“The Waste Land”
by T.S. Eliot
Adela, Erica and Hilda
433 lines
20th Century
Meditation on the state of Western
mixes descriptions of contemporary life
with literary allusions and quotations,
religious symbolism, and references to
ancient and medieval cultures and
mythologies, vegetation and fertility rites
Eastern religions and philosophies
emphasize themes of barrenness and
desolation and portrays a dying society
the ending suggests hope of
redemption through concepts and
images grounded on the synthesis of
Christian and Eastern
(Hindu/Buddhist) spirituality
Language & Form
Modernist poetry. Irregular verse, at times free,
at times reminiscent of the blank verse of Eliot’s
The poem was reduced to half the length of
earlier drafts at Ezra Pound's suggestion
Complex scholarly annotations to explain the
many quotations and obscure allusions
Five sections and features multiple voices and a
deliberate attempt at creating a sense of
fragmentation, discontinuity, and decay.
Five sections
The Burial of the Dead
A Game of Chess
The Fire Sermon
Death by Water
What the Thunder Said
"Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Sibulla ti qeleiz; respondebat illa: apoqanein
For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro.
Quotes Petronius's Satyricon (first century C.E.)
“For once I myself saw with my own eyes the
Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a cage, and when the
boys said to her ‘Sibyl, what do you want?’ she
replied, ‘I want to die.’”
I. The Burial of the Dead (1/2)
Four poems
Line 1-18
Marie recalls her sledding and claims that she is
German, not Russian. The woman mixes a
meditation on the seasons with remarks on the barren
state of her current existence.
Line 19-42
A prophetic, apocalyptic invitation to journey into a
desert waste, where the speaker will show the reader
“something different from either/ Your shadow at
morning striding behind you/ Or your shadow at
evening rising to meet you;/ [He] will show you fear
in a handful of dust.“
I. The Burial of the Dead (2/2)
Four poems
Line 43-59
It describes an imaginative tarot reading, in which
some of the cards Eliot includes in the reading are
not part of an actual tarot deck.
Line 60-76
The speaker walks through a London populated by
ghosts of the dead. He confronts a figure with whom
he once fought in a battle. The speaker asks the
ghostly figure, Stetson, about the fate of a corpse
planted in his garden.
II. A Game of Chess
This section focuses on two
opposing scenes: high society and
the lower classes.
Two poems
Line 77-138
A wealthy, highly groomed woman surrounded
by exquisite furnishings.
Line 139-172
In a London barroom, where two women
discuss a third woman.
III. The Fire Sermon (1/3)
Taken from a sermon given by Buddha
in which he encourages his followers to
give up earthly passion and seek
freedom from earthly things.
Four poems
Line 173-206
Line 207-214
Line 215-265
Line 266-311
III. The Fire Sermon (2/3)
The section opens with a desolate
riverside scene: Rats and garbage
surround. The speaker, who is fishing
and “musing on the king my brother's
The speaker is then propositioned by
Mr. Eugenides, the one-eyed merchant
of Madame Sosostris's tarot pack.
III. The Fire Sermon (3/3)
The speaker then proclaims himself to be
Tiresias, a figure from classical mythology
who has both male and female features and is
blind but can “see” into the future.
Tiresias/the speaker observes a young typist,
at home for tea, who awaits her lover, a dull
and slightly arrogant clerk. The woman allows
the clerk to have his way with her, and he
leaves victorious.
Tiresias, who has “foresuffered all,” watches
the whole thing. After her lover's departure,
the typist thinks only that she's glad the
encounter is done and over.
IV. Death by Water
The shortest section of the poem.
Describes a man, Phlebas the
Phoenician, who has died by
In death he has forgotten his worldly
cares as the creatures of the sea have
picked his body apart.
V. What the Thunder Said (1/2)
One poem: line 322-423
Builds to an apocalyptic climax, as
suffering people become "hooded hordes
swarming" and the "unreal" cities of
Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna,
and London are destroyed, rebuilt, and
destroyed again.
The scene then shifts to the Ganges, half a
world away from Europe, where thunder
V. What the Thunder Said (2/2)
Finale: line 424-434
Ends with a series of disparate
fragments from a children's song, from
Dante, and from Elizabethan drama,
leading up to a final chant of “Shantih
shantih shantih.”
