thee the clock
Beats out the little lives of men.

O, not for thee the glow, the bloom,
     Who changest not in any gale,
     Nor branding summer suns avail
To touch thy thousand years of gloom;

And gazing on thee, sullen tree,
Sick for thy stubborn hardihood,
I seem to fail from out my blood
And grow incorporate into thee. [section 2, lines 1-16].

Whereas the second stanza outlines the distinction between the endless cycling and renewal of seasonal time and the transience of human life, the poet is still incorporated into nature in the last stanza. This resolution of course parodies the poet's own elegy, which is an art form that mimics the nature of the yews that grow out of and cling to the dead. However, the speaker also compares himself not only to the yews but to the dead, for it is possible that when the speaker states, I "grow incorporate into thee," that he becomes like the bodies entangled in the yews' roots. Either reading, nevertheless, allows us to see nature as forever intertwined with humankind, dead or living, and such an absorption into nature only complicates any distinctions between human and natural time.

As the poet begins to have visions in his dreams, Hallam resurfaces in the present, or is reawakened in the speaker's memory just as natural images are reborn with the cycles of nature. Thus Hallam's reappearances and the cycling of the living and the dead follow the natural patterns of day and night and the human patterns of sleep and wake. In section 69 when the speaker dreams of himself as a tortured Christ-figure, or child of Christ, Hallam (who ultimately becomes the true Christ-figure at the end of the poem) appears to him and lifts him out of his suffering. It is this kind of dream cycle which creates reverberations between the past and present, and as the speaker states in section 71, sleep being a microcosm of death, creates a kind of non-linearity even for human time: “Sleep, kinsman to death and trance / and madness, thou hast forged at last / A night-long present of the past . . ." (section 71, lines1-4). Tennyson's verse thus structurally patterns these temporal fluctuations when he writes the dream sequences in the past tense and the waking states in the present. We only realize that the speaker has awakened with the switch from the final stanza of section 69 to the opening stanza of section 70:

He reach'd the glory of a hand,
     That seem'd to touch it [the speaker's crown of thorns] into leaf;
     The voice was not the voice of grief,
The words were hard to understand.

I cannot see the features right,
     When on the gloom I strive to paint
     The face I know; the hues are faint
And mix with hollow masks of night. [sections 69 and 70, lines 17-20 and lines 1-4]

As the speaker wakes from sleep, the verse switches from past to present, and Hallam's inscrutable words become like his ambiguous features when the poet tries to reconstruct his face in the dark. Once the transient dream fades, however, the poet, or speaker, receives a clear vision of Hallam, and it is this visionary moment which foreshadows the climactic vision of the poem: “Till all at once beyond the will / I hear a wizard music roll, / And thro' a lattice on the soul / Looks thy face and makes it still." The speaker's vision of Hallam's face we note comes from a turning within, and thus Tennyson begins to construct a spatial world in which things are organized concentrically. Here, we note that the speaker finds Hallam in his soul, and thus the two friends exist, regardless of the cycle of life and death, "soul in soul."

On an even more macrocosmic level, however, both Hallam's essence and his material body are absorbed into nature. In section 82, Tennyson points to the absorption of the corpse into nature along with the transcendence of life into afterlife: “Nor blame I Death, because he bare / The use of virtue out of earth / I know transplanted human worth / Will bloom to profit, otherware." This stanza creates a double entendre in the phrase "transplanted human worth" which suggests Hallam's passage into the afterlife, foreshadows his role as a beneficial Christ-figure, and simultaneously points to the "planting" of Hallam's body in the ground which ultimately "blooms" by fertilizing the earth. Furthermore, the speaker encounters Hallam, or Hallam's essence, in other natural images even before the speaker comes to a climactic vision, or revelation, in section 95. In the speaker's imagined, or perhaps real, communion with the dead in section 85, he notes Hallam's presence in various natural forms: “And every pulse of wind and wave / Recalls, in change of light or gloom, / My old affection of the tomb, / And my prime passion in the grave" (section 85, lines 73-76). In this implementation of a kind of Ruskinian pathetic fallacy, in which the poet projects his emotions onto inanimate, or natural objects (a technique which we also saw in section 2), the speaker's emotions and thoughts bleed into his natural surroundings as the poet becomes united with nature. In another sense, however, Hallam's essence literally exists in nature after the poet's recognition of the material body as that which is absorbed into the cycles of the earth at the time of death. It is no coincidence, therefore, that in the above stanza the speaker notes Hallam's presence not simply in a static, or object-filled, kind of nature but rather in a series of natural cycles such as the pulsations, or fluctuations, of the wind and the waves and the cycle between light and dark. Once Tennyson develops a kind of spatial, or physical, concentricity in his poem, we then note that these unified forms become part of a unified cycle of natural time.

