The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

The Waste Land

The text of Eliot's 1922 masterpiece is accompanied by thorough explanatory annotations as well as by Eliot's own knotty notes, some of which require annotation themselves.For ease of reading, this Norton Critical Edition presents The Waste Land as it first appeared in the American edition (Boni & Liveright), with Eliot's notes at the end. "Contexts" provides readers w...

Title:The Waste Land
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0393974995
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:320 pages

The Waste Land Reviews

  • Manny
    Dec 05, 2008

    You know, one of the greatest poems of the 20th century and that kind of thing. I must know a fair amount of it by heart.

    Here's a story about "The Waste Land" that some people may find amusing. Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate in Cambridge, a friend of mine asked me for advice on how to impress female Eng Lit majors. Well, I said, you could do worse than use The Waste Land. Just memorise a few lines, and you'll probably be able to bluff successfully.

    We did some rehearsals, and eventu

    You know, one of the greatest poems of the 20th century and that kind of thing. I must know a fair amount of it by heart.

    Here's a story about "The Waste Land" that some people may find amusing. Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate in Cambridge, a friend of mine asked me for advice on how to impress female Eng Lit majors. Well, I said, you could do worse than use The Waste Land. Just memorise a few lines, and you'll probably be able to bluff successfully.

    We did some rehearsals, and eventually agreed on the following script. He would start off by quoting the first few lines:

    "April is the cruellest month, breeding

    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

    Memory and desire, stirring

    Dull roots with spring rain."

    And then he would say, But that's not my favourite bit! and quote the following:

    "What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

    Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

    You cannot say, or guess."

    He tried it out a couple of times, and it worked! Female Eng Lit majors, I apologise for assisting with this deception. It wasn't very nice of me.

  • Madeline
    Apr 24, 2009

    I'm trying to write a term paper on this poem (key word is "trying") and then I realized, hey, I should waste some time by writing a review of the poem on Goodreads! So here we are.

    Here's my thing about T.S. Eliot: the man is ungodly brilliant and I love almost everything he's written. Does this mean I understand a single goddamn word of it? Of course not. But (and this is the great part)

    . Eliot has been quoted as saying he's perfectly aware that no one has any idea what his

    I'm trying to write a term paper on this poem (key word is "trying") and then I realized, hey, I should waste some time by writing a review of the poem on Goodreads! So here we are.

    Here's my thing about T.S. Eliot: the man is ungodly brilliant and I love almost everything he's written. Does this mean I understand a single goddamn word of it? Of course not. But (and this is the great part)

    . Eliot has been quoted as saying he's perfectly aware that no one has any idea what his poems are about, and he's perfectly cool with that.

    Eliot's poems is not the point; the point is to recognize that he writes with incredible skill and to just lose yourself in the words. My Lit book,

    , said it best:

    "Eliot is often see as an intellectually difficult, fearfully elitist writer, and so in some ways he was. But he was also the kind of poet who put little store by erudite allusions, and professed himself quite content to have his poetry read by those who had little idea what it meant. It was form - the material stuff of language itself, its archaic resonances and tentacular roots - which mattered most to him. In fact, he once claimed to have enjoyed reading Dante in the original even before he could understand Italian...In some ways a semi-literate would have been Eliot's ideal reader. He was more of a primitivist than a sophisticate. He was interested in what a poem did, not what it said - in the resonances of the signifier, the lures of its music, the hauntings of its grains and textures, the subterranean workings of what one can only call the poem's unconscious."

    Translation: in Eliot's eyes, we are all uncultured idiots, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

    So, for those of you struggling to get through the wordy, allusion-tastic, multiple-language maze that is

    , I can only tell you this: Relax and just enjoy the ride. You have nothing to fear. T.S. Eliot loves you.

    Read for: Perspectives on Literature

  • Huda Yahya
    Feb 22, 2012
  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
    Mar 08, 2013

    I read a lot of poems as an English major back in the day.* Not many have stuck with me over the years, but

    is one of them: T.S. Eliot's lamentation of the spiritual drought in our day, the waste land of our Western society, lightened by a few fleeting glimpses of hope. It's fragmented, haunting, laden with symbolism and allusions, and utterly brilliant.

    A diverse cast of characters take turns narrating the poem, or having their conversations overheard by the narrator, including:

    I read a lot of poems as an English major back in the day.* Not many have stuck with me over the years, but

    is one of them: T.S. Eliot's lamentation of the spiritual drought in our day, the waste land of our Western society, lightened by a few fleeting glimpses of hope. It's fragmented, haunting, laden with symbolism and allusions, and utterly brilliant.

    A diverse cast of characters take turns narrating the poem, or having their conversations overheard by the narrator, including:

    ✍ a Lithuanian countess, reminiscing about her childhood and life ("I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter")

    ✍ a prophetic voice, like Ezekiel, examining the barrenness of civilization ("Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter ...")

