The Waste Land: With Original Classics and Annotated

By T.S. Eliot

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The Waste Land is a poem by T. S. Eliot, widely regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th century and a central work of modernist poetry.

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Book details

Paperback, 38 pages
December 14th 2020 by Independently Published

Community Reviews


I'm trying to write a term paper on this poem (key word is "trying") and then I realized, hey, I should waste some time by writing a review of the poem on Goodreads! So here we are.

Here's my thing about T.S. Eliot: the man is ungodly brilliant and I love almost everything he's written. Does this mean I understand a single goddamn word of it? Of course not. But (and this is the great part) that doesn't matter. Eliot has been quoted as saying he's perfectly aware that no one has any idea what his poems are about, and he's perfectly cool with that. Understanding Eliot's poems is not the point; the point is to recognize that he writes with incredible skill and to just lose yourself in the words. My Lit book, How to Read a Poem, said it best:
"Eliot is often see as an intellectually difficult, fearfully elitist writer, and so in some ways he was. But he was also the kind of poet who put little store by erudite allusions, and professed himself quite content to have his poetry read by those who had little idea what it meant. It was form - the material stuff of language itself, its archaic resonances and tentacular roots - which mattered most to him. In fact, he once claimed to have enjoyed reading Dante in the original even before he could understand Italian...In some ways a semi-literate would have been Eliot's ideal reader. He was more of a primitivist than a sophisticate. He was interested in what a poem did, not what it said - in the resonances of the signifier, the lures of its music, the hauntings of its grains and textures, the subterranean workings of what one can only call the poem's unconscious."

Translation: in Eliot's eyes, we are all uncultured idiots, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

So, for those of you struggling to get through the wordy, allusion-tastic, multiple-language maze that is The Waste Land, I can only tell you this: Relax and just enjoy the ride. You have nothing to fear. T.S. Eliot loves you.

Read for: Perspectives on Literature

Ahmad Sharabiani

The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

The Waste Land is a long poem by T. S. Eliot, widely regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th century and a central work of modernist poetry. Published in 1922, the 434-line poem first appeared in the United Kingdom in the October issue of Eliot's The Criterion and in the United States in the November issue of The Dial. It was published in book form in December 1922.

Among its famous phrases are "April is the cruellest month", "I will show you fear in a handful of dust", and the mantra in the Sanskrit language "Shantih shantih shantih".

The poem's structure is divided into five sections.

The first section, "The Burial of the Dead," introduces the diverse themes of disillusionment and despair.

The second, "A Game of Chess," employs vignettes of several characters—alternating narrations—that address those themes experientially. "The Fire Sermon,"

The third section, offers a philosophical meditation in relation to the imagery of death and views of self-denial in juxtaposition influenced by Augustine of Hippo and eastern religions.

After a fourth section, "Death by Water," which includes a brief lyrical petition.

The culminating fifth section, "What the Thunder Said," concludes with an image of judgment.

عنوانها: «سرزمین ویران (حسین رازى، حمید عنایت و چنگیز مشیرى)»؛ «سرزمین هرز (بهمن شعله ور، مهدى وهابى)»؛ «دشت سترون و اشعار دیگر (پرویز لشکری)»؛ «دشت سترون (شهریار شهیدی)»؛ «ارض موات (بیژن الهی)»؛ «خراب آباد؛ معجزه قرن بیستم (محمد حامد نوری)»؛ «سرزمبن بی حاصل (حسن شهباز، جواد علافچی)»؛ شاعر: تی.اس الیوت؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش ماه مارس سال دوهزار و دو میلادی

سرزمین بی حاصل: نخستین چاپ این منظومه با عنوان «سرزمین ویران» با ترجمه جنابان حسین رازى، حمید عنایت و چنگیز مشیرى، در اسفند ماه سال 1334هجری خورشیدی، در جُنگ هنر و ادب امروز، دفتر اول چاپ شد؛

در زمستان سال 1343هجری خورشیدی، جناب «بهمن شعله ور» اقدام به ترجمه این اثر کرد، که با همین عنوان «سرزمین هرز»، در مجله آرش منتشر شد

انتشارات نیل در تهران نیز، در سال 1350هجری خورشیدی، این شعرها را با عنوان «دشت سترون و اشعار دیگر» به چاپ رساند، که ترجمه ی آن را جناب پرویز لشکرى انجام داده بود

در سال 1357هجری خورشیدی مترجم دیگرى نیز به سراغ شعرهاى الیوت رفت؛ این بار جناب حسن شهباز، کتاب الیوت را ترجمه و به بنگاه ترجمه و نشر کتاب سپرد؛

