The Waste Land and Other Poems

By T.S. Eliot

56,205 ratings - 4.21* vote

Few readers need any introduction to the work of the most influential poet of the twentieth century. In addition to the title poem, this selecion includes "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", "Gerontion", "Ash Wednesday", and other poems from Mr. Eliot's early and middle work. "In ten years' time," wrote Edmund Wilson in Axel0s Castle (1931), "Eliot has left upon English Few readers need any introduction to the work of the most

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Book details

Paperback, 88 pages
August 4th 1955 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

(first published 1940)

Original Title
The Waste Land and Other Poems
ISBN
015694877X (ISBN13: 9780156948777)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Fergus

In 1918 the boys began their demobilization, and trickled back from the trenches. Did they get a hero’s welcome?

Not on your life!

For bitter cynicism had descended upon Europe like a ghastly pall, like “the yellow fog” which as T.S. Eliot wrote, had submerged Britain in its lacrustine depths, and then, simply “fell asleep.”

For it was the beginning of our current long sleep of reason and decency.

Nietzsche had forecasted the day correctly. It was the day of the Great Reversal - the quick and efficient Transvaluation of all Values - the advent of our Upside-Down Kingdom.

Now it’s the air that we breathe, bitter Postmodernism. There is no Hiding Place anymore. Progress has demolished and flatlined it all!

It’s like The Waste Land’s Tom Eliot described the working of his own mind in Rhapsody on a Windy Evening: his mind “beat like a fatalistic Tom-tom (pun intended).” But don’t we ALL mentally do that number on ourselves?

Well, you might say, I may have OCD, but so what? At least the world is simple and understandable... but what jeering monsters has our proud cynicism NOW begotten!

But that’s what the jeering masses did as the boys returned: turned cheers into I-told-you-so jeers. Good riddance to the hoity-toity tea & crumpets elite!

But hey, don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, guys.

Trouble is, the thoroughly educated, like Eliot and many of us, were numbered among this elite. All were being jeered. As well as his - and our - timeless intellectual treasures.

So his - and our - most cherished values started to crumble when the boys returned, and the masses turned their backs on them.

Jose Ortega y Gasset later described it in his epochal Revolt of the Masses, and their new ascendancy to the role of social arbiters.

Arbiters indeed, Eliot said. The Tasteless Condemnation of all Taste - literary or otherwise!

And Eliot, of course, saw it all. And he collapsed.

He was admitted to a private sanatorium on the Continent, where he started to write this chaotically long masterpiece.

Have you read it? Do you understand it? There are plenty of amazing books on it available!

In a nutshell, it’s just like U2 sings it:

I was shaking from a storm in me
Haunted by the spectres that we HAD to see
Yeah, I wanted to be the melody
Above the noise, above the hurt

For it was in a nutshell - as Oswald Spengler said it - the Decline of the West. Where we are NOW.

It was then, as many foresaw, the beginning of a Brave (Foolhardy? Precarious?) New World.

And the beginning of the end for Eliot’s upper-crust employer, Lloyd’s of London - for they are the ones who superciliously scrawled ‘Nervous Breakdown’ on his Sick Leave form.

But Eliot didn’t care.

For, as he says in the Waste Land about his breakdown:

Phlebas the Phonecian, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the (fruitless) profit and the loss...

He had seen far too much to be ever-so-politely cowed now. And guess what? When he published this one poem he was catapulted to International Celebrity status.

No more profit-and-loss balance sheets!

He was world-famous.

And a Rock Star to the kids who were starting to learn his stuff in school.

And you know what?

On the success of his books, he had secured his place in British Society - and was offered an excellent job as one of the founding editors of a fledgling new publishing house...

The prestigious Faber Limited!

For which company he became the principal Guiding Light, mentoring and publishing many of the younger British Writers who nowadays are ranked among the Great Masters of Modern Literature.

The very ones who would warn US not to be too cock-sure of ourselves as social arbiters.

Or has our cynicism forgotten that pivotal day, now that our own glory is threatened?