    ✍ Madame Sosostris, a famous but fake clairvoyant, telling a fortune with tarot cards ("I do not find the Hanged Man. Fear death by water. I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring. Thank you.")

    ✍ a bored woman of leisure, talking to her husband, who answers in his mind ("What are you thinking of? What thinking? What? I never know what you are thinking. Think. / I think we are in rats' alley Where the dead men lost their bones.")

    ✍ Two women talking in a bar about sex and abortion ("Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart. He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you To get yourself some teeth.")

    ... and many more. Those are just the main ones in the first two (of five) sections). Symbols of drought and fertility, spiritual waste and renewal, surface and resurface, showing a different facet each time. I'd forgotten that the Holy Grail (cup) and Holy Lance (spear) doubled as a nifty set of female/male sexual symbols!

    This is a poem that deserves to be read, taken apart and studied, and then simply read again and appreciated.

    "These fragments I have shored against my ruins..."

    *I still have my 2600 page

    , which has extensive analysis and footnotes. It also has my helpful handwritten margin notes from 30+ years ago, written in the most amazingly lovely, minuscule handwriting imaginable (seriously, the letters are about a half a millimeter high) that I could never in a million years recreate now.

  • Bookdragon Sean
    Mar 20, 2015

    This is the hardest poem I’ve ever read. Certainly, the difficulty experienced when reading something is not enough reason to leave a bad review. I’m currently reading

    a notoriously difficult book, but I am enjoying it nonetheless. This, however, is an entirely different creature.

    Despite being an English student I do find poetry difficult. It may be because of my background. I transferred from sciences into English, so I had very little experience beyond a few poems I read at school.

    This is the hardest poem I’ve ever read. Certainly, the difficulty experienced when reading something is not enough reason to leave a bad review. I’m currently reading

    a notoriously difficult book, but I am enjoying it nonetheless. This, however, is an entirely different creature.

    Despite being an English student I do find poetry difficult. It may be because of my background. I transferred from sciences into English, so I had very little experience beyond a few poems I read at school. So when I entered the world of poetry at degree level I was way out of my depth. It took me a long time to catch up on what I’d missed, and it took me even longer to actually enjoy poetry. The point is reading poetry is different to reading novels. It’s harder to do, and I have to concentrate greatly to do it. But, every so often, when you find the right poem for you, it takes you away as you become lost in a mirage of words, images and metaphors. And sometimes, it strikes a chord within you and you feel everything the poem is saying.

    does none of these things. Instead it bombards you with countless intertextual references and information. In order to gain a thorough a succinct understanding of this poem, a poem that takes no longer than thirty minutes to read, I would likely have to spend five-six hours researching the meaning of the terminology, phrasing and historical mentions. That’s how difficult it is. Perhaps if I was a white middle class, highly educated man from the nineteen-twenties then I might be able to appreciate this poem more. But, as it stands, I’m not!

    The worse thing about the poem for me is its lack of coherency. This in itself is not a bad thing. It’s a modernist text; this is what modernist authors did. But, when combined with the fact that the surface level of the writing is near incomprehensible to me, it became rather a painful experience to read it. There are some obvious things to take from the poem. It is post world war one and the content is an image of the destruction that followed, the deprivation, the sadness, the darkness and, of course, the actually wasted land ruined by war. But these images aren’t enough for me to enjoy the poem.

    It would be like reading Shakespeare’s

    and coming to the conclusion that it is a play about the follies of revenge. This is true, but it is also about many other things that combine to form a piece of artistic brilliance. When I read

    I feel stupid. I feel like I’m reading something that I cannot quite understand, and this annoys me. I feel like at times T.S Elliot is being pretentious, inserting references just do demonstrate his intellect rather than contribute something meaningful to the poem at large. And I don’t like it. I don't want to find out what they mean.

    For me this poem is everything great poetry shouldn’t be. But this is just my opinion. For the right reader this poem would be excellence itself. However, it’s not something I’d personally recommend. And, if that wasn't enough, as a side note, T.S Eliot is highly critical towards Shelley- we could never get on!

  • Gaurav
    Apr 06, 2017

    The above mentioned lines mark one of the most profound onsets in the history of modernist literature; and perhaps with eruption of the highly dense, heart pounding effusion, a magical spell envelops the reader who would be kept shifting between time and space, embark and decay of civilization, prophecy and satire, philosophy and faith, life and death throughout the m

    The above mentioned lines mark one of the most profound onsets in the history of modernist literature; and perhaps with eruption of the highly dense, heart pounding effusion, a magical spell envelops the reader who would be kept shifting between time and space, embark and decay of civilization, prophecy and satire, philosophy and faith, life and death throughout the mind-clouding, breath- taking journey of around 433 lines; of which, some can stand on their own alone protruding their beings through the undulations of nothingness. The ghostly but spectral voyage starts with

