The Waste Land: Poem by T. S. Eliot English YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Poem by T. S. Eliot

About the Poem

  • Written – 1921
  • Published – 1922
  • One of the central works of Modernist Literature
  • Theme – Spiritual and emotional sterility of the world post-World War I
  • Structure – Fragmented and alienated
  • Divided into 5 sections

The Criterion

  • Literary Magazine
  • T. S. Eliot
  • October 1922-January 1939
The Criterion

Sources Used by Eliot

  • Pagan myths
  • Christian myths
  • Various Anthropological sources
  • Buddhism
  • Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
  • Other Oriental sources
  • Various Literary Texts

The Burial of the Dead

  • Anglican Book of Common Prayers
  • Death, Rebirth and Modern times
  • Man lives in a state of life-in-death
  • Water Image
  • Men on the London Bridge
  • Reference to Dante՚s “Inferno” - “I had not thought death had undone so many.”

(Eliot, line 63)

A Game of Chess

  • Meaninglessness of life without love
  • Comparison between life in modern wasteland and game of chess
  • Life of women: A comparison between women of different social standings
  • Violation of women՚s desires – Painting of Philomela
  • “Are you alive or not? Is there nothing in your head?” (Eliot, line 126)
  • Reference to Shakespeare՚s Hamlet (4.5. 71 - 72) - “Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.” (Eliot, line 172)

The Fire Sermon

  • Buddha՚s Fire Sermon
  • Comparison between the world during Renaissance and the modern world
    • River Thames
    • Sexual Relationship
    • Song of the Nightingale
    • Foot Washing Ceremony
  • Passion as the source of suffering in this world
  • Last word of the section – “burning” (Eliot, line 311)

Death by Water

  • Shortest of the five sections of the poem
  • Death of Phlebas
  • Water as a means of getting freedom from passion
  • Phlebas as a representative of the entire mankind

What the Thunder Said

  • Crucifixion of Christ

“He who was living is now dead.” (Eliot, line 328)

  • Search for water – sterile thunder
  • Allusion to Luke 24 – Loss of spirituality
  • Crumbling of the Civilizations

“Falling towers/Jerusalem Athens Alexandria/Vienna London/Unreal” (Eliot, lines 373 - 376)

  • Linking western and eastern traditions
  • Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – DA – “Datta” , “Dayadhvam” , “Damyata”


  • Fragmented poem with a global vision
  • “Shantih Shantih Shantih” (Eliot, line 433)

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