The Waste Land: Wikis


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The Waste Land[A] is a 434 line[B] modernist poem by T. S. Eliot published in 1922. It has been called "one of the most important poems of the 20th century."[1] Despite what is seen by some as the poem's obscurity – its shifts between satire and prophecy, its abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, its elegiac but intimidating summoning up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures – the poem has nonetheless become a familiar touchstone of modern literature. Among its famous phrases are "April is the cruellest month" (its first line); "I will show you fear in a handful of dust"; and (its last line) the mantra in the Sanskrit language "Shantih shantih shantih."[C]


Composition history



Eliot probably worked on what was to become The Waste Land for several years preceding its first publication in 1922. In a letter to New York lawyer and patron of modernism John Quinn dated 9 May 1921, Eliot wrote that he had "a long poem in mind and partly on paper which I am wishful to finish."[2]

Richard Aldington, in his memoirs, relates that "a year or so" before Eliot read him the manuscript draft of The Waste Land in London, Eliot visited him in the country. While walking through a graveyard, they started discussing Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Aldington writes: "I was surprised to find that Eliot admired something so popular, and then went on to say that if a contemporary poet, conscious of his limitations as Gray evidently was, would concentrate all his gifts on one such poem he might achieve a similar success."[3]

Eliot, having been diagnosed with some form of nervous disorder, had been recommended rest, and applied for three months' leave from the bank where he was employed; the reason stated on his staff card was "nervous breakdown". He and his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot, travelled to the coastal resort of Margate for a period of convalescence. While there, Eliot worked on the poem, and possibly showed an early version to Ezra Pound when, after a brief return to London, the Eliots travelled to Paris in November 1921 and were guests of Pound. Eliot was en route to Lausanne, Switzerland, for treatment by Doctor Roger Vittoz, who had been recommended to him by Ottoline Morrell; Vivien was to stay at a sanatorium just outside Paris. In Lausanne, Eliot produced a 19-page version of the poem.[4] He returned from Lausanne in early January 1922. Pound then made detailed editorial comments and significant cuts to the manuscript. Eliot would later dedicate the poem to Pound.

Manuscript drafts

Eliot sent the manuscript drafts of the poem to John Quinn in October 1922; they reached Quinn in New York in January 1923.[D] Upon Quinn's death they were inherited by his sister, Julia Anderson. Years later, in the early 1950s, Mrs Anderson's daughter, Mary Conroy, found the documents in storage. In 1958 she sold them privately to the New York Public Library.

It was not until April 1968 that the existence and whereabouts of the manuscript drafts were made known to Valerie Eliot, the poet's second wife and widow.[5] In 1971, Faber and Faber published a "facsimile and transcript" of the original drafts, edited and annotated by Valerie Eliot. The full poem prior to the Pound editorial changes is contained in the facsimile.


The drafts of the poem reveal that it originally contained almost twice as much material as the final published version. The significant cuts are in part due to Ezra Pound's suggested changes, although Eliot himself is also responsible for removing large sections.

The now famous opening lines of the poem – 'April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, ...' – did not appear until the top of the second page of the typescript. The first page of the typescript contained 54 lines in the sort of street voice that we hear again at the end of the second section, 'A Game of Chess.' This page appears to have been lightly crossed out in pencil by Eliot himself.

Although there are several signs of similar adjustments made by Eliot, and a number of significant comments by Vivien, the most significant editorial input is clearly that of Pound, who recommended many cuts to the poem.

'The typist home at teatime' section was originally in entirely regular stanzas of iambic pentameter, with a rhyme scheme of abab – the same form as Gray's Elegy, which was in Eliot's thoughts around this time. Pound's note against this section of the draft is "verse not interesting enough as verse to warrant so much of it". In the end, the regularity of the four-line stanzas was abandoned.

