Summary

In The Waste Land and The Cantos Eliot and Pound reinvented the long poem for the twentieth century. They did so without returning to a narrative style, but instead using allusion to myth and legend as a framework that could order their historical material and provide structural signposts, an equivalent of Dante's 'Aquinas-map', for their readers. Nevertheless, few first-time readers are struck by the structural unity of the poems: the impression is more reliably one of fragmentation and disorder, produced by the lack of a consistent authorial presence to direct the reader through the poems. The reader must make their own way through the sections of the poems, working out the ideas and arguments of the many personae as they proceed, for Eliot and Pound supply minimal explanation and interpretation. In this, they react against the tendency, so evident during the First World War, to turn literature into propaganda.

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