Leonard Gaya

With regular works of fiction, and possibly regular works of poetry, the reader expects to get his/her bearings with ease. Most of it feels familiar, some surprises or exotic elements are laid out here and there for enjoyment, but the way home is straightforward; go with the flow and enjoy the ride. Not so with The Waste Land (1922, the same year as Ulysses; a couple of years before Mrs. Dalloway). In this cabbalistic poem, the reader is cast right into the middle of a scorching desert of rocks, a charred forest of words, reverberating multiple voices and languages — to the untrained eye, there is no way home anywhere. You have to grab your machete and carve your path into this thick bramble of verses and stanzas. Indeed, to get a sense of the poem, Eliot requires from the reader a level of effort that is almost commensurate with that of the poet himself. And so, borrowing from Baudelaire, Eliot calls on to him (or her), as an unreliable brother (or sister), for support: “Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!” (v. 76)

Here is a possible hint, though: “Son of man, / You cannot say or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images” (20-22). Eliot’s poem refers to a crumbling world and, indeed, may itself seem like such heap of broken reflections of virtually everything, an entire library (The Bible, The Upanishads, Homer, Ovid, Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Malory, Shakespeare, Milton, Verlaine, Whitman, etc.) folded and wrapped and packed and compressed into a symbolic card game, tumbled, scattered chess pieces, a ragged tapestry, an intricate and elliptical origami. It starts with the cry of the Sibyl from Petronius’s Satyricon, exhausted with old age: “άπο ϴανεΐν ϴέλω”. Soon after, we hear the young heavy-hearted sailor at the start of Wagner’s Tristan, “mein irisch Kind, / wo weilest du?” (33-34). Then, again, Tristan’s shepherd, staring at an empty ocean in the last act, “Öd und leer das Meer!” (42).

And on it goes, in a wild lyrical collage where all the biggest hits of European high culture are smashed, shattered, recollected, pastiched and sewn up again, into the chequered verses of a lustrous Harlequinade. There is much affinity between Eliot’s opaque and ambiguous poetry and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and his critique of Western culture; or even Stravinsky, who borrowed from every musical tradition imaginable, melted them together into his crucible, and created some of the most (sometimes) strident, (always) mind-bending pieces of symphonic music.

In various places, Eliot overlays these artistic allusions with modern urban scenery to exceedingly striking effect. “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many” (62-63) mashes up the usual urban herd of stupefied, undead-like commuters with Dante’s vision of Hell (Canto 3, 55-57). Similarly, the evocation of the River Thames, poisoned with “empty bottles, sandwich papers, / Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends” (177-178), echoes, with some irony, the “Weialala leia” incantation, from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (III, 1). All in all, there is a general feeling of disgust about modern life and, at the same time, a conscious effort to re-enchant, to re-poeticise, to re-mythicise — albeit with sombre, prophetic imagery that alternates between floods and droughts — a world deprived of light, warmth and mystery.

Other parts of the poem are structured like off-kilter, dark-comedy playlets. For instance, the one starting with “My nerves are bad to-night” (111) or the scene that supposedly takes place in a crummy barroom with a yakking cockney woman (139-172). These sections — which, in a way, herald Samuel Beckett’s plays — read like snippets from everyday conversations, mingled with highbrow cultural allusions. “I think we are in rats’ alley / Where the dead men lost their bones” (115-116) hints at Ezekiel, 37, or perhaps at the WWI trenches... Meanwhile, the pub owner’s last call “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” is, perhaps, a parody of Brangäne’s warning in Tristan (II, 2): “Habet acht! / Bald entweicht die Nacht."

Modern love, however, as Eliot depicts it — under the guise of Tiresias, with his “wrinkled dugs” (228) —, is nothing like Tristan und Isolde; instead, it is a loveless, nauseating hookup between a sluggish woman and a “carbuncular”, pathetic loser (220-256). Once the dude is done shooting his load, the girl concludes: “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over” (252), and mindlessly “puts a record on the gramophone” (256)... or, say, checks her Insta... How much lower could Isolde still sink?

If books were celestial bodies, most would be intergalactic vacuum, some would be barren rocks, some hostile worlds, some lush planets teeming with life, some would be colourful nebulae, others burning stars, others still, dazzling supernovae. The Waste Land is a black hole of virtually infinite density. It swallows up and siphons in all languages, all pictures, all slices of ordinary life, all the books that came before it, and crushes them inside, beyond the horizon of comprehension, perhaps leading up, in the end, to a universe of pure sound, syncopated rhythms, (dis)harmony and divine thunder.