Not surprisely then the climactic visionary moment in the poem illustrates the union of Hallam and the speaker in tandem with the union of both past and present, night and day. In fact, the speaker's realization in section 95 seems to stem out of this above cited series of revelations which occur in the first half of the poem. Nevertheless, what distinguishes this moment from the rest of the speaker's visions is that here the speaker reaches a renewal of faith that is unwavering. No longer does the speaker turn to doubt by attributing his visions to fancy, illusion, or dream, but rather here the speaker literally interprets nature, allowing himself to fully experience the physical resurfacing of the past into the present and the dead into the living. Not only does the speaker, or poet, exhibit in this scene a very acute ability to interpret nature, but also nature, or God, or a conflation of the two, speaks back to the poet. In creating a kind of spiritual reawakening and climax to his poem, Tennyson is thus turning to both the Joban paradigm and a Carlylean conception of poetic and prophetic vision:

But when those others, one by one,
     Withdrew themselves from me and night,
     And in the house light after light
Went out, and I was all alone,

A hunger seized my heart; I read
     Of that glad year which once had been,
     In those fallen leaves which kept their green,
The noble letters of the dead.

And strangely on the silence broke
     The silent-speaking words, and strange
     Was love's dumb cry defying change
To test his worth; and strangely spoke

The faith, the vigor, bold to dwell
     On doubts that drive the coward back,
     And keen thro' wordy snares to track
Suggestion to her inmost cell.

So word by word, and line by line,
     The dead man touch'd me from the past,
     And all at once it seem'd at last
The living soul was flashed on mine . . . [section 95, lines 17-36]

The first part of this excerpt, in which the speaker reads the dead in the living leaves of the tree and sees that which is eternal in that which is transient, clearly reflects Thomas Carlyle's notions of divinity and prophesy. In his lecture on "The Hero as Divinity" from On Heroes and Hero Worship, Carlyle points to a kind of ideal poetic nature in which the divine can be seen in elements from the natural world:

To us also, through every star, through every blade of grass, is not God made visible, if we will open our minds and eyes? We do not worship that way now: but it is reckoned still a merit, proof of what we call a "poetic nature," that we recognize how every object has a divine beauty in it; how every object is 'a window through which we may look into Infinitude itself? [p. 10].

Thus Tennyson signals his readers that his speaker is entering a kind of prophetic communion with the divine and a kind of visionary moment in nature by setting the speaker's experience within a Carlylean moment, or framework. As the poet reads, or interprets, nature, the reader realizes that nature begins to speak back to the poet (see the next stanza). Ultimately, however, the voice which seems to be external is actually a silent voice within, representative of the poetic conscience. The Joban exchange between "love's dumb cry defying change to test his worth" and the response of the faith emerging from doubt thus occurs internally in the silent mind and the body, or "cell," of the speaker. This Joban paradigm then becomes externalized in the next seven stanzas with the image of the whirlwind:

And mine in this
     About empyreal heights of thought,
     And came on that which is, and caught
The deep pulsations of the world,

Aeonian music measuring out
     The steps of Time — the shocks of Chance —
     The blows of Death. At length my trance
Was cancell'd, stricken thro' with doubt . . .

