"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot

"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot

"The Waste Land" is a renowned modernist poem written by T.S. Eliot and published in 1922. Considered one of the most important literary works of the 20th century, it is a complex and fragmented piece that reflects the disillusionment, despair, and spiritual crisis of post-World War I Europe. 

With its multiple voices, allusions, and references to various cultures and mythologies, the poem explores themes of fragmentation, alienation, loss, and the search for meaning in a desolate and spiritually bankrupt world.

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot-The poem is divided into five sections: "The Burial of the Dead," "A Game of Chess," "The Fire Sermon," "Death by Water," and "What the Thunder Said." Each section presents a distinct narrative or scene, but they are interconnected thematically and through recurring motifs, symbols, and characters.

"The Burial of the Dead" introduces the desolate landscape of the modern world, where the speaker observes a barren wasteland and reflects on the loss of vitality and meaning. The section opens with the famous line, "April is the cruellest month," emphasizing the irony and decay of the natural world. It also alludes to the mythical figure of the Sibyl, who represents the loss of prophetic vision and the inability to communicate effectively.

"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot-"A Game of Chess" explores the theme of failed communication and sexual disillusionment. It presents a scene where two lovers engage in a conversation that is depicted as a chess game. However, their dialogue is disjointed and filled with empty words, reflecting the breakdown of human connection and the inability to find fulfillment in relationships.

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"The Fire Sermon" draws upon the Buddhist concept of the fire sermon, which describes the attachment to desires and the resulting suffering. It presents a nightmarish urban scene, where sexuality is portrayed as a destructive force that consumes individuals. The speaker describes encounters of lust, decay, and corruption, highlighting the emptiness and degradation of modern life.

"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot-"Death by Water" is a short section that focuses on the theme of water as a symbol of purification and regeneration. It presents the image of a drowned sailor, suggesting a metaphorical death and rebirth. Water serves as a cleansing force, representing the hope for renewal and redemption.

The final section, "What the Thunder Said," brings together various cultural and mythological references and portrays a world on the brink of apocalypse. It presents a vision of a devastated landscape, where the speaker yearns for spiritual awakening and redemption. The poem ends with a chant that suggests the possibility of rebirth and a renewed hope for humanity.

"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot-Throughout "The Waste Land," Eliot employs a wide range of literary techniques, including allusions to classical literature, religious texts, and cultural symbols. He blends different languages, perspectives, and historical periods to create a fragmented and disorienting narrative, reflecting the disintegration of traditional values and the fractured nature of modern experience.

In summary, "The Waste Land" is a groundbreaking modernist poem that captures the disillusionment and spiritual crisis of post-World War I Europe. Through its fragmented structure, rich allusions, and haunting imagery, the poem explores themes of fragmentation, alienation, loss, and the search for meaning in a desolate and spiritually bankrupt world. It remains a seminal work in 20th-century literature, challenging readers to confront the complexities and uncertainties of the modern condition.

The Waste Land Poem

   I. The Burial of the Dead


April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,

My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,

And I was frightened. He said, Marie,

Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.

In the mountains, there you feel free.

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.


What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? 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, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

                      Frisch weht der Wind

                      Der Heimat zu

                      Mein Irisch Kind,

                      Wo weilest du?

‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’

—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither

Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,

Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Oed’ und leer das Meer.


Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,

Had a bad cold, nevertheless

Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,

With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,

Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,

(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,

The lady of situations.

Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,

And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,

Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,

Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find

The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.

I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.

Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,

Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:

One must be so careful these days.


Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: 'Stetson!

‘You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!

‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

‘Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

‘Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,

‘Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!

‘You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”





              II. A Game of Chess


The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,

Glowed on the marble, where the glass

Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines

From which a golden Cupidon peeped out

(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)

Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra

Reflecting light upon the table as

The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,

From satin cases poured in rich profusion;

In vials of ivory and coloured glass

Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,

Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused

And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air

That freshened from the window, these ascended

In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,

Flung their smoke into the laquearia,

Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.

Huge sea-wood fed with copper

Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,

In which sad light a carvéd dolphin swam.

Above the antique mantel was displayed

As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene

The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king

So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale

Filled all the desert with inviolable voice

And still she cried, and still the world pursues,

‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears.

And other withered stumps of time

Were told upon the walls; staring forms

Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.

Footsteps shuffled on the stair.

Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair

Spread out in fiery points

Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.


‘My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.

Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.

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.


  ‘What is that noise?’

                          The wind under the door.

‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’

                           Nothing again nothing.


‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember



       I remember

Those are pearls that were his eyes.

‘Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?’    



O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—

It’s so elegant

So intelligent

‘What shall I do now? What shall I do?’

‘I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street

‘With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?

‘What shall we ever do?’

                                               The hot water at ten.

And if it rains, a closed car at four.

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.


  When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said—

I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,


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. He did, I was there.

You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,

He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.

And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,

He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,

And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.

Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.

Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.


If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.

Others can pick and choose if you can’t.

But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.

You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.

(And her only thirty-one.)

I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,

It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.

(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)

The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.

You are a proper fool, I said.

Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,

What you get married for if you don’t want children?


Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,

And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—



Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.

Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.

Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.





              III. The Fire Sermon


  The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf

Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind

Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,

Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends

Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.

And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;

Departed, have left no addresses.

By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,

Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.

But at my back in a cold blast I hear

The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.


A rat crept softly through the vegetation

Dragging its slimy belly on the bank

While I was fishing in the dull canal

On a winter evening round behind the gashouse

Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck

And on the king my father’s death before him.

White bodies naked on the low damp ground

And bones cast in a little low dry garret,

Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.

But at my back from time to time I hear

The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring

Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.

O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter

And on her daughter

They wash their feet in soda water

Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!


Twit twit twit

Jug jug jug jug jug jug

So rudely forc’d.



Unreal City

Under the brown fog of a winter noon

Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant

Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants

C.i.f. London: documents at sight,

Asked me in demotic French

To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel

Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.


At the violet hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a taxi throbbing waiting,

I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,

Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives

Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,

The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights

Her stove, and lays out food in tins.

Out of the window perilously spread

Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,

On the divan are piled (at night her bed)

Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.

I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs

Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—

I too awaited the expected guest.

He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,

A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,

One of the low on whom assurance sits

As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.

The time is now propitious, as he guesses,

The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,

Endeavours to engage her in caresses

Which still are unreproved, if undesired.

Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;

Exploring hands encounter no defence;

His vanity requires no response,

And makes a welcome of indifference.

(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all

Enacted on this same divan or bed;

I who have sat by Thebes below the wall

And walked among the lowest of the dead.)

Bestows one final patronising kiss,

And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .


She turns and looks a moment in the glass,

Hardly aware of her departed lover;

Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:

'Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.’

When lovely woman stoops to folly and

Paces about her room again, alone,

She smooths her hair with automatic hand,

And puts a record on the gramophone.


‘This music crept by me upon the waters’

And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.

O City city, I can sometimes hear

Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,

The pleasant whining of a mandoline

And a clatter and a chatter from within

Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls

Of Magnus Martyr hold

Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.


               The river sweats

               Oil and tar

               The barges drift

               With the turning tide

               Red sails


               To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.

               The barges wash

               Drifting logs

               Down Greenwich reach

               Past the Isle of Dogs.

                                 Weialala leia

                                 Wallala leialala

               Elizabeth and Leicester

               Beating oars

               The stern was formed

               A gilded shell

               Red and gold

               The brisk swell

               Rippled both shores

               Southwest wind

               Carried down stream

               The peal of bells

               White towers

                                Weialala leia

                                Wallala leialala


‘Trams and dusty trees.

Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew

Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees

Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.’


‘My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart

Under my feet. After the event

He wept. He promised a ‘new start.’

I made no comment. What should I resent?’


‘On Margate Sands.

I can connect

Nothing with nothing.

The broken fingernails of dirty hands.

My people humble people who expect


                       la la


To Carthage then I came


Burning burning burning burning

O Lord Thou pluckest me out

O Lord Thou pluckest




              IV. Death by Water


Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell

And the profit and loss.

                                   A current under sea

Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell

He passed the stages of his age and youth

Entering the whirlpool.

                                   Gentile or Jew

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.





              V. What the Thunder Said


After the torchlight red on sweaty faces

After the frosty silence in the gardens

After the agony in stony places

The shouting and the crying

Prison and palace and reverberation

Of thunder of spring over distant mountains

He who was living is now dead

We who were living are now dying

With a little patience


Here is no water but only rock

Rock and no water and the sandy road

The road winding above among the mountains

Which are mountains of rock without water

If there were water we should stop and drink

Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think

Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand

If there were only water amongst the rock

Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit

Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit

There is not even silence in the mountains

But dry sterile thunder without rain

There is not even solitude in the mountains

But red sullen faces sneer and snarl

From doors of mudcracked houses

                                      If there were water

   And no rock

   If there were rock

   And also water

   And water

   A spring

   A pool among the rock

   If there were the sound of water only

   Not the cicada

   And dry grass singing

   But sound of water over a rock

   Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

   Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop

   But there is no water


Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

I do not know whether a man or a woman

—But who is that on the other side of you?


