Footnotes in Crane vs Eliot

The footnotes in Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bride” give the poem more background information and are more like small essays on the meaning of the poem. If read at the same time as the poem, it becomes difficult to stay on track because the footnotes are so long. If you read  the poem once and then go back and use the footnotes to interpret, it becomes a lot easier. The footnotes here seem insightful for interpreting the poem, but the poem could also stand alone without being explained. It almost seems as if the footnotes were meant to dumb down the poem to less keen readers and make it more approachable for the average person. Eliot, on the other hand, uses a bunch of tiny footnotes, sometimes multiples per line, to make references to different works. It makes his poems incredibly difficult to read, because unless you’re familiar with all the works he references, the footnotes are practically useless.HIs footnotes seem pretentious and purposefully exclusive to only a very small group of well read individuals. They only serve to confuse the poem more, and are almost a distraction. 

Lengthy Footnotes in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

I especially struggled this week because of the lengthy and sometimes daunting footnotes in “The Waste Land”, which sometimes took up more of the page than the actual text of the poem.  Usually, I am able to skip over the footnotes during my first read through of the poem and then go back and read the footnotes with my second read through.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do this with “The Waste Land” because many of the footnotes served to explain words in other languages (i.e. line 42 – “Oed’ und leer das Meer” which means “the better craftsman” in Italian).  One would think that this would help clarify what was happening in the poem by translating what lines meant, but I found myself getting lost in the length of the footnotes.  It seemed as though Eliot was rambling in some of them, and by the time I finished reading through the footnotes, I had lost my sense of what was happening in the poem.

One way to avoid forgetting what is happening in the poem while reading the footnotes is to keep good handwritten notes in the margin.  I paraphrased (to the best of my ability given that I struggled with the content) what was happening in each stanza and wrote some key words in the margins.

One example of a “lengthy and daunting” footnote was the first footnote (9).  Not only is it long but also Eliot suggests that we read Miss Jessie L. Weston’s “From Ritual to Romance” as well as “The Golden Bough” by Sir James Frazer to truly understand what he is trying to say.  This is specifically what I was referring to when I referred to “daunting” footnotes.  Eliot suggests that we won’t be able to properly understand his poem without reading two full length books!

Footnotes — love ’em or hate ’em? (Hate ’em. A lot)

I am not a footnote kind of girl. I know they’re there to help me understand a text, but in all honesty they just kind of annoy me and most of the time I completely disregard them until I absolutely have to consult them. T.S. Eliot makes my “ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand” approach of flippancy impossible to maintain and while part of me admires him for it, I also kind of resent it.

In all seriousness, though, “The Waste Land” has a lot of footnotes, as I’m sure everyone has noticed. Them being the poet’s notes, I figured they were important to read, so I dutifully pulled myself out of the poem to read the little informational text every time I hit a little number — and got completely lost. There was such an overwhelming amount that it became completely impossible to understand what the poem was trying to say, because I was so busy going back and forth between poem and footnote. So I did what I do best and gave up.

Eventually I had to put on my big girl pants and try again, and I realized that the only way to understand both footnote and poem, was to read the poem in its entirety, process what it was on its own, and then go back and read Eliot’s notes. It might be an unconventional way of dealing with footnotes, but it was the only way they wouldn’t ruin the actual work for me.

All of my struggles and annoyances aside, the footnotes themselves struck me as two things: pretentious, and helpful. Eliot giving his reader the information they might need to understand his poetry was very helpful. He understood that people might have trouble, and wanted them to be able to understand context and really get the full essence of the poem. That was very sweet of him. However, it also strikes me as a little bit obnoxious, because I get a vibe that with his footnotes, he’s preening and showing everyone how smart and clever he is. All, “look at how cultured I am that I can use all of these references and allusions, and because I know you are not that well educated, I’ll help you out *pats head condescendingly*”. I mean, h8ers gonna h8, of course, and I might just be down on Eliot because he made me read a novel worth of footnotes.

How to read the footnotes?

