The Waste Land

"The Waste Land" is one of the most important and influential of all Modernist texts and was published in the magazine "Criterion" in 1922, the same year as James Joyce's similarly seminal Ulysses. Eliot's poem was obscure and difficult even by his standards. Consisting of five sections of unequal length, "The Waste Land" ties together Eliot's near-sociopathic message with quotations from everything from Webster to Dante and a plethora of sound words and Sanskrit. It is an oblique and fascinating poem, given a kind of immediate classic status by Eliot's explanatory notes that padded out the first edition. The importance of Eliot's friend, Ezra Pound, as effective editor in shaping the poem should not be underestimated. Pound removed some of Eliot's excesses and trimmed the poem to the form we are now used to (see The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, edited by Valerie Eliot). Eliot's theme, if there can be said to be one, is the decay of Western civilisation and his subjects the passive people of London ("Unreal city"). The poem lacks continuity but contains such a heady mixture of different languages and techniques upon its rhythmical, unrhyming verse that it still seems gripping, terrifying and new today. It could very easily be argued that it is to blame for many of the worst excesses of poets since, but along with the later Four Quartets it ensured that Eliot's genius for mixing the vulgar and the beautiful ("breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land" indeed) has not been forgotten.

Table of contents
The Burial of the Dead  
A Game of Chess  
The Fire Sermon  
Death by Water  
What The Thunder Said  

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