نشر فاریاب در سال 1362هجری خورشیدی، ترجمه ی جناب بهمن شعله ور را، با عنوان «سرزمین هرز»، بار دیگر به نام خود چاپ و منتشر کرد

آخرین ترجمه پیش از کتاب حاضر نیز، در مؤسسه ی نشر هما، با عنوان «دشت سترون» انجام شد

این کتاب در سال 1377هجری خورشیدی در بازار کتاب ایران توزیع شد؛

همچنین نشر امتداد در تهران هم، به سراغ شعرهاى این شاعر انگلیسى رفته، و کتاب «سرزمین هرز» را با ترجمه ی جناب مهدى وهابى چاپ و منتشر کرده است

ترجمه هاى یاد شده، در حال حاضر جزء کتابهاى کمیاب بازار کتاب هستند؛ البته به این فهرست، علاوه بر ترجمه ی جناب جواد علافچی، و ترجمه ی جناب هومن عزیزی را هم، که در سایت اینترنتی مانی ها منتشر شده باید افزود

نقل تکه ای از شعر: درخت خشک سایه ندارد؛ جیرجیرک، راحتت نمی­گذارد؛ در این سنگ­های خشک، صدای آبی نیست؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 24/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی


You know, one of the greatest poems of the 20th century and that kind of thing. I must know a fair amount of it by heart.

Here's a story about "The Waste Land" that some people may find amusing. Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate in Cambridge, a friend of mine asked me for advice on how to impress female Eng Lit majors. Well, I said, you could do worse than use The Waste Land. Just memorise a few lines, and you'll probably be able to bluff successfully.

We did some rehearsals, and eventually agreed on the following script. He would start off by quoting the first few lines:

"April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain."

And then he would say, But that's not my favourite bit! and quote the following:

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess."

He tried it out a couple of times, and it worked! Female Eng Lit majors, I apologise for assisting with this deception. It wasn't very nice of me.


You guys. YOU GUYS. So this is where all those lines come from? “April is the cruelest month”, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” and “Consider Phlebas”?

Well, damn.

I was a science major in college, and took humanities courses for fun, but neither one of my two required English classes covered this poem. And so I missed out on deep analysis or even just not too deep explanation. Because I just read it four times in a row — and no, I don’t get it. I tried to read some annotations, and I just don’t get it. I even found three different Russian translations of this poem hoping that a different language would help elucidate meaning. And still no luck — even after resultant seven(!!!) times reading it. Individual bits make sense (sometimes) but the big picture, the gestalt, escapes me. Unless it’s not supposed to come together, in which case I’m cool.

Ahhh, that’s a good line.

I may be a tad suspicious of poetry that requires extensive annotations to get it. Apparently the poem alone is under 20 pages but there is a 320 page book with annotations for it??? I can just picture Eliot rubbing his hands together and giggling in the supervillain-like manner over the image of generations of English scholar mining the poem for meaning.

But hey, the opening four lines are just amazing; there’s absolutely nothing about them that isn’t perfect:
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

I mean, I don’t even care that reading it seven times in a row, in two different languages, left me confused. Those four lines with that rhythm and cadence and whatever that literary trick of ending those lines like that — those alone are worth it.

Oh, and this one caught my attention:
“And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.”

Yeah. Beautiful. And frustratingly difficult.

But now I can feel all smug knowing where the quotable lines come from, even if I still have no clue about what it actually *is*.

Star ratings? These are meaningless here. So 4 stars for 4 perfect opening lines.

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

I read a lot of poems as an English major back in the day.* Not many have stuck with me over the years, but The Waste Land is one of them: T.S. Eliot's lamentation about the spiritual drought in our day, the waste land of our Western society, lightened by a few fleeting glimpses of hope. It's fragmented, haunting, laden with symbolism and allusions, difficult, and utterly brilliant.

A diverse cast of characters take turns narrating the poem, or having their conversations overheard by the narrator, including:

✍ a Lithuanian countess, reminiscing about her childhood and life ("I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter")
✍ a prophetic voice, like Ezekiel, examining the barrenness of civilization ("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 ...")
✍ Madame Sosostris, a famous but fake clairvoyant, telling a fortune with tarot cards ("I do not find the Hanged Man. Fear death by water. I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring. Thank you.")
✍ a bored woman of leisure, talking to her husband, who answers in his mind ("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.")
✍ Two women talking in a bar about sex and abortion ("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.")

... and many more. Those are just the main ones in the first two (of five) sections). Symbols of drought and fertility, spiritual waste and renewal, surface and resurface, showing a different facet each time. I'd forgotten that the Holy Grail (cup) and Holy Lance (spear) doubled as a nifty set of female/male sexual symbols!