And suck'd from out the distant gloom
     A breeze began to tremble o'er
     The large leaves of the sycamore,
And fluctuate all the still perfume,

And gathering freshlier overhead,
     Rock'd the full-foliaged elms, and swung
     The heavy-folded rose, and flung
The lilies to and fro, and said,

"The dawn, the dawn," and died away;
     And East and West, without a breath,
Mixt their dim lights, like life and death,
     To broaden into boundless day. [section 95, lines 37-64]

Thus the speaker reaches an epiphanic moment of union in which he and Hallam are united "like life and death" with the colliding image of the dawn. Once again in these stanzas, Tennyson signals his reader that the poet is entering a Carlylean moment of vision in his allusion to the Aeoninan music which unifies the natural fluctuations and cycles of time. "See deep enough, and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it," [p. 84] states Carlyle in his lecture on the romantic vision entitled "The Hero as Poet." This same acuity and depth of vision allows the speaker, or poet, to see into the divinity of nature and finally arrive at a renewed spiritual faith. Tennyson points to this transformation by offering up two images of spiritual rebirth: the stock image of the sycamore tree (as a kind of tree of life) and the force of the whirlwind, representative of a Joban God, which moves through the foliage of the trees and the blooming flowers. Before the Joban wind dies away, of course, it speaks out, offering up an answer to the Joban question which appears earlier in section 95 and also which begins the poem. Here, the image of the dawn becomes another unifying force in which the binaries of the light and dark collide. Moreover, it is this union of day and night, compared to the union of life and death, which leads to rebirth, or the coming again of the "boundless day." The fact that the day is described as "boundless," of course, suggests an eternal renewal of life and faith. Thus the poem's parallel to a series of Joban gains and losses becomes a spiritual one, for the speaker's faith is soon said to be stronger than before he suffered the loss of Hallam. It is no surprise then that the last section prior to the epilogue of the poem calls for a spiritual striving and human endurance invoked here in another biblical type, that of the rock which points to Mosaic law:

O living will that shalt endure
     When all that seems shall suffer shock,
     Rise in the spiritual rock,
Flow thro' our deeds and make them pure,

That we may lift from out of dust,
     A voice as unto him that hears,
     A cry above the conquer'd years
To one that with us works, and trust,

With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul. [section 131, lines 1-12]

Thus the last section invokes the story of Moses who struck the rock to give water to his people when God had obeyed him only to pass his staff over it. Moses, therefore, forbidden to enter the Promise Land, still led his people to land of the Canaanites. Therefore, he here becomes an image, similar to that of Job, of spiritual endurance and tried faith. In the last stanza, the poet then concludes that we must endure human suffering and losses with a practiced and controlled faith, knowing that all will be revealed at the moment of death. The allusion to "soul in soul" in the final line thus allows us to see this "closure" as something which alludes to both the end of life and the end of the poem, for this kind of concentricity in which Hallam and the poet survive within one another becomes like the cycles of the poem, a fundamental and natural law which is undisturbed by the passage from life into death.

T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland

Eliot's The Wasteland, a retelling of In Memoriam,adopts and reconfigures the Tennysonian notion of nonlinear time as it stems from natural and human cycles. Eliot borrows the same structural pattern from Tennyson of a past-present-past-present continuum to shape his verse, allowing the poem to shift and turn with a fluctuation between past and present narrative modes. This kind of nonlinear timeframe which envelops Eliot's verse is somewhat similar to Tennyson's narration of the speaker's dream sequences in In Memoriam. Nevertheless, there is another agent of non-linearity in Eliot's The Wasteland that rises out of the poem's multi-vocalism. As the verse shifts from one narrator to another, the poem begins to take on a cyclical kind of structure. Here, images and allusions resurface throughout the poem transcending the divisions between narrators and narratives of the past and present. This kind of recycled imagery makes sense in light of Eliot's vision of cyclical time, for although Eliot uses the cycle as the central structural and thematic shape of The Wasteland, there is a sense in which this narrative and conceptual form symbolizes a kind of stasis for Eliot — hence, the distinction between Eliot's and Tennyson's theories of time. Eliot adopts the same images from Tennyson's In Memoriam that invoke the natural cycles of the seasons between death and life, destruction and regeneration. Eliot, unlike Tennyson, never reconciles these cycles with some kind of spiritual gain. Rather, the natural cycles become part of the suffering and misery of the human condition in which nothing ever changes. Haunted by memory, as is Tennyson's speaker in In Memoriam, the characters of The Wasteland strive to forget; the past is there, resurfacing, but it is never learned from; the dead do not merely enter the land of the living but rather the living become like the dead. Thus if we were to place Eliot's poem in the midst of Tennyson's Joban paradigm, it would occur somewhere in the middle of the storyline, before God's answer to the Joban question, for in Eliot's land of the living dead, the living are waiting in a kind of amnesial stasis, for God, or death, or relief, or change.

