Comparing “The Waste Land” to a Compact Disc Player

A book cover for the 1922 poem "The Waste Land", written by T.S. Eliot and edited by Ezra Pound, featuring a  logo for compact disc digital audio.

Comparing “The Waste Land”
to a Compact Disc Player
Young Adult Literary Analysis

Written by DJ Hadoken

In John Ciardi’s 1965 article about T.S. Eliot (published in the “Saturday Review” magazine), Ciardi wrote, “‘Prufrock,’ I believe, remains Eliot’s most powerful single creation” (Ciardi 35). While the 1915 poem “Prufrock” may be considered T.S. Eliot’s most renowned work, the creation of the compact disc player may be held upon a similar echelon.

In my opinion, most of T.S. Eliot’s works (in general), may compare greatly with that of the architecture found within compact disc players. However, Eliot’s 1922 poem, “The Waste Land” may be the most similar to a compact disc player than “Prufrock” or his other works.

“The Waste Land” consists of five parts, and, specifically, early models of compact disc players allow for what is called a five-second anti-skip feature. The five parts are also individually titled, allowing for a broad interpretation. This “ disorganization of the poem” (Leavis 89) may have served as a prelude to the creation of compact disc players, and furthermore, their operation.

Part I, titled “The Burial of The Dead”, represents a compact disc, being buried within the player itself. Compact discs essentially have no souls, and when one places a disc within the player, one carries an expectation towards the performance of the disc. “Memory and desire, stirring” (Eliot 29). If one has previously listened to the disc, one chooses it again, out of desire to hear the songs held deep within it. While, as fingers fumble to place the disc in the correct spot, one hears the music within their memories.

Part II, titled “A Game of Chess”, applies toward the concept of a new compact disc, containing sounds that have never touched the listener’s ears. As one listens to the new sound, one’s mind plays games with itself, determining the sound to be pleasing or irritating, a chess game of a sort. “‘What is that noise?’” (Eliot 33) the mind may ask itself. Until the sounds move on to the next level, the mind continues to ask this, until the noise is transformed into pleasure or hatred.

Part III, titled “The Fire Sermon”, represents the intense climax of music, the point in which the compact disc player has played through the music and is now at the most engrossing point of sound. At this point, the mind is unified with music. The mind focuses on this, and may be oblivious to outside interference. This river of sound, streaming from ear drum to ear drum, “...bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers, silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends...” (Eliot 36).

I believe that there is an aspect of life that tends to create foreshadowing in places little expected. This aspect appears to have been present within Eliot’s subconscious, guiding his words to subtly foreshadow future technology. Eliot has indeed been known to write about “...subjects not considered poetic...” (Pitkethly video). Although it is logical to assert that T.S. Eliot (nor editor Ezra Pound) did not intend to foreshadow the creation of compact disc players within “The Waste Land”, the similarities cannot be ignored.

Within the remaining sections of the poem, death becomes a noticeable, influential entity. The advent of death represents the final tracks of a compact disc. The listener is aware that the experience will soon be over, and much as readers may long for more of the poem, listeners “...simply want more” (Auchincloss, 46) of the music which they have absorbed themselves within.

The quick death of Phlebas compares to the sudden end of a compact disc, when one has been little aware of the time that has passed by. In the final section, death is clearly presented within the appearance of “gliding wrapt in a brown mantle...” (Eliot 43). Death represents the reality of the end, and in both music and poems, it becomes present as the conclusion draws nearer.

In the unedited manuscript of the poem, one finds sections that do not completely account for the architecture and operation of a compact disc player. The drunks, tramp, and sailors were eliminated by editor Ezra Pound, who deemed them unnecessary. I believe that the aspect of life I described above was also present within Pound’s subconscious. This aspect (which beckoned for the foreshadowing of the invention of compact disc players) allowed for Pound to curate details which may have deterred too far from the poem’s unspoken meaning.

“The Waste Land” is a work of literature that is “ to different interpretations...” (Davidson, 122) and therefore cannot be considered too surprising when it is “connected with a source so unexpected” (Morris, 88). With this point stated, it is reasonable to assert that the poem did indeed foreshadow the creation of compact disc players.

“The Waste Land” contributes to life many unspoken words that are one step before otherworldly prophecy.

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Works Cited

Auchincloss, Louis. “The Waste Land Without Pound.” The New York Review 11 Oct. 1984: 46.

Ciardi, John. “Thomas Stearns Eliot: 1888-1965.” The Saturday Review 23 Jan. 1965: 35-36.

Davidson, Harriet. “Improper desire: reading The Waste Land.” The Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot. Ed. A. David Moody. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 121-131.

Eliot, T.S. “The Waste Land.” The Waste Land and Other Poems. New York: A Harvest Book- Harcourt, Brace & World, 1930.

Leavis, F.R. “The Waste Land.” New Bearings in English Poetry (1932). Rpt. in T.S. Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Hugh Kenner. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1962. 89-103.

Morris, George L.K. “‘Marie, Marie, Hold on Tight.’” Partisan Review 21 (1954): 231-233. Rpt. in T.S. Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Hugh Kenner, Englewodd Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1962. 86-88.

T.S. Eliot. Dir. Lawrence Pitkethly. New York Center for Visual History. Videocassette. Mystic Fire Video, 1988.


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