the waste land


Other than “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning,” it’s possible that the greatest epitaphic language I have encountered is that of Sir Thomas Browne who, in the midst of a meditation on urn-burial, suddenly situates himself on the brink of death and declares himself: “Ready to be anything…. ” It’s a line that would make a breathtakingly bold and accurate sign-off for any of us whose molecules will become a little bit of everything. Or, at the very least, what Eliot would call “significant soil.” The first time I read “The Waste Land,” I experienced the same elation that I felt on reading Browne’s epitaph—a conviction that the catalyzing proximity (and yet resilient apartness) of those two words was central to the recombinant possibilities of the poem. In other words, it was because the “waste” was a temporal, impermanent modifier—and not an enduring quality of the land—that the land was redeemable and open to (what Eliot called in a different landscape, that of “Burnt Norton”) “perpetual possibility.”

more from Christina Davis at Poetry here.