Eliot opens part I of The Wasteland with the return of the spring that defies the traditional positive implications of a regenerative April rain. Here, the notion of life growing out of death becomes for Eliot both a kind of negative regeneration and an assault on the human desire to forget. Eliot's April completely inverts Chaucer's

Whan April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flowr." [The Canterbury Tales, The General Prologue, lines 1-4]

Eliot's April does, however, approximate Tennyson's notion of April as the season of regret: “Is it, then, regret for buried time / That keenlier in sweet April wakes, / And meets the year and gives and takes / The colors of the crescent prime?" (section 116, lines 1-4). However, even Tennyson, who sees the coming of the spring as a phenomenon tied to resurgent memories, finds something positive in the season. It is not all, or only, regret which April brings, his speaker concludes in answer to his own question, but rather: “the songs, the stirring air, / The life re-orient out of dust, / Cry thro' the sense to hearten trust / In that which made the world so fair" (section 116, lines 5-8). Therefore, although Tennyson, like Eliot, sees spring as something that grows out of death, or as something emblematic of the "re-oreint out of dust," Tennyson unlike Eliot ties the biblical dust-to-dust cycle to a reawakening belief in God, the agent of natural change. Eliot, on the other hand, opens his poem with the announcement of spring as that which disturbs the only form of human relief. The act of forgetting, asserts Eliot, provides the only escape from cyclical time which humanity can find, and thus this image of April, a metaphor which recalls the Tennysonian union of natural and human time becomes for Eliot the perfect opening for the thematic basis of his poem:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers. [lines 1-7]

Winter, the season of forgetfulness, thus becomes the season of burial — of buried memory that is — and the speaker implies that death feeds the "little life" left in the living. Here, Eliot adopts Tennyson's metaphor, "my regret becomes an April violet," and makes it part of the symbolism behind the natural cycle of the season that Eliot aligns with the human cycle of past and present, memory and forgetting. This entrance into the verse of The Wasteland thus seems to be told in a present, third-person narrative closest to what becomes the authorial voice in the poem. That is to say, that the poem begins in a mode of impartial narration, with a kind of voice that resurfaces throughout The Wasteland and becomes representative of an observant bystander who interprets the various stories told by the other narrators. (Although this narrator attributes meaning to the many stories in the poem, uniting them into a kind of similar whole, he is not always a third-person narrator, but rather sometimes enters the poem in the first-person narrative mode. Either way, however, he maintains an authorial distance from the other monologues and voices in the poem).

After the poem opens with this image of spring, however, the voice quickly shifts to a form of past narration told by an aristocratic lady who is remembering the summers and winters of her childhood. Thus the narrative of the symbolic month of April, which at first seemed to belong to the third person narrator, shifts us into the memory of a character who reveals, once again in the present tense, that she is trying to escape the natural cycles of time: “I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter," she states. It is difficult to tell whether or not the first part of the narration, juxtaposing winter with spring, then belongs to the character's monologue or to a third person, or more impartial, narrator because the character herself claims to escape the winter rather than embrace it. Nevertheless, the character reveals a desire common to all of the voices within the poem to escape the seasonal and natural cycles, for here she claims to avoid both the natural transitions of time and season (i.e. the shift from night into day and the shift from fall to winter). After this character's asserted attempt to avoid natural time, however, the verse clearly shifts back into a straight, third-person narrative set in the present tense. Here, the speaker's question and response verse echoes the Tennysonian model of poetry, and Eliot invokes both Tennyson's image of the yews and his use of biblical typology in the image of the Mosaic rock:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock . . . (lines 19-25).