“Shantih shantih shantih” (433): peace which passeth understanding.

Alok Mishra

As a poet myself, I would thank T. S. Eliot for what he did by writing the most debated and influential poem of the previous and the current (this far) century. The Waste Land had shaped an entire generation of poets, giving them the free will to explore their thoughts without any fear of being judged by the meter... expression comes to Eliot naturally and The Waste Land is just an exceptional example of that. It's still relevant, contemporary and a must-read. For those who understand Poetry, The Waste Land will never be second on the lists that they make...

Trevor

Eliot is such a pompous old fart, how could anyone not love him? When I was still in high school if you wanted to be in the group of people who had any pretensions as ‘intellectuals’ or whatever else it was we had pretensions of – Eliot was de rigueur. I know large slabs of this poem by heart and when I worked as a house painter would quote it at length at the top of my voice when I ran out of Irish songs to sing while I rolled the walls – which probably misses the point of the poem, but I love how it feels in my mouth – like having your mouth full of chocolates and then coffee and then brandy, no, better, Cointreau.

There is something Romantic about this poem, despite it being the definitive Modern poem – all that stuff about, “The chair she sat in…” could be straight from Byron or Wordsworth.

I love the jokes, the sex in a punt and the pocket full of currants and I still love all of the horrible sexual adventures that are all ‘whip it in, whip it out and wipe it’ for the men and so totally unsatisfying for the women. And that bit about fore-suffering all enacted on this same divan or bed with the wee typist woman and her drying combinations, is just so damn good. One final, patronising kiss and gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit.

All the same, this is one of the masterworks of the language, some of it still forms a lump in my throat as the currents rise and fall and I pass through all the stages of my youth and age.

Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t quite agree with him now that ‘if you want to read me, learn my language’ – pretty much meaning learn the whole of European poetry to read a single poem – but very young men find this is exactly the sort of thing that draws one to Nietzsche – and Eliot was always my favourite right-wing wanker.

Sean Barrs

I consider The Hollow Men one of the greatest poems in the English language, and certainly the greatest from the 20th century.

Here’s the start of it:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


description

It just captures so much of the era and so much of the desolation and emptiness that followed the war; it reflects the melancholy that swept through the world. It’s a sad poem. It feels cold, detached and lonely. And I love it because it is so effective. If I was reviewing this book based on my opinion of that poem alone then this would be a five-star rating.

But, alas, I am not because there is also a poem I detest in here. I consider The Waste Land one of the worse poems in the English language because of it’s incomprehensibleness. Every time I read it I get lost. Critically speaking, it a weird and wonderful construction but it is so inaccessible. I’ve read it several times over the years, and it really doesn’t get any easier.

So for me this is a very mixed bag, worth a read though!

Jonathan Terrington


My ode to T.S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot,
You walked among the stars
In your words,
light trails blazing.
Master of the modern,
Ruler of the poetic.
There is, and was, no poet to compare.
Your mythology and legend stand immense.

Behold the waste land of the world,
Behold the glorious prose of a world shaker.
Though some have called thee,
Mighty and dreadful plagiarist,
Such slander upholds your greatness,
The potency of your reinvention.
There is a power to you - in rewriting the eloquent

So behold T.S. Eliot.
A masterful poet.
One who walked among the stars
And brought the heavens a little nearer.
What more can a poet do?


There is a simplicity to the greatest poetry. And at once there is a complexity. There is a simplicity, in that the greatest works of poetry don't contain wordiness or explicitly state their intentions. They strip back language to allow for a nice flow and rhythm to what they are doing. But at the same time there is a complexity generated by a presumed sense of intent and knowledge. The poet assumes that you will get, from the scarcity of language used, what they are aiming to convey. And that is part of the beauty of language, that because the poet strips everything down, there is so much which you can read into and draw as your own understanding of what the poem is about.

And that is what I sensed in The Wasteland and the other poems. The Wasteland is universally accepted as one of the most important pieces of modernism - regardless of all the arguments about it being a plagiarised piece of fiction. For an interesting breakdown on that idea of plagiarism and literature read this article . And no matter how you read Eliot's work: as a reinvention of older myths and narratives; as a depiction of a destroyed post-war landscape and the people affected by that world; or as a beautiful piece of art; there is so much to gain from reading this work. It really all proves that simply because older ideas are drawn upon and referenced that it doesn't have to be stealing.

