Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The waste land

Fantasy Bob hopes, from time to time, to bring his readers - all 3 of them -  insights into some of the great works of Western Culture and how they have sought their inspiration from our noble game.  He recognises that many of his interpretations will, to the minds of the more conventional of the critical fraternity, seem radical.  However they are the product of extensive research, so should be taken seriously.

Opening bat Eliot
Fantasy Bob would like first to draw your attention to the work of TS Eliot, a stuffy opening bat and one of the great poets of the 20th Century.  In Eliot's seminal work The Waste Land, published in 1922 and generally reckoned to be the first great masterpiece of modernist poetry in the English language, the poet makes extensive use of wider cultural reference points to explain his world weariness at the alienating state of modern culture.  One significant passage goes

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

The conventional reading of this passage makes reference to the Old Testament texts which are quoted and  taken as illustrating  the desertification of modern life.  But there is hope in shelter under the red rock  - taken as a reference to the Messiah. Bosh, says FB.  All nonsense.  

There is an overt clue that critics have ignored in the phrase  'The cricket no relief'  Conventional views assume, on the basis of no evidence, that cricket here refers to the insect.  Wrong.  Once the interpretation is correctly ascribed to the game of cricket, it all becomes clear. 

This poet is referring to the English despair at the dominance of the Australians during the 1920s.  Eliot wrote the poem as the 1920-21 Aussies achieved the first whitewash, largely through the use of express pace bowling.   The dryness refers to the alien arridity of the Australian wickets that the MCC players encountered; the shadows are references to the extremes of sunlight and the length of the playing day in those pre-Murdoch times.  Fear in a handful of dust refers not only to the quality of some of the wickets but the impacts of the pace attack on the frafile morale of English batsmen.  On this last point FB accepts that an alternative interpretation may be that the handful of dust is in fact a reference to the Ashes themselves.

Get this passage, and the rest of The Waste Land's meanings are obvious.  Look at its famous opening line - 'April is the cruellest month' - obviously, since that is when outdoor nets generally begin.

Don't take Fantasy Bob's word for it.  Enjoy the poem yourself - text on this link.

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