I. The Burial of the Dead
Inhabitants in the Waste Land live a
hopeless life. People can usually
obtain salvation (rebirth) from the
burial of the dead, but inhabitants
in the Waste Land are afraid of
II. A Game of Chess
The community's impotence and
degradation, sex and spirit, is
III. The Fire Sermon
Eliot uses St. Augustine and
Buddha’s thoughts to teach man to
keep away from decay.
IV. Death by Water
There will be no revival or
resurrection after the Phoenician’s
death. Misunderstanding of greed
and values have buried human
beings deeper as a whole into the
V. What the Thunder Said
The thunder said human beings
could be saved through three
verbs--give, sympathize, and
Analysis (1/2)
Eliot uses
A modern myth that world moving toward
crisis and chaos
Multiple narrators: to see from different
Dramatic monologue: to convey the
characters’ stream of unconsciousness and
psychological condition.
Fragmentation: fragmentation of modern life,
lack of integration in the modern experience
Analysis (2/2)
Allusion to plays, and myths:
To compare and contrast the present and the
To produce the dramatic irony
(Myths exists in fertility rites and a
universal subconscious. Eliot uses myths
to produce sympathy. )
Biblical references:
severed from the system of belief that gave
them coherence and meaning.
Techniques in Text
Dramatic monologue (L8—18, L25—30)
Allusions to the Bible (L20), plays (The Tempest, The
Devil’s Law Case), and myths (The Fisher King,
Fragmentary forms—Ex. broken image (L22)(L428-30)
Symbols of water, hyacinth, the Tarot pack of cards, the
drowned Phoenician Sailor, the Hanged God.
Compare and Contrast---Mylae War is compared to the
World War I.
Quotations—Paradise Lost9 (IV, 140), The Devil’s Law
Case (III,ii,162), The White Devil (V,6, 203-205),
pun—jug (L103)
to express the subject
Sibyl in the Satyricon (myth) , a
woman with prophetic power and long
life, grows old, but cannot die. She is
yearning to die.
The Sibyl's condition suggests Eliot
lives in a culture that has decayed and
withered but will not end.
Quotation And Interpretation
APRIL is the cruelest month,
breeding …Winter kept us warm, covering …
(The Waste Land opens with a compare to
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. April is not the
painful month for pilgrimages and storytelling.)
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
(How dry and fearful the Waste Land it is. )
Quotation And Interpretation
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
(The death and rebirth of a god –
Rebirth comes after the death. And
water suggests spiritual renewal.)
Quotation And Interpretation
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous
king…'Jug Jug' to dirty ears.
(People only can hear the sex and violence in the
myth but not appreciate a myth.)
'Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your
(Inhabitants in the Waste Land are without
thoughts—spiritual dryness.)
Quotation And Interpretation
Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!
‘This music crept by me upon the waters’
(Quoted from Shakespeare’s The Tempest—
sea-change is the symbol of refreshment
and purification. And the Waste Land is a
place that is lack of water.)
Quotation And Interpretation
We who were living are now dying
(People have no belief. Religion doesn't exist for them.)
L423-25 I sat upon the shore …Shall I at least
set my lands in order?
(In the myth of the Fisher King, the king is
impotent and the land is barren; society waits for
salvation in the person of a knight (looking for
the Holy Grail) who will come and ask the right
question and bring the much-needed rain.)
Study Questions
1. What is the function of the epigraph
in the beginning to the poem?
2. Is the downward motion significant
in the first section?
3. What does the thunder say? What is
happening to the waste land?
4. What is the "Waste Land" Eliot
Study Questions
5. Why T.S. Eliot chose the “A Game of
Chess” as the title of the second part
of the work? What’s the connection
of this section with previous one?
6. What the representative meaning of
“water” in the fourth part of the
“Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's World Literature Website.” 1 Dec. 2005
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. "The Waste Land." The Norton Anthology
of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New
York: Norton, 2000. 2368-83.
Modernist Poetry in English. 4 Dec. 2005
Parker, Rickard A. Exploring The Waste Land. 29 Sep. 2002. 5
Dec. 2005 <http://world.std.com/~raparker/exploring/
SparkNotes: Eliot’s Poetry. 1 Dec. 2005
“The Waste Land.” 1 Dec. 2005 <http://www.geocities.com/
“The Waste Land Interpretation.” 5 Dec. 2005

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