Once Eliot's narrator invokes the image of the tree roots which cling to the tree branches and grow out of the waste, an image reminiscent of Tennyson's yews, he insists that humankind cannot know what regenerative good stems out of human waste and destruction. Unlike the second part of Tennyson's In Memoriam, Eliot separates human time from natural time. Although the cycles of death and regeneration exist in natural time, Eliot asserts that they are unknown to humankind, for human time, at least in this passage, has become static for Eliot. Using types from Ecclesiastes and Deuteronomy, Eliot points to the reality of The Wasteland in which humanity sees no regeneration or relief. Thus the Mosaic rock, representative of spiritual relief and striving in Tennyson's In Memoriam, becomes here a rock which offers no hope, no fertility, no water. "Only there is shadow under this red rock," writes Eliot, borrowing the Tennysonian symbol of the shadow as death to reconstrue the biblical type of the rock (an image which resurfaces in part V of The Wasteland) as something which provides no regeneration or water, but only sterility and death. The authorial narrator thus begins to construct a world in which the human cycle is becoming static and human memory is dissipating. Once the narrative shifts again to another female character voice, we transition back into the past tense and into another example of dying memory and the conflation of life and death:

'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence. [lines 35-41]

This passage thus illustrates the sudden fading of the day, the flowers, and a general human innocence. As the scene turns to evening, the character's memory begins to turn into a strange moment in which she reaches a forgetful stasis and claims that she "knows nothing," that she exists somewhere between the living and the dead. Here, when the speaker turns to the silence and the light, Eliot creates another symbolic image in which humanity is turning towards death, is waiting to die, and is emptied out of memory. In this case, the loss of knowledge is conjoined with the loss of innocence, inverting the biblical paradigm of the fall which conjoins the end of innocence with the rise of human knowledge. Thus Eliot in his invocation of natural, biblical, narrative, and human cycles clearly tries to avoid any traditional fluctuation between loss and gain. Hence, the narrative takes on a kind of cyclical stasis in which the characters of The Wasteland cycle but never progress forward and in which the natural cycles of death and regeneration never bring any real relief to human time. The next narrative written from the perspective of a fortuneteller, Madame Sosostris, appears therefore highly ironic, for in a world where time is cyclical but has become static, it is easy and useless to predict the future. Thus we see the futility of the future tense in Eliot's The Wasteland which takes into account only the timeframe of a present trying to forget the past. In the somewhat one-sided conversation between the two characters which concludes part I, "The Burial of the Dead," of Eliot's poem, we once again return to Eliot's thematic emphasis on the cruel nature of the natural cycles and the human attempt to escape the past:

. . .I saw one I knew and stopped him: 'Stetson!
'You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
'Has it begun to sprout? / Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the dog far hence, that's friend to men,
Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!' [lines 69-76]

This conversation clearly plays with the kind of "planted" corpse imagery seen in Tennyson's In Memoriam and renders it grotesque, implicating the harsh nature of the seasons which cause the dead to return, metamorphose, and reenter the world of the living. Alluding to the dog who might literally dig up the corpse, the speaker also refers to the human desire to keep past memories and the memory of the dead buried, that is to erase any evidence of the past. Once the narrative moves into part II, "A Game of Chess," the poem retains the nonlinear fluctuations between past and present narration, and, furthermore, images and themes from "The Burial of the Dead" begin to resurface. There is, therefore, a sense in which Eliot's narrative structure defies the poem's thematic stress on the human desire to prevent the past from resurfacing into the present.