This is a poem that deserves to be read, taken apart and studied, and then simply read again and appreciated.

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins..."

*I still have my 2600 page The Norton Anthology of English Literature, which has extensive analysis and footnotes. It also has my helpful handwritten margin notes from 30+ years ago, written in the most amazingly lovely, minuscule handwriting imaginable (seriously, the letters are about a half a millimeter high) that I could never in a million years recreate now.

Bill Kerwin

I would not presume to offer anything approaching a definitive judgment of this unique and influential poem, a poem which presents us—in early modernist fashion—with a provocative collage of voices and scenes, fragments which Eliot has collected from the “heap of broken images” that litter the desert of our culture, but which he presents in a way that grants them new terror and new poignancy, in a way that shows us “fear in a handful of dust” and hints--if only by its absence--at the possibility of a greener world to come.

First off, let me say I was disappointed in this little edition. I picked it up initially because it contained an introduction by Paul Maldoon, an Irish poet with a reputation for allusiveness and obscurity—just the sort to illuminate this fragmentary and cryptic masterpiece.

But his introduction is brief and not terribly helpful, and his enthusiasm for Irish literature leads him to see literary connections where they do not exist. For example, although I believe he is correct when he says the “Nighttown” episode of Ulysses is a major influence on the poem, he is mistaken when he speculates that Eliot’s working title for it,”He Do the Police in Different Voices” is also derived from this episode. (It is actually a quotation from a character in Dicken’s A Mutual Friend, who is describing the oral reading technique of her precocious foster child, how he brings to life the crime stories published in the sensational magazine, The Police Gazette.)

I was also disappointed in the lack of notes. I was looking for more extensive annotations, because I need them to help me unmask many references in this often obscure poem. But when they said “notes,” I guess the editors just meant Eliot’s original notes, which are almost invariably appended to the poem anyway, whatever the edition.

I’ll end by reproducing a few passages which illustrate something I noticed for the first time this reading: the large number of gothic and decadent images in this poem. In spite of its classical allusions, modernist structure and tone, we are still not that far from the decadent ‘90’s here:
“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!”

* * * * * * * * *

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…

* * * * * * * * *

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...
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.

* * * * * * * * *

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank...
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.

* * * * * * * * *

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?

* * * * * * * *

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


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

The above mentioned lines mark one of the most profound onsets in the history of modernist literature; and perhaps with eruption of the highly dense, heart pounding effusion, a magical spell envelops the reader who would be kept shifting between time and space, embark and decay of civilization, prophecy and satire, philosophy and faith, life and death throughout the mind-clouding, breath- taking journey of around 433 lines; of which, some can stand on their own alone protruding their beings through the undulations of nothingness. The ghostly but spectral voyage starts with The burial of dead , takes one along through the graveyards, stony mystical landscapes to hyacinth gardens, up to the magical but heart poundings scenes exuded out of mystery of tarot cards. At times, one might feel lost as if something unknown but with mighty prowess is carrying one to nowhere but then a sudden clout strikes your consciousness with a colossal impact, you are taken aback by sudden surge of the intensity as you come to Unreal City; and out of nowhere, death strikes you, Dante' s Inferno emerges out of cloud of your memory. You are taken through threads of life emerging out from dead. The game of black and white squares, arranged in an alternate manner to give a checkered impression, brings you to the stark absurdity of life- the change of Philomel embodies the absurdness prevailed in the life of Philomel which (who) has been transformed by gods, but as a compensation, and who cries her heart out of agony yet the world is so deaf and insensitive to her anguish that it occurs a heart-rending song to it. You are blown further on gust of wind towards a nether world where the most potent questions, but disguised under the sheath of ignorance (or perhaps incompetence), surge up by opening grand (ferocious) arms, from the depth of being and nothingness.

The idea of The Waste Land (perhaps) seems to be sprouted out of modern problems—the war, industrialization, abortion, urban life—which the poet addresses in it and at the same time to participate in a literary tradition. Eliot once, famously, wrote his friend Conrad Akein: ''It's interesting to cut yourself to pieces once in a while and wait to see if the fragments will sprout", the imagination of Eliot resembles the decaying land that is the subject of the poem: nothing seems to take root among the stony rubbish left behind by old poems and scraps of popular culture. As the other poems of Eliot are, The Waste Land is highly symbolic and extensively use allusions, quotations (in several languages), a variety of verse forms, and a collage of poetic fragments to create the sense of speaking for an entire culture in crisis. It's a poem of radical doubt and negation, urging that every human desire be stilled except the desire for self-surrender, for restraint, and for peace. The poets has blend satire and absurdity so well that it looks probably a superhuman task to determine whether the use of some themes/ rhymes, in way which cajoles a seemingly comic effect, is deliberate or accidental as surfaces up. The poem is quite meticulously, but effortlessly, written in fragments- not like traditional verses- which would give altogether different effects to the reader when they are read in fragments or in entirely.

