Waste Land Copy


  • Representative modernist writer;
  • Uses myth to describe the human experience;
  • Depicts human existence as fragmented, atomised;
  • Combines different voices, traditions, and discourses;
  • Considers that the form of poetry also carries meaning;
  • Relies on figurative language;
  • Uses fragmented structure in his poems;
  • Allusive and musical language.
  • Themes: the exhaustion and cultural crisis in the aftermath of the First World War.



Literary Form – an epic poem


Main theme: the past and memory.

The poem is a diagnosis of the chaos of modernity and also provides an example of how art can order the experience. It tries to preserve the cultural memory, which the author feels is extraordinarily important for humankind. Modern society is presented as suffering from cultural amnesia, which has led to a moral decline, caused by the fact that people fail to understand their cultural history. The poem juxtaposes fragments of various elements of literary and mythic traditions with scenes and sounds of modern life. The poetic collage leads to a reinterpretation of canonical texts and creates a historical context for the examination of humanity.

Related themes:

  • Literature
  • History
  • Myth and religion

Other themes:

  • Isolation
  • Appearances

The poem’s content

1.The Burial of the Dead

The first section of The Waste Land takes its title from a line in the Anglican burial service. It is made up of four vignettes, each seemingly from the perspective of a different speaker.

  • Marie’s childhood memories;
  • Description of a waste land;
  • Fortune reading by Madame Sosostris;
  • People flying over London.

2.A Game of Chess

The section’s title is an explicit reference to a play of the same title by Thomas Middleton; in which he uses chess as a metaphor for the steps in the process of seduction. The section is written as two dialogues focusing on female characters (an elegant and superficial woman, concerned with her looks and a married woman). Both are equally unhappy and poisoned by the roles they assumed.

3.The Fire Sermon

Description of the river Thames turns to a scene of death and decay and reveals the corruption of contemporary society.

References to myth and literary tradition:

  • The Greek myth of Philomel;
  • The blind prophet Tiresias;
  • The goddess Hera

4.Death by Water

The brief scene describing death and decay at the bottom of the ocean.

5.What the Thunder Said

In a stone desert, visions of the apocalyptic destruction caused by the war. The end is a reference to Hindu myths, in which the creator shows people that if they follow the principles of giving, compassion, and self-control, they could reach peace and understanding.



  • Mixed meters
  • Free verse (blank verse, “low class” language, popular songs quotations, enjambment).
  • Enjambment example “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, stirring.”
  • Use of refrain to convey the uniformity of existence

Dramatic monologue: the speaker is constantly shifting between personalities, cultures, and historical moments. This results in a panoramic quality of the poem and makes it very fragmented.

Visual imagery focused on decay and death;

Quotations from other works, meant to include the poem in a larger lyrical tradition.

Similar to Joyce’s “Ulysses” in creating a polyphony of voices, which aim to describe the feeling of modern living.