Eliot illustrates this haunting inability to suppress memory and the implications of the past in the opening scene of "A Game of Chess." Here, by alluding to the metamorphosis of Philomela seen in Ovidian mythology and in Sidney's rewriting of Ovid's myth in his poem "The nightingale," Eliot uses the symbol of Philomela as another crude — and deathlike — announcement of the spring and of seasonal regeneration:

Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
'Jug Jug' to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls, staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed. [lines 97-106]

In the story of Philomela, she is raped by her brother-in-law, King Thereus, who cuts out her tongue so that she will not speak of the rape. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, she is then turned into a nightingale who announces the spring with her song as a thorn pierces into her breast. Thus here Philomela not only recalls the violent emergence of the spring that begins The Wasteland but also she becomes part of a collage of images displayed on the wall which seem to haunt the enclosed room where another character dialogue takes place. The fact that Eliot describes the images invading the room in both the past tense, "[they]leaned out," and the continuing present tense, creates an effect in the scene where the past seems to enter into the present stealthily, and the once static pictures begin to become part of the live scene in the room. However, the dialogue once again reveals a human denial of memory and the past. Here, the characters know nothing and remember nothing but images of death scattered throughout the poem:

'My nerves are bad tonight . . .
Speak to me . . .
What are your thinking of? What thinking? What? I
never know what you are thinking. Think.'
I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
. . . 'Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
Nothing?
I remember
Those pearls that were his eyes
'Are you alive or not? Is there nothing in your head?'
. . . What shall we do tomorrow?
What shall we ever do?'
The hot water at ten
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door. [lines 111-138]

This dialogue thus takes on a question and answer form in which the character responding reveals the nature of the human condition in which we think, remember, and wait only for death. The image of rat's alley resurfaces again in "The Fire Sermon" (part III), and the eyes of pearl recall the sailor's eyes in Madame Sosotris' prediction of a death by water in "The Burial of the Dead." This latter image then becomes the basis for part IV of The Wasteland which narrates the death of Phlebas, the Phoenician sailor. Once we view this dialogue as a confluence of images organized together from various parts of the poem, we then can see the speaker's answers to these questions concerning his thoughts, memories, and actions, as representative of the human condition applicable to all of the characters in the poem. In the speaker's response to the question, "What shall we ever do?" Eliot thus reveals the nature of the human life as something which unfolds like a static cycle. When the character describes the habitual day, by sectioning it off into menial activities marked by meaningless hours, he concludes that they will play a game of chess while waiting for death, the symbolic "knock upon the door." Hence, Eliot re-emphasizes that death is the only relief from the cycling of memory and human time in The Wasteland. With this realization, the call from the bar scene, "HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME," which concludes part II of The Wasteland , is infused with the immanence of death and becomes not merely a closing call, but a call for the end of life.

Throughout the following section, entitled "The Fire Sermon," Eliot reinforces these thematic images of death, sterility, and degeneration. At times, the essence behind certain stock images gets reincorporated into other classical and biblical allusions or becomes part of the assorted narrative voices and individual stories throughout the poem. For example, the violent and sterile sexual symbol of Philomela reappears in an indifferent sexual scenario which is narrated by Tiresias, who having experienced both the body of a woman and a man, was asked by Hera and Zeus for which sex was intercourse better. Eliot, of course, ironizes this myth by having Tiresias, the prophet, prophesize and narrate a sexual scene entirely devoid of pleasure. As these images and voices thus cycle throughout the poem, Eliot finally reaches a kind of climax, or anti-climax rather, which inverts the resolution of Tennyson's In Memoriam.

