Links to podcasts are at bottom of this post
"The Waste Land" by T. S. Eliot (first published 1922) is for sure the most influential English language poem of the 20th century, at 432 lines it exemplified the mood of the post World War One literary world, a waste land in which a senseless war seemingly destroyed all values. Along with Ulysses, also published in 1922, it is one of the foundational works of modernism. World War One ended in November of 1918, maybe it took four years for this hideous event to produce great literature, I shudder to think how long it will take for such literature to arise from a World War Three.
For the last few days I have felt much stress over the safety of treasured Reading Life family members in the path of hurricane Irma, thankfully all now safe. Maybe this lead me to explore You Tube for profound poetry read by masters of the spoken word that would help me get through this period. I read "The Waste Land" about fifty years ago and I was pleased to find four readings.
Fiona Shaw, best known in popular culture for her portrayal of Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter movies, is a highly gifted multi- award winning actress. Her reading of The Waste Land is the most infused with feeling of the works. Using her great theatrical skills, she brilliantly brings to voice the aristocratic woman, Maria. I felt a fall of a once great culture in her ennui. This voice is not without a welcome tone of hauteur. One of my very favorite lines in the poem were spoken by Maria, "I read, much of the evening, and go south in the winter". I don't think "experts" have felt Maria is based upon an historical figure, for me she is part of a dynasty destroyed by the war, Reading because it can save her. Part of the poem is devoted to a conversation between two London women, I am guessing they are meant to be cockneys, about how one should anticipate things will now be between her and her husband, just demobilized after four years fighting. There are dramatic entrances in the video for each of the five sections of the poem. I listened to her reading twice, in between reading I read the poem also twice. Some may say her reading is overly emotional or forces an interpretation, but I loved her reading.
Jeremey Irons and Eileen Atkins, both highly distinguished British actors also have a reading on Youtube. The Waste Land makes use of multiple speakers, at least two female and maybe four male. The two speaker approach they employ highlights this and helps a listener understand the stage like quality of the poem.
Alec Guinness brings his magnificent voice to full power. Perhaps he is best in the voices of the mythical ancient speakers.
Of Course one must listen to the poet read his work for any hints his inflection or tone may give us.
The readings are about twenty four minutes. In order to experience more fully the poem I read it after each recording, the reading time is maybe twelve minutes.
Later on I'm planning to make use of a scholarly edition to help me unravel all the references.
A Reading by Fiona Shaw
Read by Jeremy Irins and Eileen Atkins