“These fragments have I shored against my ruins.” With this plaintive line, T.S. Eliot brings his great poem, The Waste Land, toward its conclusion. Published in 1922, The Waste Land is a strange, tragic and moving poem, a monument of Modernist poetry in its heyday between the World Wars. Europe’s optimism had been shattered in the trenches of World War I, and new articulate voices arose in its wake to proclaim the sad truths of human finitude, moral fragmentation and death.
Although some people now say that we are in the Postmodern period, I think that our literature, art and science are still very much in the Modernist mode, still working on the problems and possibilities that were envisioned by the great Modernists, including Eliot, Kafka, Picasso and Einstein.1 These men of genius created new ways of understanding the world, after many of the old solid rules had crumbled in the shockwaves of a senseless and massively destructive war.