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Obi-Wan reads T.S. Eliot in 'The Waste Land' app

T.S. Eliot's powerful but famously obscure modernist poem echoed the fragmentation of European civilization after World War I. A new app may make it more accessible.

T.S. Eliot added many explanatory notes to his poem.
Faber and Faber

"I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

Doubtless T.S. Eliot wanted to show readers many things in his epic poem "The Waste Land," but clarity wasn't one of them.

It's one of the most enduring poems of the 20th century and it's also one of the most obscure. It has a cacophony of voices, classical allusions and languages. A new app may make its tangled verse a little more palatable. Or at least more fun.

The Waste Land is a multimedia version of the five-part modernist puzzler from Touch Press, which describes it as "the most revolutionary poem of the last hundred years."

Published in 1922 after heavy editing by Ezra Pound, "The Waste Land" presents a brooding meditation on the desolate state of Western civilization and London life following the death and destruction of World War I.

The poem channel-hops through character, place and time. Its many references include Dante, Petronius, the Upanishads, Celtic, and Arthurian legends and the popular music of 100 years ago. Eliot added several pages of notes to the poem to explain it.

The iPad app offers several approaches to the poem, notably readings by Alec Guinness, Eliot himself, and Irish actress Fiona Shaw, who appears in a special filmed performance that synchronizes with the text (see the promo video below).

It also has an image gallery, text notes that may help somewhat in unraveling the knotty allusions, as well as interviews with more than 30 people including poet Seamus Heaney and Jeanette Winterson.

There are search and navigation functions, and copies of Eliot's original manuscript with marginalia by Pound.

The $13.99 price tag is worth it just to listen to Guinness's majestic tones. You'll also be able to drop lines like "April is the cruellest month" at the water cooler.

(Via The Guardian)