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Symbols in T S Eliots The Waste Land When the poem was first printed in book form two months after its initial publication in the Criterion of October 1922 the printer needed additional copy to fill a signature since Eliot had no other poems ready at that time he submitted the explanatory notes on The Waste Land which now fill about five pages in the Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 The notes have been the focus of much critical effort and comment and Eliot has since remarked that he regrets having appended them One valuable function of the notes nevertheless has been to indicate some of the works that most importantly influenced the writing of the poem among others as we mentioned Frazers The Golden Bough and Westons From Ritual to Romance books relevant to much of the basic symbolism used In the vegetative rites discussed in both the figure of the Year-god was thrown into the waters of the Nile or some other body of water and later fished out resurrected symbolizing the rebirth of the life principle in the spring This ritual also came to be associated with the religious initiation patterns to which primitive people seem to give much more open recognition than do modern civilized societies The Grail legends according to Miss Weston are derived from those vegetative rites and it is the Fisher King on whom the health and fertility of the land and people are dependent in these legends The Fisher King is sick having been maimed usually a sexual wound and because he is sick his lands are waste and barren just as in Oedipus Rex as Tiresias knew the plague upon Thebes was due to the crimes of Oedipus against the procreative cycles Only when the Fisher King is healed through the appearing of a pure
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