Upon further reading and analysis it has come to my attention that what Eliot does in this masterpiece is to both play off the worlds of the common peasants and bourgeoise with those who would be considered academic royalty. He sets up a comparison of white collar and blue collar workers, essentially creating a poem that works like a giant chessgame. In some ways a game of oneupmanship in which Eliot tells the reader that he is better than them but still sympathetic to them. This can be seen in the classical references to high forms of literary art that Eliot draws upon. But there are also elements in which Eliot shows that he is not supercilious and in fact appears to both sympathise and empathise with the proletariat working class (the second section for instance and in lines such as "consider Phlebas" particularly seem to suggest this).

Regardless of how you want to read it I challenge you to go and read one of the great works of literature. It is a notoriously difficult poem to understand and I know I got very little of it, but it was powerful and moving. And I am now looking forward to further discussion and dissection of this in upcoming classes. Isn't the greatest power of literature apparent in how it lives on after we have read it?

Seemita

Thomas Stearns Eliot. A lot is hidden between those three words. A whole world perhaps. A depth measured by many oceans, a mystery viewed from bewitching lenses, a song marrying numerous notes, a candle thriving on inexhaustible wax.

During his writing season, that spanned over three decades, T S Eliot penned many evocative and luscious poems, with his pen always leaving a signature cryptic mark over his dotted sheets. Often a source of delusion to an enthusiastic poetic heart, his labyrinthine lyricism was like a lashing downpour on a parched heartland: one surrendered to the torrent at the risk of bearing undecipherable strokes on one’s soul. I belong to this clan.

In this volume, his celebrated and most popular poems rub shoulders with their relatively lesser known but still dense cousins. And while my soul may curse my mind for being picky about Eliot’s poems, I might go asunder for a while and share with you three gems, whose themes, narratives, cadence and wholeness can be adorned by adjectives from the ‘superlative’ family alone.

THE WASTE LAND

In his most celebrated poem, his thoughts, meandering through five reverberating alleys of melancholy and despair, purport to create an image that oscillates between our meretricious values and late realizations. It begins with The Burial of the Dead where a collage of pictures bearing subdued trees, stony lands, dried showers and insipid sun leaves a young girl with a heavy heart who is further introduced to the throbbing futility of it all.
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.
Leading us to the next alleys, Eliot plays A Game of Chess, issues A Fire Sermon, condemns us to a Death by Water and lets us hear What The Thunder Said. All through this trail, we are trembling; more with remorse or excitement, is something we can’t guess without ambiguity. Touching the themes of vengeance, repentance, nostalgia, penance and decay, he halts at ”Datta, Dayadhvan and Damyata” as the final rousing call. This mantra in Sanskrit translates to “Give, Sacrifice and Control” respectively. This trinity, capable of resurrecting our being in a more dignified and buoyant fabric, is left for the reader to comprehend and validate.
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
------------

GERONTION
Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.
Thus starts this splendid poem, which is a mighty paean to a person’s journey from youth to mellow. And as always detected by a fatigued eye, this journey is laden with discolored beliefs and stung steps.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or is still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion.
-----------

ASH WEDNESDAY

We are always in a vicious circle of creation and destruction. This engaging activity provides momentum to our lives and reinforces our core strength.
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice.
A pity, then, that we can’t always control this rigmarole. What if, dotting the circle, we reach a point from where a deviation threatens to derail our movement, propelling our faith engine to go kaput? The tumultuous fall, then becomes impossible to confine in words, for it pervades everything: our skin, our bones, our heart. Should we be foolish enough to expect a hand to pull us out of this ditch, at this hour, when all we have done till now, in our sturdy capacity, is overlook meek yet expectant eyes? Is hope of such benevolence, an absurdity? Well, there is someone, indeed, to whom we can always look upto.
Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose.
----------

"Shantih Shantih Shantih - The Peace that passeth understanding."

These poems are like pearls; the metaphorical oyster may pose a formidable guard but caress it with patience and stimulate it aloud and it will open up to a mesmerizing world of mellifluous prose and inspiring gist.