The number of footnotes in the wasteland was quite a shock. When I opened up to page 866 in our book, I was thrown because it seemed as though half the page was just footnotes, an amount that seemed to increase as the poem went on. I attempted to follow along with the poem and look at the footnotes every time I got to the place in the poem where it was referenced. This turned out to be an awful idea, as it led to me forgetting what I was reading about in the poem and just concentrating on the sometimes paragraph length footnote.

As I made my way through the poem, extremely confused, I decided that this approach was a rather silly one, and transitioned to reading all the footnotes at once in the beginning and then reading the page all the way through. Unfortunately, as the footnote does not include the word it is referencing, it is hard to mentally keep track of what you should tie the footnote too, and I ended up needing to reread the footnotes as I got to the place in the text. Additionally, because there were so many allusions, I had a tough time remembering the context with which I should be reading the words.

In the end, I compromised and read the poem twice. The first time through, I decided to simply read the poem and enjoy the language. I thought it was a beautifully written poem, although was a little thrown by the lack of rhyme or any discernable unifying measure of the piece. This was only a minor issue however. The second time I read through the poem, I focused on the footnotes, reading through them at the end of each page and trying to discern what it was exactly that I had just read. This method was time consuming, but well worth it in the end.


Significance of a Variety of Point of Views?

The most interesting thing in this poem was the fact that it has different speakers. When reading it, my main question was why. What is the significance of having different speakers? I felt that just reading one of the sections in the reading was difficult to grasp, how am I suppose to pull together all these difference sections and get one meaning from it? As I continued reading, I figured out that all the sections do tie strongly into the title. They all refer to some sort of different wasteland, but I still did not understand how they tie in with each other.

I believe this was a very difficult poem to read because of its content and how it is written. The content is hard because even though I do slightly understand what is going on, I am not exactly sure how everything fits in together with each other. What do the different parts have to do with each other besides their own individual wastelands? I believe one of the bests ways to read this poem would be to read it a handful of times writing down everything that you understand. Second, I would suggest doing more research on the author and the poem itself to see if there is any other insightful information that we can find to help us understand the content a little better. The poem is one that I did enjoy because I felt like I was reading many different poems instead of one long continuous poem.

The Waste Land: Another Eulogy?

T.S. Eliot’s poem opens on a dismal note, “April is the cruellest month,” and continues with the themes of death and destruction altered into the form of five personas throughout the poem. Since the focus of the poem is the decline of modern civilization, as seen through the different themes depicted in the five sections, the poem can be seen a eulogy to the well-educated in the early twentieth century. From a historical perspective, in a time of post World War I and the beginning of the Jazz Age, feelings of devastation and recklessness were unavoidable. Eliot expresses his dissatisfaction with contemporary culture by comparing April, a celebratory time of the year where the first signs of life emerge again, to a time that breeds continued demolition of human kind. The scenes in sections two through five continue with the idea of death, whether it is figuratively or literarily. Eliot uses these voices to convey how he sees the world around him and his dissatisfaction towards it.

Eliot’s poem also contains a vast range of allusions to literary works from all over the world. The breadth of references he features in his poem makes it difficult to follow, let alone understand. Even though the text is followed by endless footnotes that are intended to clarify the references, some of these notes can leave the reader even more puzzled. Additionally, Eliot references musical pieces like one of Richard Wagner’s opera’s and the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Of course, the last reference is the most familiar found in the poem, but the others require extensive background knowledge in order to fully understand their meanings. The use of a million references in his poem could be his way of showing off his intelligence or, more reasonably, could be used to serve as a warning to society to urge it to grasp onto knowledge, which is an extension of his overall message.



Struggling Connections

I struggled to understand the allusions in “The Waste Land” based on the footnotes’s limited information. I read through the work, then found a line-by-line annotation with extensions of the references online. That helped as I attempted to form patterns by cross-referencing the poem itself. I selected a few of these cross-references as examples here.

Lines 1-18 seem nostalgic for childhood, the narrator saying “In the mountains, there you feel free”. But in lines 341-343, “there is not even solitude…or silence in the mountains”. Tone shifts significantly – but is this shift due to a change in narrator? Or is it illustrating a change in some greater being who encapsulates all 5 parts of this poem – presumably Eliot himself?