The poem concludes with a rapid series of allusive literary fragments: seven of the last eight lines are quotations. As one moves through these quotations, it might occur as if the poem becomes conscious of itself, the being of the poem emanates from the verbose kingdom of words and the poem itself stands in front of the reader- staring straight into the eyes of reader; and a sudden shiver runs through his/ her spine to realize what has just traverses through the scanner of 'conscious' eyes.

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge in falling down falling down falling down

Poi s'ascose mel foco che gil affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon- O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Acquitane a la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fir you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata
Shantih shantih shantih.

It's a great achievement in modernist art but one needs to be patient to truly feel the shivers of its magical existence; as it's a characteristic of modernism, the appreciation of the poem demands devotional labor as well as a sympathetic imagination. Beneath these meticulously crafted poetics lay assumptions about art that were curiously religious, and that fostered theories of poetry as a liturgy for the elect.

The Burial of Dead

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living or dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
O'ed und leer das Meer.

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.

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
Gilding 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?

Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful dancing of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed.

Alok Mishra

Some people are born to become the trendsetters and I will say that T. S. Eliot has opened the new gates to poetry after the publication of his masterpiece The Waste Land. Poetry was supposed to be about lyrics and music only. He created a different kind of disturbing music but that rang to the ears the alarming sound of perversion in humanity... The Waste Land will be remembered for its uniqueness and incompleteness and even then, for creating a new trend...


I quite often cite the famous line "April is the cruellest month" completely out of context. And I happily refer to The Waste Land and Eliot's Nobel Prize when I do.

However, I can't say I ever understood the long trail of lines that it contains, even though I read it several times.

And most bizarre of all, I don't even agree with my favourite quote from it. FEBRUARY is the cruellest month: dark and cold and wet, and no end in sight!

Somehow, I don't think I missed the point of the poem though, by misquoting, by disagreeing with the statement, and by not getting it at all. I think The Waste Land means just that: human confusion on all levels expressed in poetic language.

February is the stupidest month too, so I might be wrong.

Sean Barrs

This is the hardest poem I’ve ever read. Certainly, the difficulty experienced when reading something is not enough reason to leave a bad review. I’m currently reading Ulysses, a notoriously difficult book, but I am enjoying it nonetheless. This, however, is an entirely different creature.

Despite being an English student I do find poetry difficult. It may be because of my background. I transferred from sciences into English, so I had very little experience beyond a few poems I read at school. So when I entered the world of poetry at degree level I was way out of my depth. It took me a long time to catch up on what I’d missed, and it took me even longer to actually enjoy poetry. The point is reading poetry is different to reading novels. It’s harder to do, and I have to concentrate greatly to do it. But, every so often, when you find the right poem for you, it takes you away as you become lost in a mirage of words, images and metaphors. And sometimes, it strikes a chord within you and you feel everything the poem is saying.

The Waste Land does none of these things. Instead it bombards you with countless intertextual references and information. In order to gain a thorough a succinct understanding of this poem, a poem that takes no longer than thirty minutes to read, I would likely have to spend five-six hours researching the meaning of the terminology, phrasing and historical mentions. That’s how difficult it is. Perhaps if I was a white middle class, highly educated man from the nineteen-twenties then I might be able to appreciate this poem more. But, as it stands, I’m not!

The worse thing about the poem for me is its lack of coherency. This in itself is not a bad thing. It’s a modernist text; this is what modernist authors did. But, when combined with the fact that the surface level of the writing is near incomprehensible to me, it became rather a painful experience to read it. There are some obvious things to take from the poem. It is post world war one and the content is an image of the destruction that followed, the deprivation, the sadness, the darkness and, of course, the actually wasted land ruined by war. But these images aren’t enough for me to enjoy the poem.

It would be like reading Shakespeare’s The Tempest and coming to the conclusion that it is a play about the follies of revenge. This is true, but it is also about many other things that combine to form a piece of artistic brilliance. When I read The Waste Land I feel stupid. I feel like I’m reading something that I cannot quite understand, and this annoys me. I feel like at times T.S Elliot is being pretentious, inserting references just do demonstrate his intellect rather than contribute something meaningful to the poem at large. And I don’t like it. I don't want to find out what they mean.

For me this poem is everything great poetry shouldn’t be. But this is just my opinion. For the right reader this poem would be excellence itself. However, it’s not something I’d personally recommend. And, if that wasn't enough, as a side note, T.S Eliot is highly critical towards Shelley- we could never get on!