Here, in the final part to The Wasteland, Eliot plays with Tennyson's two endings to In Memoriam: the first ending that concludes with the biblical type of the rock and Mosaic law, and the second ending which is centered around the marriage scene and arrives at a regenerative apocalyptic vision. In Eliot's adoption of Tennyson's use of the biblical type of the rock, Eliot has no water flow from Tennyson's spiritual symbol: “Here is no water but only rock / Rock and no water and the sandy road / the road winding above among the mountains of rock / Which are mountains of rock without water . . ." (lines 331-334). Thus Eliot highlights the frustration behind Moses' story: Moses is never allowed to enter the Promise Land but only dies looking at it from atop Mount Nebo. This kind of inversion of the Tennysonian use of this biblical type not only outlines the sterility of The Wasteland but it highlights a world in which everyone is waiting, hoping for a relief, a paradise that does not come. Tennyson's call for the patient endurance of human suffering, which forces us to have faith in a truth, or salvation, revealed only in death, thus becomes a large part of Eliot's model for The Wasteland. However, here Eliot reads this kind of spiritual striving and patience in a perverse light when he writes: “We who were living are now dying / With a little patience" (lines 329-330). If Tennyson is right in saying that all will be revealed in death, then Eliot concludes that death is thus the only salvation from suffering; hence, death is what we live for. Eliot, of course, does not abandon entirely a sense of God's presence, he simply illustrates a world in which humanity is waiting for a God who does not answer. Thus Eliot creates a narrative which abandons the regenerative ending to the Joban story. The voices, or at least the more authorial voice, in The Wasteland cry out for salvation, but they are simply left without relief:

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And the dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock . . .
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water. [lines 346-359]

The call for water that does not come thus becomes like the call at the end of the Fire Sermon which alludes to St. Augustine's Confessions: “To Carthage then I came / Burning burning burning burning / O Lord Thou pluckest me out / O Lord Thou pluckest / burning" (lines 307-311). Ironically, these images of purification, i.e. the water and the fire, which are typical tropes in Victorian novels such as Brontë's Jane Eyre and Dickens' Great Expectations, become forms of torture in which no one is saved and nothing is blissfully renewed. St. Augustine's call for the Lord's salvation, of course, is entirely dependent upon an unseen God who finally appears, or speaks, but perhaps comes too late in Eliot's The Wasteland, for the characters of the poem never attain salvation but are merely left amidst the degeneration, or as Eliot says here, they are left "to burn." Eliot's poem, like Tennyson's, thus also comes to a climactic realization, and in this climax, Eliot conflates two scenes from Tennyson's In Memoriam from section 95 and the poem's epilogue:

And bats with baby faces in the violet
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In fainted moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel only the wind's home . . .
Dry bones can harm no one. [lines 380-391]

The image of the bats thus stems from the scene proceeding Tennyson's speaker's vision in section 95 of In Memoriam where the bats circle and hover above the grass whereas the image of the tolling bells comes from the chapel scene at the end of In Memoriam and also from earlier in The Wasteland when the bells toll the "dead hour of nine." Eliot allows a number of images which originate in earlier parts of the poem to recycle into this climactic moment. For example, the "violet hour" of evening which Tiresias prophesies returns to describe the same evening in which Tennyson's speaker has a kind of spiritual reawakening in In Memoriam . The towers then are taken from the previous stanza which refers to the falling cities of Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, and finally the very city of The Wasteland, London. Furthermore, Eliot's assertion that "dry bones can harm no one" brings us back to the April rain which stirs old memories and the sprouting corpse from part 1, "The Burial of the Dead." In section V, we also see the importance of such sounds in The Wasteland as the repeated "jug jug" and "swallow swallow" of the nightingale and the illusionary "drip drop" of the nonexistent water, for when Eliot refers to the voices singing in the grass and the empty wells, he is recreating a kind of Tennysonian and Carlylean moment of epiphany in which the musicality of nature lies at the heart of prophesy and poetic vision.

Nevertheless, here the regenerative implications of the marriage scene are inverted once Eliot describes the chapel as being emptied out, like an open grave through which the wind passes. Thus Eliot, weaving a web of borrowed images, allows all of these symbolic sounds and pictures to unite in what becomes an emptying out, an atmospheric death, a giant anti-climax of sorts. Keeping to the tradition of the natural cycles, Eliot of course, finally allows the rain to come in the final section of The Wasteland. Nevertheless, Eliot implies that the rain, like the drought, is only another cruel cycle of nature bringing extreme repercussions and damages, for here the river, the Ganges, is "sunken," implying the hollowness of the riverbed before the rain and the swelling of the waters in a flood. With the coming of the rain, Eliot thus has the opportunity to create a genuine moment of regeneration but instead exposes the natural cycles of death and rebirth as being devoid of spiritual worth or meaning.