At the beginning of 'The Fire Sermon' in one version, there was a lengthy section in heroic couplets, in imitation of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock. It described one lady Fresca (who appeared in the earlier poem "Gerontion"). As Richard Ellmann describes it, "Instead of making her toilet like Pope's Belinda, Fresca is going to it, like Joyce's Bloom." The lines read:

Leaving the bubbling beverage to cool,
Fresca slips softly to the needful stool,
Where the pathetic tale of Richardson
Eases her labour till the deed is done . . .

Ellmann notes "Pound warned Eliot that since Pope had done the couplets better, and Joyce the defecation, there was no point in another round."

Pound also excised some shorter poems that Eliot wanted to insert between the five sections. One of these, that Eliot had entitled 'Dirge', begins

Full fathom five your Bleistein lies
Under the flatfish and the squids.
Graves' Disease in a dead Jew's eyes!
Where the crabs have eat the lids
. . .

At the request of Eliot's wife, Vivien, a line in the A Game of Chess section was removed from the poem: "And we shall play a game of chess/The ivory men make company between us/Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door". This section is apparently based on their marital life, and she may have felt these lines too revealing. The "ivory men" line must have meant something to Eliot though; in 1960, thirteen years after Vivien's death, he inserted the line in a copy made for sale to aid the London Library.

In a late December 1921 letter to Eliot to celebrate the "birth" of the poem Pound wrote a bawdy poem of 48 lines entitled "Sage Homme" in which he identified Eliot as the mother of the poem but compared himself to the midwife.[6] Some of the verses are:

E. P. hopeless and unhelped
Enthroned in the marmorean skies
His verse omits realities,
Angelic hands with mother of pearl
Retouch the strapping servant girl,
Balls and balls and balls again
Can not touch his fellow men.
His foaming and abundant cream
Has coated his world. The coat of a dream;
Or say that the upjut of sperm
Has rendered his sense pachyderm.

Publishing history

Before the editing had even begun Eliot found a publisher.[E] Horace Liveright of the New York publishing firm of Boni and Liveright was in Paris for a number of meetings with Ezra Pound. At a dinner on 3 January 1922 he made offers for works by Pound, James Joyce (Ulysses) and Eliot. Eliot was to get a royalty of 15% for a book version of the poem planned for autumn publication.[7]

To maximize his income and reach a broader audience, Eliot also sought a deal with magazines. Being the London correspondent for The Dial magazine[8] and a college friend of its co-owner and co-editor, Scofield Thayer, the Dial was an ideal choice. Even though the Dial offered $150 (£34)[9] for the poem (25% more than its standard rate) Eliot was offended that a year's work would be valued so low, especially since another contributor was found to have been given an exceptional compensation for a short story.[10] The deal with the Dial almost fell through (other magazines considered were the Little Review and Vanity Fair) but with Pound's efforts eventually a deal was worked out where, in addition to the $150, Eliot would be awarded the Dial magazine's second annual prize for outstanding service to letters. The prize carried an award of $2,000 (£450).[11]

In New York in the late summer (with John Quinn, a lawyer and literary patron, representing Eliot's interests) Boni and Liveright made an agreement with The Dial where the magazine would be the first to publish the poem in the US by agreeing to purchase 350 copies of the book at discount from Boni and Liveright.[12] Boni and Liveright would use the publicity of the award of the Dial's prize to Eliot to increase their initial sales.

The poem was first published in the UK, without the author's notes, in the first issue (October 1922) of The Criterion, a literary magazine started and edited by Eliot. The first appearance of the poem in the US was in the November 1922 issue of The Dial magazine (actually published in late October). In December 1922, the poem was published in the US in book form by Boni and Liveright, the first publication to print the notes. In September 1923, the Hogarth Press, a private press run by Eliot's friends Leonard and Virginia Woolf, published the first UK book edition of The Waste Land in an edition of about 450 copies, the type handset by Virginia Woolf.

