T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land

T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land

What is The Waste Land?

The Waste Land is a poem written by Thomas Stern Eliot and published in 1922. It is known as one of the main examples of a modern poem and it is divided into 4 parts:

  1. The Burial of the dead = it deals with the changing of the seasons and the opposites of life
  2. A game of chess = it deals with the emptiness of modern life and incommunicability
  3. The fire sermon = it deals with the theme od lust
  4. Death by water = it deals with the body of a drowned sailor in the sea
  5. What the thunder said = it deals with all the main themes which have appeared in the previous section

Main Theme

Apart from the already quoted ones, the main theme of the whole poem appears to be sterility. It is presented in many ways:

  • Natural = the land in the poem is described as dry, barren, rocky and polluted. Also homosexual relationship are shows as sterile.
  • Social = people find it difficult to communicate with each other, possibly symbolised by quotations in foreign languages and the fact that people are unable to love
  • Spiritual = people no longer believe in religious values


The style is the main element which makes The Waste Land an innovative works. The language, in fact, appears difficult to decifrate since he uses different languages or thoughts appear unfinished. One main device he uses (and invented) is the mythical metod: a stylistic device which consists in highlighting the wisdom of the past by juxtaposing it with the spiritual emptiness of the present, thus using many classical quotations from historical authors.

New Devices and Techniques

  1. The Objective Correlative = a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which is the formula of a particular emotion so that when the external facts are given, that particular emotion is immediately evoked (ex. Currants as a symbol of sterility)
  2. Dissociation of Sensibility = juxtaposing poetic and reflective situations with frugal ones causing an effect of deflation in the readers
  3. Auditory Imagination = the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling (ex. a taxi Throbbing)

The Figure of Tiresias

Tiresias is a mythological figure described in the Metamorfosi by Ovidio. His story tells that he once made the gods angry and was transformed into a woman; when he was transformed back into a man after 7 years, he was made blind but able to see the future. Hence, he becomes a prophet who’s been both a man and a woman and has seen both past, present and future. 

This figure, according to Eliot, is the perfect representation of the poet who foresees everything and it is a character which appears several times in the poem to describe various situation from different times. (an example is the passage of the typist in the section of The Fire Sermon)

This was The Waste Land! 😉

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