Ahmad Sharabiani

The Waste Land and Other Poems, Thomas Stearns‬ ‎Eliot, T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1945)
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.
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.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و هفتم: ماه سپتامبر سال 1972 میلادی
عنوان: دشت سترون و اشعار دیگر؛ اثر: توماس استرنز الیوت (تی.اس. الیوت)؛ مترجم: پرویز لشگری؛ مشخصات نشر: تهران، انتشارت نیل، بهار 1351، در 160 ص؛ موضوع: شعر معاصر جهان - سده 20 م
دشت سترون، دفن مرده
آوریل ستمگرترین ماه هاست؛ از زمین مرده، گلهای یاس میرویاند؛ یاد و هوس در هم میآمیزد؛ با باران، بهار ریشه های بیحال را، برمیانگیزد
زمستان ما را گرم نگه داشت؛ زمین را در برف فراموشی پوشانید؛ با خشکیده ساقه های زیرزمینی؛ زندگی ناچیزی را پرورانید. تابستان بر ما شبیخون زد؛ ... ا. شربیانی

Riku Sayuj


The Unreal Wastelands & Labyrinths - What Memory Keeps and Throws Away; An Exercise in Recollection: in flashes and distortions.

____________________________

You! Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, - mon frère!

____________________________


Chimes follow the Fire Sermon:

A rat crept softly through the vegetation;
departed. A cold blast at the back, So rudely forc'd, like Philomela.
It was Tiresias', it was he who doomed all men,
throbbing between two lives, knowing which?

Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole!
Excuse my demotic French!

****

Let us go then, him (that carbuncular young man), and you -
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

You may come or go, but speak not
of Michelangelo.

When there is not solitude even in the Mountains,
When even the sound of water could dry your thirst,
Then you can lift your hands and sing of dead pine trees.

Have you yet been led,
through paths of insidious intent,
through every tedious argument,
To that overwhelming question?

****

Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Sweet Thames, sweating oil and tar,
Sweet Thames, run on softly till I end my song,
for I speak not loud or long,
for I speak not clear or clean,
for I speak in the hoarse whispers of the last man,
for it was I who murdered you,
and Ganga, right under the nose, of mighty Himavant!

You who were living is now dead.
We who were living are now dying -
With a little patience!

Break The Bough, and hang yourself from it,
Sweeney, Prufrock, The Fisher King and the sterile others,
all will follow first,
like corpses etherised on well-lit tables.

****

Remember me, me - Tiresias, once more, for we are all him,
yet not.

The present will always look at the mirror,
and see only a Wasteland,
The Past is always the heavenly spring,
running dry now.

Perspective,
Thy name is Poetry.

****

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
These fragments you have shored against my ruins.

Why is it impossible to say just what I mean!

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.


shantih shantih shantih



****


____________________________

You! Hypocrite reader, my likeness, my brother!

____________________________





Do I dare
Disturb the universe?

Matt

The first three published poetic volumes of T.S. Eliot career were a sudden surprise upon the literary community, but it was the third that became a centerpiece of modernist poetry. Published within a 5 year period during which not only Eliot’s style was refined but also influenced by his personal life and health. Throughout the rest of his career, Eliot would build upon and around these works that would eventually lead to the Noble Prize in Literature and a prominent place in today’s literature classes.

While I am right now in no way ready to critique Eliot’s work, I will do so in the volume it was presented in. While the publishers and editors wanted to present Eliot’s work with his personal Notes or footnotes in the back of the book to preserve the author’s intention of presentation, over the course of reading the exercise of going from the front of the book to the back to understand the footnotes became tiresome. And while reading “The Waste Land” I had three places marked in my book so as to read the poem and then look at Eliot’s own Notes and the publisher’s footnotes, which quickly became a trial.

This is a book I’m going to have to re-read over and over again for years to come to truly appreciate Eliot’s work. If you’re a better rounded literary individual than I am then this volume will probably be for you as it presents Eliot’s work in the forefront with no intruding footnotes at the bottom of the page; however if you are a reader like myself who wants to enjoy Eliot but needs the help of footnotes I suggest getting another volume in which footnotes are closer to the text they amply.

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