The publication history of The Waste Land (as well as other pieces of Eliot's poetry and prose) has been documented by Donald Gallup.[13]

Eliot, whose 1922 salary at Lloyds Bank was £500 ($2,215)[14]made approximately £630 ($2,800) with the Dial, Boni and Liveright and Hogarth Press publications.[15][F]


Eliot originally considered titling the poem He do the Police in Different Voices[16]. In the version of the poem Eliot brought back from Switzerland, the first two sections of the poem – 'The Burial of the Dead' and 'A Game of Chess' – appeared under this title. This strange phrase is taken from Charles Dickens' novel Our Mutual Friend, in which the widow Betty Higden, says of her adopted foundling son Sloppy: "You mightn't think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices." This would help the reader to understand that, while there are many different voices (speakers) in the poem, there is one central consciousness. What was lost by the rejection of this title Eliot might have felt compelled to restore by commenting on the commonalities of his characters in his note about Tiresias.

In the end, the title Eliot chose was The Waste Land. In his first note to the poem he attributes the title to Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend, From Ritual to Romance. The allusion is to the wounding of the Fisher King and the subsequent sterility of his lands. To restore the King and make his lands fertile again the Grail questor must ask "What ails you?"

The poem's title is often mistakenly given as "Waste Land" (as used by Weston) or "Wasteland", dropping the article. However, in a letter to Ezra Pound, Eliot politely insisted that the title include the article.[17]


The epigraph and dedication to The Waste Land showing some of the languages that Eliot used in the poem: Latin, Greek, English and Italian.

The poem is preceded by a Latin and Greek epigraph from The Satyricon of Petronius. In English, it reads: "I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl of Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to her, Sibyl, what do you want? she replied I want to die."

Following the epigraph is a dedication (added in a 1925 republication) that reads "For Ezra Pound: il miglior fabbro" Here Eliot is both quoting line 117 of Canto XXVI of Dante's Purgatorio, the second cantica of The Divine Comedy, where Dante defines the troubadour Arnaut Daniel as "the best smith of the mother tongue" and also Pound's title of chapter 2 of his The Spirit of Romance (1910) where he translated the phrase as "the better craftsman."[18] This dedication was originally written in ink by Eliot in the 1922 Boni & Liveright paperback edition of the poem presented to Pound; it was subsequently included in future editions.[19]

The five parts of The Waste Land are entitled:

  1. The Burial of the Dead
  2. A Game of Chess
  3. The Fire Sermon
  4. Death by Water
  5. What the Thunder Said

The first four sections of the poem correspond to the Greek classical elements of Earth (burial), Air (voices – the draft title for this section was "In the Cage", an image of hanging in air; also, the element of Air is generally thought to be aligned with the intellect and the mind), Fire (passion), and Water (the draft of the poem had additional water imagery in a fishing voyage.) The title of the fifth section could be a reference to the fifth element of Aether, which is included in many mystical traditions (one line here mentions aetherial rumours).

The text of the poem is followed by several pages of notes, purporting to explain his metaphors, references, and allusions. Some of these notes are helpful in interpreting the poem, but some are arguably even more puzzling, and many of the most opaque passages are left unannotated. The notes were added after Eliot's publisher requested something longer to justify printing The Waste Land in a separate book.[G] There is some question as to whether Eliot originally intended The Waste Land to be a collection of individual poems (additional poems were supplied to Pound for his comments on including them) or to be considered one poem with five sections.


The style of the work in part grows out of Eliot's interest in exploring the possibilities of dramatic monologue. This interest dates back at least as far as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Eliot also enjoyed the music hall, and something of the flavour of this popular form of entertainment gets into the poem. It follows the pattern of the musical fugue, in which many voices enter throughout the piece re-stating the themes.

Above all perhaps it is the disjointed nature of the poem, the way it jumps from one adopted manner to another, the way it moves between different voices and makes use of phrases in foreign languages, that is the most distinctive feature of the poem's style. Interestingly, at the same time as Eliot was writing The Waste Land, Robert Bridges was working on the first of his Neo-Miltonic Syllabics, a poem called 'Poor Poll', which also includes lines in several different languages.