    , takes one along through the graveyards, stony mystical landscapes to hyacinth gardens, up to the magical but heart poundings scenes exuded out of mystery of tarot cards. At times, one might feel lost as if something unknown but with mighty prowess is carrying one to nowhere but then a sudden clout strikes your consciousness with a colossal impact, you are taken aback by sudden surge of the intensity as you come to

    and out of nowhere, death strikes you,

    s

    emerges out of cloud of your memory. You are taken through threads of life emerging out from dead. The game of black and white squares, arranged in an alternate manner to give a checkered impression, brings you to the stark absurdity of life-

    embodies the absurdness prevailed in the life of

    which (who) has been transformed by

    , but as a compensation, and who cries her heart out of agony yet the world is so deaf and insensitive to her anguish that it occurs a heart-rending song to

    . You are blown further on gust of wind towards a nether world where the most potent questions, but disguised under the sheath of ignorance (or perhaps incompetence), surge up by opening grand (ferocious) arms, from the depth of being and nothingness.

    The idea of

    (perhaps) seems to be sprouted out of modern problems—the war, industrialization, abortion, urban life—which the poet addresses in it and at the same time to participate in a literary tradition. Eliot once, famously, wrote his friend Conrad Akein:

    the imagination of Eliot resembles the decaying land that is the subject of the poem: nothing seems to take root among the stony rubbish left behind by old poems and scraps of popular culture. As the other poems of Eliot are,

    is highly symbolic and extensively use allusions, quotations (in several languages), a variety of verse forms, and a collage of poetic fragments to create the sense of speaking for an entire culture in crisis. It's a poem of radical doubt and negation, urging that every human desire be stilled except the desire for self-surrender, for restraint, and for peace. The poets has blend satire and absurdity so well that it looks probably a superhuman task to determine whether the use of some themes/ rhymes, in way which cajoles a seemingly comic effect, is deliberate or accidental as surfaces up. The poem is quite meticulously, but effortlessly, written in fragments- not like traditional verses- which would give altogether different effects to the reader when they are read in fragments or in entirely.

    The poem concludes with a rapid series of allusive literary fragments: seven of the last eight lines are quotations. As one moves through these quotations, it might occur as if the poem becomes conscious of itself, the being of the poem emanates from the verbose kingdom of words and the poem itself stands in front of the reader- staring straight into the eyes of reader; and a sudden shiver runs through his/ her spine to realize what has just traverses through the scanner of 'conscious' eyes.

    It's a great achievement in modernist art but one needs to be patient to truly feel the shivers of its magical existence; as it's a characteristic of modernism, the appreciation of the poem demands devotional labor as well as a sympathetic imagination. Beneath these meticulously crafted poetics lay assumptions about art that were curiously religious, and that fostered theories of poetry as a liturgy for the elect.

  • Pantelis
    Apr 16, 2017

    I often return here, and each time I find a different place and yet it is the same, maybe because I have heard and reheard the "Four Quartets" mantra... "Four Quartets" offer the solution because "The Waste Land" sets the problem... There is no Hope without Despair...

  • Bill  Kerwin
    May 03, 2017

    I would not presume to offer anything approaching a definitive judgment of this unique and influential poem, a poem which presents us—in early modernist fashion—with a provocative

    of voices and scenes, fragments which Eliot has collected from the “heap of broken images” that litter the desert of our culture, but which he presents in a way that grants them new terror and new poignancy, in a way that shows us “fear in a handful of dust” and hints--if only by its absence--at the possibility

    I would not presume to offer anything approaching a definitive judgment of this unique and influential poem, a poem which presents us—in early modernist fashion—with a provocative

    of voices and scenes, fragments which Eliot has collected from the “heap of broken images” that litter the desert of our culture, but which he presents in a way that grants them new terror and new poignancy, in a way that shows us “fear in a handful of dust” and hints--if only by its absence--at the possibility of a greener world to come.

    First off, let me say I was disappointed in this little edition. I picked it up initially because it contained an introduction by Paul Maldoon, an Irish poet with a reputation for allusiveness and obscurity—just the sort to illuminate this fragmentary and cryptic masterpiece.

    But his introduction is brief and not terribly helpful, and his enthusiasm for Irish literature leads him to see literary connections where they do not exist. For example, although I believe he is correct when he says the “Nighttown” episode of

    is a major influence on the poem, he is mistaken when he speculates that Eliot’s working title for it,”He Do the Police in Different Voices” is also derived from this episode. (It is actually a quotation from a character in Dicken’s

    , who is describing the oral reading technique of her precocious foster child, how he brings to life the crime stories published in the sensational press.)

    I was also disappointed in the lack of notes. I was looking for more extensive annotations, because I need them to help me unmask many references in this often obscure poem. But when they said “notes,” I guess the editors just meant Eliot’s original notes, which are almost invariably appended to poem anyway, whatever the edition.

    I’ll end by reproducing a few passages which illustrate something I noticed for the first time this reading: the large number of gothic and decadent images in this poem. In spite of its classical allusions, modernist structure and tone, we are still not that far from the decadent ‘90’s here:


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