Urban trenches: war poetry and the unreal city of the Great War in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

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2005-01-01
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Arp, Jeffrey
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Laura Winkiel
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English
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English
Abstract

T.S. Eliot arrived in continental Europe in the summer of 1914 as a Harvard philosophy student preparing for his Ph.D.: he would spend the war as a banker in London, and would emerge in 1918 as a poet. He was never a soldier - America did not enter until 1917, and he only belatedly attempted to receive a commission in the United States Navy near the war's eventual conclusion a year later- but Eliot experienced the war: as a civilian in wartime London, as a man concerned with the fate of Western culture and history, and as a poet who wrote of a dead friend and a devastated land. The Waste Land has been considered the outpouring of a sensitive soul's grief and fear, or the general expression of the disillusionment and anxiety of an age, or as the elegy of a dead friend. The poem is all of these, but it is also more: it is, fundamentally, a war poem, written for a war that ushered in a new era where the old distinction between civilian and soldier became less meaningful. ''If I have not seen the battle field," remarked Eliot in 1917, "I have seen other strange things".

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