Sources from which Eliot quotes or to which he alludes include the works of: Homer, Sophocles, Petronius, Virgil, Ovid, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Dante Alighieri, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Gérard de Nerval, Thomas Kyd, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, Joseph Conrad, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Charles Baudelaire, Richard Wagner, Oliver Goldsmith, Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Paul Verlaine, Walt Whitman and Bram Stoker. Eliot also makes extensive use of Scriptural writings including the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the Hindu Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and the Buddha's Fire Sermon, and of cultural and anthropological studies such as Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough and Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance (particularly its study of the Wasteland motif in Celtic mythology). Eliot writes in the head note that "Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L Weston."[H] The symbols Eliot employed, in addition to the Wasteland, include The Fisher King, the Tarot Deck, the Perilous Chapel, and the Grail Quest. However, thirty years later Eliot recanted, expressing his regret at "having sent so many enquirers off on a wild goose chase."[20]

Critical reception

The poem's initial reception was mixed; though many hailed its portrayal of universal despair and ingenious technique, others, such as F. L. Lucas, detested the poem from the first, while Charles Powell commented "so much waste paper".[21]

Edmund Wilson's influential piece for The Dial in 1922, "The Poetry of Drouth," which many critics have noted is unusually generous in arguing that the poem has an effective cohesive structure, emphasizes autobiographical and emotional elements:

Not only is life sterile and futile, but men have tasted its sterility and futility a thousand times before. T. S. Eliot, walking the desert of London, feels profoundly that the desert has always been there. Like Tiresias, he has sat below the wall of Thebes; like Buddha, he has seen the world as an arid conflagration; like the Sibyl, he has known everything and known everything in vain.

Horror author H. P. Lovecraft, who despised Eliot, called the poem "a practically meaningless collection of phrases, learned allusions, quotations, slang, and scraps in general"[22] and wrote a scathing parody called "Waste Paper: A Poem Of Profound Insignificance".[1]

Critic Harold Bloom has observed that the forerunners for The Waste Land are Alfred Lord Tennyson's Maud: A Monodrama and particularly Walt Whitman's elegy, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd. The major images of Eliot's poem are found in Whitman's ode: the lilacs that begin Eliot's poem, the "unreal city," the duplication of the self, the "dear brother," the "murmur of maternal lamentation," the image of faces peering at us, and the hermit thrush's song.

One evening Eliot read from the poem to the Royal Family during WWII. In 1940 the Queen Mother commented

We had this rather lugubrious man in a suit, and he read a poem... I think it was called The Desert. And first the girls [Elizabeth and Margaret] got the giggles and then I did and then even the King.[23]

Allusions in "The Burial of the Dead"

"The Burial of the Dead" serves as the title of Eliot's first section and is an allusion to The Book of Common Prayer, the prayer book of the Church of England (Anglican).

The second section of "The Burial of the Dead" shifts from the voice of the powerless Marie and becomes the voice of the narrator. The first twelve lines of this section include three Old Testament allusions, and the narrator finds himself in a summer drought that has transformed the land into a desert. He is referred to as the "Son of man," a title common in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Old Testament), sometimes applied to denote any man - i.e. son of man = human, but sometimes also used to single out a specific man, for example Ezekiel, who was called upon by God to warn Israel to repent of their idolatry. It is also a title used in the New Testament, notably by Jesus when referring to himself, speaking of his coming death and apocalyptic return, or when making prophetic predictions of judgement to come (e.g. Mark 10:32-34, Matthew 20:17-19; Luke 18:31-34 and Mark 8:38-9:1, Matthew 16:27-28, Luke 9:26-27).

