The Wasteland – T. S. Eliot

The Wasteland follows a narrator through memories and histories of his life.

Rating: 9/10 unfortunate prophesies.


The poem begins with a section entitled “The Burial of the Dead.” In it, the narrator — perhaps a representation of Eliot himself — describes the seasons. Spring brings “memory and desire,” and so the narrator’s memory drifts back to times in Munich, to childhood sled rides, and to a possible romance with a girl. The memories only go so far, however. The narrator is now surrounded by a desolate land full of “stony rubbish.”

He remembers a fortune-teller named Madame Sosostris who said he was “the drowned Phoenician Sailor” and that he should fear death by water. Next he finds himself on London Bridge, surrounded by a crowd of people. He spots a friend of his from wartime, and calls out to him.

The next section, “A Game of Chess,” transports the reader abruptly from the streets of London to a drawing room, in which sits a rich, jewel-bedecked lady who complains about her nerves and wonders what to do. The poem drifts again, this time to a pub at closing time in which two Cockney women gossip. Within a few stanzas, we have moved from the upper level of society to London’s low-life.

“The Fire Sermon” opens with an image of a river. The narrator sits on the banks and muses on the deplorable state of the world. The poem returns to the river, where maidens sing a song of lament, one of them crying over her loss of innocence to a lustful man.

“Death by Water,” the fourth section of the poem, describes a dead Phoenician lying in the water — perhaps the same drowned sailor of whom Madame Sosostris spoke. “What the Thunder Said” shifts locales from the sea to rocks and mountains. The narrator cries for rain, and it finally comes. With these commandments, benediction is possible, despite the collapse of civilization that is under way — “London bridge is falling down falling down falling down.”


How powerful is Eliot’s writing, eh? I’m almost at a loss for words when it comes to this poem. Despite its overall storyline, the imagery he uses astounds the reader and if you’re paying close enough attention, he is one witty son of a gun. This poem is great, and you should it read it, because it’s great. 😀


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