As the natural cycles implied throughout the poem come to a climax in the scenario of the storm (another biblical trope often used in Victorian literature which is sometimes connected with the flood scene in Genesis but always creates a spiritual or narrative shift as it does, for example, in novels such as Bronte's Jane Eyre with Jane's journey from Thornfield to Marsh End), the storm brings the long-awaited response of God, but this prophetic moment brings no solace, no gain, and the poem simply ends with a falling London. The voice of the thunder, which can be construed as a kind Joban answer from God as it appears in In Memoriam, is very much in line with the Tennysonian revelation and conclusion of spiritual striving: “Give, Sympathize, Control" (Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata) says Eliot's thunder (lines 401-419). Nevertheless, it is clear that although Eliot is very much in accordance with the Tennysonian model of time and narrative, the poet mocks the Tennysonian resolution to In Memoriam. Here, Eliot has humankind respond to the thunder with three distinct denials of these spiritual principles. To the command, "sympathize," the narrator responds by illustrating a world in which men are all enslaved in their own personal prisons, or all isolated in their own preoccupations, and to the command "control" the narrative response is one of a sailor at the wheel, which of course echoes the death of the sailor who drowns in part IV of the poem. In answer to the thunder's instruction, "give," the narrator responds: “ . . what have we given? / . . .The awful daring of a moment's surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract" (lines 402-405). This response thus becomes one which mocks the measured patience and "prudence" of a Victorian spiritual striving, which Eliot sees as being disingenuous both in his own era and in Tennyson's.

Despite the praise, which Eliot lavishes upon Tennyson's technical abilities, in his essay "In Memoriam" Eliot still concludes that Tennyson was "the surface flatterer of his own time" and was thus "rewarded with the despite of an age [Eliot's time] which succeeds his own in shallowness"[p. 627]. Thus Eliot finds something forced in the spiritual renewal of Tennyson's In Memoriam which finds solace in the natural cycles of time and conflates them with human time and suffering. The Carlylean turn in Tennyson's poem, thus becomes for Eliot a technique which defies the reality behind our own human egoism, isolationism, and melancholy self-absorption.

If Tennyson's poem is, therefore, a poem which deals with cycles, cycles of time, narrative, memory, and nature, that become united, or reconciled, in the overall progression of the verse, then Eliot's poem is one which inverts this progression. Whereas Tennyson intertwines human time and natural time in the course of In Memoriam , Eliot through the telling of The Wasteland draws these two temporal phenomena apart, suggesting that humankind remains at odds with both nature and God at the end of his poem. Both poems are grounded in the same microcosmic structure of the cycle, a structure which both becomes part of these poets' theories of time and narrative. Nevertheless, as Tennyson's cycles move towards a climactic regeneration, a hopeful and renewing kind of apocalyptic vision ("That God, which ever lives and loves, / One God, one law, one element, / And one far-off divine event, / To which the whole creation moves," In Memoriam, epilogue, lines 141-144), Eliot's cycles degenerate, pointing to a destructive apocalyptic vision which works against an already wasting humankind. Although Eliot admired Tennyson's technical abilities, during the time in which Eliot was writing The Wasteland, he appears to have been at odds with Tennyson's resolution, with his Carlylean poetic turn. Therefore, whereas Tennyson's images and cycles combine to create a moment of spiritual gain, or rebirth, Eliot's repeated sounds, cyclical structures, and symbolic allusions collide only to disintegrate again into the empty, hollow, and sterile background of The Wasteland. Eliot thus employs the Tennysonian technique only to invert his predecessor's climactic meaning, his thematic end. In writing an anticlimactic poetry of borrowed images and structures, Eliot thus echoes the very sentiment of his verse; in a world where the past insistently haunts us, always resurfacing into the present, we are compelled to erase it, defying thought and memory until we enter the very emptiness of our own age.

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Victorian Website Overview Alfred Lord Tennyson In Memoriam

Last modified 20 May 2003