The Vanity of Human Wishes

  • G. Douglas Atkins


Reading is always the issue in confronting T.S. Eliot’s difficult poetry, The Waste Land being a prime example. The matter may resolve itself into a question of the movement of the poet’s imagination. In this regard, assisted by both statements in his essays and the example of his poetic practice, we may not locate a road map to his intentions, but likely to help is a focus attentive to verbal details, engaging in active comparison of words, images, and passages, and leading to prolonged “meditation.” Shown here to be a satire, Eliot’s most famous and probably most influential poem itself connects with several of his essays written around the same time in seeking to “associate” the separated, to “amalgamate disparate experience,” and to make such connections as the wastelanders are unable to or will not make.


Introductory Essay North American Literature Disparate Experience Poetic Practice Dramatic Monologue 
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  1. 1.
    T.S. Eliot and Valerie Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound (London: Faber and Faber, 1971).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ezra Pound, “Arnaut Daniel,” Instigations (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920), 286.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    T.S. Eliot, introductory essay, “London: A Poem” and “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” Samuel Johnson (London: Frederick Etchells and Hugh Macdonald, 1930).Google Scholar
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    T.S. Eliot, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” The Dial, n.s. (Fall 1959), 153–58 (originally published in The Dial, November 1923).Google Scholar
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  7. 7.
    T.S. Eliot, “The Metaphysical Poets,” Selected Essays, 3rd. edn (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), 289 (italics added).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 287.Google Scholar
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    T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Methuen, 1920), 33.Google Scholar
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    See, esp., my T.S. Eliot Materialized: Literal Meaning and Embodied Truth (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).Google Scholar
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    T.S. Eliot, “Lancelot Andrewes,” Selected Essays, 347.Google Scholar
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    Paul J. Griffiths, Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion (New York: Oxford UP, 1999), 40–45.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 12–13.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid., 13.Google Scholar

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© G. Douglas Atkins 2013

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  • G. Douglas Atkins

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