When I was in year 11 and striving to meet the requirements of a good English student, I signed up for the extension English class. I was really excited about it; I considered myself to be a word person, and even though I only received average grades in English, I knew I could do it.
It wasn’t an easy class. It was small, and every lesson we would talk about how confused we were.
One such occasion was when we were learning about The Wasteland (T.S. Eliot). No one knew what the poem meant, and we spent hours trying to grasp what the message was. It was a beautiful poem, and I enjoyed reading it, I just had no idea what was being said.
Our teacher, I’m sure, was there to help us, but I do not remember having this poem explained in the slightest. All I recall is the printed pages stapled together, highlighting all the notes I could, and still not understanding.
And it wasn’t just me! We were all confused. No one had a clue. We were lost.
But this was my downfall; assuming everyone else’s confusion was just as dire as my own.
When we received our essays, discussing The Wasteland, back a few weeks later, I got the lowest grade in the class. And yes, it was the lowest by a good chunk.
WhY wOuLd SoMeOnE sAy ThEy DoN’t UnDeRsTaNd ThE pOeM oNlY tO tUrN aRoUnD aNd GeT nInEtY pErCeNt.
Anyway, I asked to leave that class the next day and I never looked back.
Only, I guess I kind of did because I loved the thought of that class. I still have no idea as to why I did not learn a single thing about The Wasteland, and why I handed in an essay where I clearly had not learnt a single thing. Ah, the mysteries of high school.
So it feels almost redemptive that here, in my university English class, I get the chance to write an essay about The Wasteland.
Oh, and also the chance to, maybe, I don’t know, understand the poem and understand my own essay.
What a time to be alive.
Originally I was going to write my essay on sonnets, as we could choose between numerous poets, but I want justice for my year 11 struggle with T.S. Eliot. (Not to mention after writing half an essay about sonnets I realised I wasn’t understanding them either, so I did a quick switcheroo.)
Even though this English unit is more difficult than the one I completed last year, I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying learning and figuring out what I’m missing. I do consider my ‘favourite’ subjects to be the Writing courses, and those assignments come much easier to me. I write something and I’m proud of it and I hand it in confidently. With English it’s a bit more of a struggle; I write down a lot of notes before trying to construct them into essays that make sense to both me and the marker. I take longer to learn the concepts that I’m writing about, and find it harder to get reasonable sources for the essays.
But I like it. I chose a lot of English classes because I wanted to not only write fiction, but understand the fiction that has already been written. I love diving into the 1800’s, 1900’s and pulling apart what makes literature good. It’s fascinating to see the trends in writing throughout the years.
For instance, I didn’t realise that many pieces written after WW1 are considered modernist and that there are writing techniques that belong to that time, such as stream of consciousness. While literature before this had more of a set beginning, middle, and end, modernist stories felt more aimless because there was a focus on a person’s thoughts rather than a specific journey.
The Wasteland is confusing when first looked at. It’s set out in fragments that don’t seem to make sense with each other, it’s not romantic (as many pieces were before WW1), it combines physical places with myth. It’s a product of its time. And even then, I don’t know how much it makes sense in the context of modernism.
But I’m excited to learn more about it. I’m excited to see my essay come together with information that I understand.
Just as I avoided Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) for many years until I was forced to read it for my English class last year, so to has The Wasteland made its way back to me. Let’s hope I do it justice. (And maybe not hate it like I hated Wuthering Heights.)