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Published: 01-10-2019

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The Centrality of Tiresias in The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land presents a multitude of fragmented depictions of character, voice and dialogue, which combine to generate the overall sense of disorientation within the poem. Despite this pervading lack of stability, the poem continues to succeed as a united whole from some source in the text, a developing sense of unification and constancy develops. Arguably, Tiresias is this source: his position in the poem is not that of ‘mere spectator’, but a disconnection that assigns him practically omniscient authority, increasing above the other voices with a tone of certainty, and therefore offering a balance to the otherwise dislocated atmosphere.

On a superficial level it could be viewed that Tiresias as a figure in The Waste Land is undercut by his restricted look in the sequence of poems, the 1st view the reader is given of the prophet getting in the middle of ‘The Fire Sermon’. But Eliot’s placement of Tiresias at almost the precise half way point is revealing of his value: structurally, Tiresias seems to be a transitional and bridging figure, probably representative of a turning point in thought for Eliot and, as in a 5-act tragedy, and his brief appearance could hence highlight Tiresias as a pivotal character. Most prominently, his appearance paves the way to the important resolution of the poem, in ‘What the Thunder said’- arguably his presence shifts the pace of the poem, and despite the fact that this initially catalyses the breakdown of the speakers’ language in ‘The Fire Sermon’, it eventually leads to the pared down coherence of Eliot’s a variety of reflections on the conclusive vocalisation, ‘Da’. He seemingly purges the overarching anguished voice of the poem, as indicated by the disintegration of language from lines 301 and 346, enabling Eliot to rebuild the text up to the summit of the instructing final section. Hence Tiresias appears to grow to be the transitional figure that permits Eliot to refigure the ‘heap of broken images’ of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ in his thoughts, even if by ‘What the Thunder said’ he has only managed to ‘shore (them) against his ruin’ it nevertheless appears that Tiresias has permitted for progression, in the speaker’s resolve to seemingly reclaim these disjointed tips, pictures and feelings which litter the text.

Similarly, while a prominent source of dissolution in The Waste Land appears to be Eliot’s presentation of the relations among man and woman, typified in ‘The Fire Sermon’ by the clerk’s ‘assault’ and siege of the typist, Tiresias’ presence and first-particular person handle of the narrative paradoxically unifies each the male and female components in the poem. Tiresias, as a mythological figure, has lived in male and female bodies and consequently feels himself to be ‘throbbing among two lives’, the word echoing from the life-affirming desire earlier in the poem, ‘throbbing waiting’. This transgender and sexual connection enables him to oversee the ‘game of chess’ played between man and woman, having ‘foresuffered all/ Enacted on this same divan or bed’, and knowledge the suffering amongst man and lady on a universal, all-encompassing scale. Tiresias’ descriptions of the typist, for example, ‘bored and tired’, ‘alone’, ‘automatic’ are meticulously balanced against those of the clerk, whose actions are ‘undesired’ and who expects no far more than ‘indifference’. In this way, his observations highlight the dissatisfaction seasoned on both sides, and maybe, consequently, encourages the reader to view this interaction, and that of man and woman in ‘A Game of Chess,’ in a far more detached, significantly less gender-driven way. A unifying effect is therefore produced by Tiresias’ voice, as the male and female characters are aligned by his observations, and the transcendent, objective view he appears to advocate. The sonnet form woven by Eliot into ‘The Fire Sermon’, from lines 235-248, lifts Tiresias’ voice into a realizing satire: the romantic poetic type is inverted and misused to convey some thing vulgar and abusive as an alternative. The beauty and regularity of the form highlights the corruption in their partnership, and the sense of resolution which he represents is emphasised, as ‘And I Tiresias have foresuffered all’ appropriately falls on the volta, and Tiresias mercifully draws back from the consummation of the scene. The failure to sustain a rhyming couplet at the finish demonstrates the collapse of the sonnet, and Tiresias’ recognition of its ironic unsuitability for the incident described, rendered much more poignant by the emphatic ellipses. In this way, Tiresias’ significance is highlighted by his judgmental position in the poem, and by consequence, the characters which look ‘below’ him, lose their distinction, and seem to merge into one.

