"These fragments I have shored against my ruins" 

an observation

From: Modern Fiction Studies 
Volume 45, Number 1, Spring 1999 
pp. 185-211   

T. S. Eliot's famous line "These fragments I have shored against my ruins" has signified for critics a self-reflexive commentary on the fragmented poetic form of "The Wasteland" as well as a tenuous existential solution in the poem to the problem of social and spiritual devolution. It is commonplace to say that, for the modernists, formal fragmentation was a form of realism, a correlative to the decay of the western intellectual tradition. Many have argued as well that the fragmentation of "The Wasteland" reflects not the disintegration of culture but rather the maintenance of it, through these same formal characteristics. In Terry Eagleton's view, for instance, there are two "Wastelands": the phenomenal text, characterized by formal fragmentation, and an alternative text behind and sustaining the phenomenal text that provides covert coherence to the poetic vision and "is nothing less than the closed, coherent, authoritative discourse of the mythologies which frame it" (226). For Eagleton, the poem's esoteric references, which provide links between author, speaker, and reader, prove that indeed the Tradition is very much alive and well, however much the overt text of the poem may decry its decay. Eagleton argues that the ideology of "The Wasteland" lies somewhere between the phenomenal and alternative texts, in the fact that the poem shows and depends upon this alternative text but is not able to speak that text out loud. Each text radically determines the force of the other's message.