What is that sound high in the air

Murmur of maternal lamentation

Who are those hooded hordes swarming

Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth

Ringed by the flat horizon only

What is the city over the mountains

Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air

Falling towers

Jerusalem Athens Alexandria

Vienna London



A woman drew her long black hair out tight

And fiddled whisper music on those strings

And bats with baby faces in the violet light

Whistled, and beat their wings

And crawled head downward down a blackened wall

And upside down in air were towers

Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours

And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.


In this decayed hole among the mountains

In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing

Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel

There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.

It has no windows, and the door swings,

Dry bones can harm no one.

Only a cock stood on the rooftree

Co co rico co co rico

In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust

Bringing rain


Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves

Waited for rain, while the black clouds

Gathered far distant, over Himavant.

The jungle crouched, humped in silence.

Then spoke the thunder


Datta: what have we given?

My friend, blood shaking my heart

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender

Which an age of prudence can never retract

By this, and this only, we have existed

Which is not to be found in our obituaries

Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider

Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor

In our empty rooms


Dayadhvam: I have heard the key

Turn in the door once and turn once only

We think of the key, each in his prison

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours

Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus


Damyata: The boat responded

Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar

The sea was calm, your heart would have responded

Gaily, when invited, beating obedient

To controlling hands


                                    I sat upon the shore

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow

Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

                  Shantih     shantih     shantih


"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot is a profound and influential modernist poem that reflects the fragmented and disillusioned post-World War I world. Through its intricate structure, diverse voices, and myriad allusions, the poem explores themes of fragmentation, alienation, loss, and the search for meaning in a spiritually bankrupt society.

"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot-Eliot's poem presents a desolate wasteland, both metaphorically and literally, where the natural world is decaying and communication is broken. The poem examines the breakdown of relationships, the destructive nature of desire, and the yearning for spiritual awakening and redemption. It draws upon various cultural and mythological references to create a complex and multi-layered narrative that challenges readers to navigate through its fragmented structure.

"The Waste Land" remains a significant literary work, not only for its artistic innovation but also for its exploration of universal human experiences. It captures the anxieties and disillusionment of the modern era, resonating with readers across time and cultures. By delving into the depths of despair and fragmentation, Eliot invites us to confront the complexities and uncertainties of our own lives and to seek meaning and renewal amidst the barren wasteland.

"The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot-Ultimately, "The Waste Land" stands as a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of a troubled time and to provoke introspection and contemplation. It continues to inspire and challenge readers, offering a profound reflection on the human condition and the eternal quest for meaning in a fragmented world.


Q: What is the meaning of "The Waste Land"?

A: "The Waste Land" is a highly complex and layered poem, and its meaning can be subject to interpretation. However, at its core, the poem reflects the disillusionment, despair, and spiritual crisis of post-World War I Europe. It explores themes of fragmentation, alienation, loss, and the search for meaning in a desolate and spiritually bankrupt world. Through its fragmented structure, diverse voices, and rich allusions, the poem presents a bleak portrayal of modern society and challenges readers to confront the complexities and uncertainties of the human condition.

Q: What is the significance of the title "The Waste Land"?

A: The title "The Waste Land" reflects the central theme of the poem: a barren and desolate landscape that symbolizes the spiritual and moral decay of the modern world. It suggests a world stripped of vitality, meaning, and connection. The waste land serves as a metaphor for the fragmented and disillusioned post-World War I society, where traditional values have disintegrated and individuals struggle to find purpose and fulfillment.

Q: How did "The Waste Land" impact literature?

A: "The Waste Land" is considered a groundbreaking and influential work in literature. It marked a significant shift in poetic style and subject matter, breaking away from traditional forms and embracing a more fragmented and experimental approach. The poem challenged the conventions of its time and paved the way for the development of modernist literature. It remains a seminal work in 20th-century literature, inspiring generations of poets and writers to explore new forms of expression and to delve into the complexities of the human experience.


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