In addition, Tiresias’ omniscience as an oracle allows for his important, connective part in the text. Deep in his sordid account of the typist and clerk, Tiresias breaks off from the ruthless depiction to state that he has ‘foresuffered all’ and has ‘walked amongst the lowest of the dead’. Right here, Tiresias abruptly lifts the reader above the intimate view of their dreary union, as an alternative addressing human suffering on a philosophical scale. Eliot’s use of the word ‘all’, could actually be viewed as encompassing everything right here as a ‘prophet’ he perceives and understands all, paralleling his witnessing of this small private ‘folly’ to the tragic scale of when he ‘sat by Thebes beneath the wall’, recalling the ignorant lust which turned it, also, into a waste land. It is recommended that the disillusioned Tiresias knows the secrets of ‘the waste land’ each of the previous and future, and can hence see his way out of it. Perhaps, then, the figure of Tiresias is representative of the internalised energy which the poet possesses, to progress from the individual emotional ‘waste land’ which Eliot is typically interpreted as facing in ‘The Fire Sermon’. Certainly, although his memory of getting ‘among the lowest of the dead’ reflects the nihilistic mood of The Waste Land, the insistence of his pluperfect verbs ‘have foresuffered’ and ‘have sat’ emphasise that Tiresias ultimately has progressed, bridging the gap amongst past suffering and future resolution, thus unifying the fragments of the text and supplying Eliot a guarantee of resolution in the final two poems.

Hence Tiresias’ value as a character in the poem is arguably most clearly conveyed by the recurrent image of ‘the violet hour’ in which he is set. This motif opens the initial stanza Tiresias narrates in ‘The Fire Sermon’, an image alluding to twilight, a transitional period among day and evening, and for that reason symbolic of the figure of Tiresias himself. ‘The violet hour’ is a liminal space, a bridge amongst two points of time and certainly Tiresias embodies this transformative time period his kind flits among male and female, and his mind’s eye between past and future. This emphasises Tiresias as the crucial figure in the poem: he is the only character who appears to have access to this transitional space he is not stagnating in the elemental settings of ‘The Burial of the Dead’ or ‘Death by Water’, or the claustrophobic inner spaces of ‘A Game of Chess’. He both perceives and embodies the liminal space of progress and so Eliot, emphasising by way of his use of anaphora and pleonasm, writes that Tiresias can see ‘the violet hour, the evening hour’: fate, the driving force of inevitability that powers our world. Tiresias can see the finish of ‘the waste land’ whatever it might be, a twilight role that permits him to transcend the cacophony of fragments and voices in the poem, providing the reader a new viewpoint on the collective voice of ‘the waste land’. In ‘What the Thunder Said’, this violet imagery returns, in a destructive, but paradoxically restorative scene: ‘Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air’. The polysendetic, emphatic phrasing evokes a potent image of a simultaneously explosive and reconstructive scene, with the hope of ‘the city more than the mountains’ seemingly implying the future escape from the waste land. In this way, Tiresias’ intrinsic hyperlink to the violet imagery underlines his transformative significance to the poem, and his status as a unifying figure: ‘the violet hour’ which Tiresias represents summons the important hint of resolution in the text, supplying it with a final, though implicit sense of fusion and restoration.

Perhaps above all, Tiresias’ significance lies in the argument that his prophetic sight makes up the matter of the poem, as conveyed in Eliot’s notes: ‘What Tiresias sees, in truth, is the substance of the poem’. His vision is the singular supply of all the several fragmented voices and characters, whose dialogue, thoughts and memories are conveyed certainly, this transcendent sight is what allows the numerous characters to ‘melt into’ 1 an additional, creating a unifying impact. When viewed in this manner, it appears as if the entirety of the poem is the prophecy of Tiresias- for that reason, it could be argued that he is the overall speaker all through. Certainly, Tiresias is the sole personage in the poem who appears to be self-conscious, as demonstrated through the repeated ‘I Tiresias’, specially when juxtaposed with the virtually babbling monologues of the other characters such as ‘Marie’ in ‘The Burial of the Dead’, who is even only named indirectly: ‘and he stated, “Marie, hold on tight”’. Similarly, the distinctive use of parentheses to pinpoint Tiresias’ reflections seems to elevate them from the surrounding narrative, highlighting the authority of his ‘seeing’ in comparison to the activity of other characters. Nonetheless, Eliot’s notes are not necessarily to be taken at face value arguably, they are just as a lot a element of the poem as the poetry itself, and as cryptic. Possibly, much more basically, Tiresias is a dispassionate ‘fragment’ of Eliot, hunting upon each the state of the western planet as properly as his own life and private struggles, presenting them in the way which they appear in his thoughts: fragmented. Indeed Tiresias seems to represent the internalised understanding of the speaker, which Eliot is fundamentally attempting to seek out.

Every man, arguably, is his personal prophet, and seemingly ‘the waste land’ is a state of thoughts, the essence of which is conveyed to the reader by the destabilising and disorientating mixture of allusions, images and voices. It is by means of the prophetic omniscience of Tiresias that this is communicated as a result he is the figure at the heart of the poem, at when bridging the gap between male and female characters, as nicely as connecting the present state of ‘the waste land’ to the future, foreseeable resolution and recovery. Whether he is viewed as the mythological prophet, the metaphorical voice of Eliot, or the embodiment of every character in the poem, it is evident that the text would seem disunited, and purposeless, without his presence.
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