In Ezekiel, God finally tells the prophet that Israel will not change; therefore, their altars will be desolate, images broken, and their cities will lay in waste. In the book of Ecclesiastes, God warns the Jewish people that they should remember the days of their youth, for in their old age "fears shall be in the way" and "then shall the dust return to the earth as it was" (Authorized King James Version, Ezekiel 6:4, Ecclesiastes 12:5-7). Gish analyzes these allusions by writing, "Dead land, broken images, fear and dust, all take on the significance of human failure" (50). After such a depressing sequence of events, the narrator is offered shelter under a mysterious "red rock" which is an allusion to Isaiah's reference to the coming Messiah who will be "as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Authorized Version, Isaiah 32:2).

The crowd marches in the "Unreal city" under the fog of a winter's dawn. There are so many people that the narrator exclaims, "I had not thought death had undone so many"(63). This verse is a direct allusion to Dante's Inferno and the people that he witnessed in the vestibule of Hell. Dante writes, "An interminable train of souls pressed on, so many that I wondered how death could have undone so many" (3.55-57). Dante, describing one in the crowd whom he recognizes, writes, "I saw the shade of the one who must have been the coward who made the great refusal" (3.59-60). The "great refusal" that Dante refers to is the lack of choosing either good or evil. They have died without ever living; furthermore, they may not enter either Hell or Heaven since they made no choice in life to be virtuous or to sin.

See also



  1. ^ The title is sometimes mistakenly written as The Wasteland.
  2. ^ Due to a line counting error Eliot footnoted some of the last lines incorrectly (with the last line being given as 433). The error was never corrected and a line count of 433 is often cited.
  3. ^ Eliot's note for this line reads: "Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. 'The Peace which passeth understanding' is our equivalent to this word."
  4. ^ For a short account of the Eliot/Quinn correspondence about The Waste Land and the history of the drafts see Eliot 1971 pp. xxii-xxix.
  5. ^ For an account of the poem's publication and the politics involved see Lawrenre Rainey's "The Price of Modernism: Publishing The Waste Land." The latest (and cited) version can be found in: Rainey 2005 pp. 71-101. Other versions can be found in: Bush 1991 pp. 91-111 and Eliot 2001 pp. 89-111
  6. ^ Unskilled labor worth $2,800 in 1922 would cost about $125,300 in 2006.[24]
  7. ^ Eliot discussing his notes: "[W]hen it came time to print The Waste Land as a little book--for the poem on its first appearance in The Dial and in The Criterion had no notes whatever--it was discovered that the poem was inconveniently short, so I set to work to expand the notes, in order to provide a few more pages of printed matter, with the result that they became the remarkable exposition of bogus scholarship that is still on view to-day."[25]
  8. ^ This headnote can be found in most critical editions that include Eliots own notes.


  1. ^ Bennett, Alan (12 July 2009). "Margate's shrine to Eliot's muse". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2009.  
  2. ^ Eliot 1988, p. 451
  3. ^ Aldington p. 261
  4. ^ Eliot 1971 p. xxii
  5. ^ Eliot 1971 p. xxix
  6. ^ Eliot 1988 pp. 498-9
  7. ^ Book royalty deal: Rainey, p. 77
  8. ^ T. S. Eliot's "London Letters" to The Dial, viewed 28 February 2008.
  9. ^ 1922 U.S. dollars per British pound exchange rate: Officer
  10. ^ Dial's initial offer: Rainey, p. 78.
  11. ^ The Dial magazine's announcement of award to Eliot, viewed 28 February 2008
  12. ^ Dial purchasing books: Rainey, p. 86. Rainey adds that this increased the cost to the Dial by $315.
  13. ^ Gallup 1969 pp. 29-31, 208
  14. ^ Eliot's 1922 salary: Gordon 2000 p. 165
  15. ^ Total income from poem: Rainey, p. 100
  16. ^ Eliot 1971 p. 4
  17. ^ Eliot 1988 p. 567.
  18. ^ Pound 2005 p. 33
  19. ^ Wilhelm 1990 p. 309
  20. ^ Wild goose chase: Eliot 1961
  21. ^ Charles Powell, writing as 'C.P.', in a review of The Waste Land first published in the Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1923, page 7, and reprinted in T. S. Eliot: The Critical Heritage (Volume 1, pages 194 – 195). Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1982
  22. ^ S. T. Joshi, A dreamer and a visionary, p. 179
  23. ^ "Elizabeth, the Queen Mother," The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. Ed. Elizabeth Knowles. Oxford University Press, 2008
  24. ^ Williamson 2007
  25. ^ Eliot 1986 pp. 109-10