Eliot repeats “violet” – a color symbolizing the Virgin Mary. The “hyacinth girl” may represent this symbol, but later the “violet hour” and it’s loveless sex, offer a direct contradiction to modesty. Is this another shift in Eliot’s own perspective? Is existence a version of this decline? Are we living in the wasteland?

Part 1 of the poem references”dry stone” with “no water”. But these lines are followed by reassurance (“There is shadow under this red rock”, an allusion to the redemptive power of Christ). In lines 331-359, this “dry rock” is revisited. But this time, there is no hope in the form of water. Is Eliot saying Christ has forsaken us? Is Earth really the “unreal city”? Is hope pointless? This is echoed in Eliot’s references to Tristan and Isolde – there is hope of reuniting two lovers before death, but rejoining never occurs.

Eliot couples repetition and changes in connotation to show the duality of life: static and changing. But the poem asks “where does religion fit into this world of shifting certainties?” Are these narrators all thirsting for something worth living for and coming up dry?

Cruising the Confusing

No rhyme. No specific form. Just a lot of description.

In T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, there seems to be no specific syntactical form. Enjambment occurs, but I can’t seem to decipher the point to Eliot’s random (from my point of view) form. There is no rhyme, each line stops at a seemingly arbitrary point in the sentence, yet there is a consistent flow to the poem. Even though I cannot find a link between the stanzas, the connections do not feel awkward or break the rhythm while reading. Also, the poem is divided into 5 separate sections, but the stanzas within one section sometimes do not even seem to relate to the preceding one, but it does not feel out of place at all. I think this is a very strong skill that Eliot has.

Furthermore, it is difficult to tell if this is all one story or a bunch of stories chopped up and put together. Each stanza seems to be in a different country and telling the reader someone else’s story.

To be honest, the footnotes do not even help. They just made me stop every time one was present. Later, when rereading the poem, I just ignored the footnotes completely. (Some helped, but some I just read and thought, “okay, this doesn’t help me decipher anything.”)

Overall, the reading doesn’t seem too difficult in the sense that I feel that different scenes from different places in the world are just being told. However, I think the difficulty of this reading resides in finding the meaning behind these scenes. I, honestly, cannot seem to find the point to this poem. Normally, I can at least get a gist of why the poet wrote a poem, but this poem does not seem to have a meaning, from my perspective. I fell like Eliot just gave us different scenarios taking place over the world.


Unhelpfulness of Footnotes in The Waste Land

The Waste Land had an enumerable amount of footnotes that were present to help the reader better understand the poem. However, I found that even with the presence of footnotes, I still had trouble connecting the unfamiliar words with the corresponding footnotes. Because of this, it is still difficult for me to comprehend the poem because without seeing the connection between the phrases with its footnote, rereading the stanza with the footnote meaning in mind does not help. An example would be “The wind under the door” translated as the speaker is asking if anyone is still alive. I don’t understand how the wind under the door relates to the liveliness of a person. Another example would be “son of man” (line 20) where the footnote explains that “God addresses Ezekiel”. The explanation of the phrase does not mean anything to me because I don’t understand the significance of that event or any other Christianity-related references. These many footnotes affect the flow of the poem being read. It was not as challenging to read the poem through maintaining most of the flow, but I was unable to grasp its meaning that way. I feel that the footnotes would be more helpful if the reader had more understanding about the references mentioned in the footnotes.

Also, I noticed that each section of the poem featured a new subject. The first section is about a burial site and several lines about whether anything has grown on the burial site. The second section is about a woman who has aged a lot from taking medication for abortion. Each time I found myself starting to understand what is being said about a particular subject, the section ends and begins the story of another. This caused a lot of feelings of frustration and confusion. While the form is irregular and there is not rhyme scheme, I noticed that I understood the later parts of each section much better than the first part the section. So after noticing that the latter parts were much more comprehensible, , I tried reading the second half first to have an idea of where this section was going and then going back and read the beginning of the section.

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