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This article is taken from PN Review 124, Volume 25 Number 2, November - December 1998.

Diamants Elus: The Romantic Agony and the Politics of The Waste Land Chris Miller


The continuity between the modernist Waste Land and its Symbolist lineage is generally taken for granted. But it is often assumed that the Symbolist tradition itself has no significant ancestry in English poetry. This is to underestimate the degree in which the techniques of Symbolism are present in the English Romantic tradition. In this essay, I identify a certain kind of continuity between the Romantic tradition and The Waste Land. By making clear the connections of The Waste Land with the Romantic tradition, I isolate certain of its less savoury political implications. Without condoning these as politics, I argue that they form one strand (an important one) among the many woven into Eliot's poem. A part of the greatness of The Waste Land is its astonishing inclusivity.

To place The Waste Land in the context of the Romantic tradition with which it is supposed so decisively to break requires an excursus through that tradition. In what follows, I do not intend even a partial history. I wish to trace a political parabola within the tradition. This parabola is not wholly evinced within English poetry; a part of Eliot's startling modernity consisted in his being the avatar of tendencies present in the second generation of the English Romantics. These tendencies were continued in exacerbated form in French poetry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at a time when radicalism was generally absent from English verse.

The parabola consists in the ...

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