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Waste Land Limericks -- Wendy Cope

(Poem #859) Waste Land Limericks

 In April one seldom feels cheerful;
 Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
 Clairvoyantes distress me,
 Commuters depress me--
 Met Stetson and gave him an earful.


 She sat on a mighty fine chair,
 Sparks flew as she tidied her hair;
 She asks many questions,
 I make few suggestions--
 Bad as Albert and Lil--what a pair!


 The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
 Tiresias fancies a peep--
 A typist is laid,
 A record is played--
 Wei la la. After this it gets deep.


 A Phoenician named Phlebas forgot
 About birds and his business--the lot,
 Which is no surprise,
 Since he'd met his demise
 And been left in the ocean to rot.


 No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,
 Then thunder, a shower of quotes
 From the Sanskrit and Dante.
 Da. Damyata. Shantih.
 I hope you'll make sense of the notes.
-- Wendy Cope
Reams of critical analysis are all very well, but sometimes I think the best
thing to have come out of "The Waste Land" is Wendy Cope's inspired summary
of the poem. Her stripped down version of Eliot's rather impenetrable
masterpiece is (as we've come to expect from Cope) excruciatingly funny, but
it's also amazingly faithful to the original - she seems to capture the
essence of each (long and complex) section in just a few short lines. And in
the pithiest of language, too: phrases such as "After this it gets deep"
invariably set me laughing out loud.


[Links etc]

Wendy Cope rules. Check out
Poem #587, Strugnell's Rubaiyat
Poem #693, Strugnell's Haiku
on the Minstrels website.

T. S. Eliot rules too, but in a more, well, rarefied way. See
Poem #9, La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
Poem #107, Preludes
Poem #193, The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock
Poem #248, Sweeney Among the Nightingales
Poem #258, Macavity: The Mystery Cat
Poem #291, The Journey of the Magi
Poem #466, Rhapsody on a Windy Night
Poem #532, Little Gidding
Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand
Poem #630, To Walter de la Mare
Poem #846, The Hippopotamus

and especially
Poem #354, The Waste Land (Part IV)
Poem #858, The Waste Land (Part V)

The entire text of this poem, quite possibly the most influential of the
20th century, can be found at

"The Waste Land" has a (not completely unwarranted) reputation for being
rather hard to parse. I recommend Hugh Kenner's essay "The Invisible Poet",
and "The Waste Land: A Critique of the Myth" by Cleanth Brooks for perceptive
(if somewhat dated) readings of the poem, and descriptions of Eliot's
then-revolutionary poetic technique. My enjoyment of Cope's limericks was
enhanced immeasurably by my reading of these two scholarly articles (and
others; John Wain's Waste Land Casebook is a good compendium, if you really
want to go into depth).

23 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

markabel garcia said...

awesome limerick. I'm researching the waste land and broke thru some of the symbols.Put some images together. your limerick caused me to laugh and think. thanks.
(f**king eliot!)

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فيس بوك said...

this is a very sensitive poem i really like part III its wonderful

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Gabriel said...

I'm surprised I found this poem. Cope is against having her poems published without her permission (and compensation...)

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