Cited works

  • Aldington, Richard (1941). Life for Life's Sake. The Viking Press.  
  • Bush, Ronald (1991). T. S. Eliot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521390745.  
  • Eliot, T.S. (1961) "The Frontiers of Criticism" in On Poetry and Poets. New York: Noonday Press.
  • Eliot, T. S. (1971) The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound Edited and with an Introduction by Valerie Eliot, Harcourt Brace & Company, ISBN 0-15-694870-2
  • Eliot, T. S. (1988) The Letters of T. S. Eliot, vol. 1. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich
  • Eliot, T. S. (1986) "The Frontiers of Criticism" in On Poetry and Poets London: Faber and Faber Ltd., London ISBN 0-571-08983-6
  • Eliot, T.S. (2001). The Waste Land. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0393974995.  
  • Gallup, Donald (1969). T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (A Revised and Extended Edition). New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.  
  • Gordon, Lyndall (2000). T. S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393320936.  
  • Officer, Lawrence H. (2008) "Dollar-Pound Exchange Rate From 1791",
  • Pound, Ezra (2005). The Spirit of Romance. New Directions. ISBN 0811216462.  
  • Rainey, Lawrence (2005). Revisiting the Waste Land. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300107072.  
  • Wilhelm, James J. (1990). Ezra Pound in London and Paris, 1908-1925. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 027100682X.  
  • Williamson, Samuel H. (2007) "Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1790 - 2006," MeasuringWorth.Com

Primary sources

  • Eliot, T. S. (1963). Collected Poems, 1909-1962. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. ISBN 0151189781.  
  • The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound by T. S. Eliot, annotated and edited by Valerie Eliot. (Faber and Faber, 1971) ISBN 0-571-09635-2 (Paberback ISBN 0-571-11503-9)

Secondary sources

  • Ackroyd, Peter (1984). T. S. Eliot. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0241113490.  
  • Bedient, Calvin (1986). He Do the Police in Different Voices. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226041417.  
  • Bloom, Harold (2003). Genius: a Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0446691291.  
  • Brooker, Jewel; Joseph Bentley (1990). Reading the Waste Land: Modernism and the Limits of Interpretation. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 0870238035.  
  • Drew, Elizabeth (1949). T. S. Eliot: The Design of His Poetry. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.  
  • Gish, Nancy (1988). The Waste Land: A Student's Companion to the Poem. Boston: Twayne. ISBN 0805780238.  
  • Miller, James (1977). T. S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0271012374.  
  • Moody, A. David (1994). The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521421276.  
  • North, Michael (ed.) (2000). The Waste Land (Norton Critical Editions). W. W. Norton. ISBN 0393974995.  
  • Reeves, Gareth (1994). T. S. Eliot's the Waste Land. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf. ISBN 0745007384.  
  • Southam, B.C. (1996). A Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. ISBN 0156002612.  

External links

Poem itself

Annotated versions


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Waste Land
by T. S. Eliot
The Waste Land (1922) is a highly influential 434-line modernist poem by T. S. Eliot. Despite its alleged obscurity, the poem has nonetheless become a familiar touchstone of modern literature, with its shifts between satire and prophecy, its abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location, and time, and elegiac but intimidating summoning up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures. Among its famous phrases are "April is the cruellest month" (its first line); "I will show you fear in a handful of dust"; and the Sanskrit "Shantih shantih shantih" (its last line).— Excerpted from The Waste Land on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


"Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Σίβιλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat illa: άποθανεϊν θέλω."
For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro.

The Burial of the Dead

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.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
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[1],
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, the cricket no relief,[2]
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
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.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?[3]
"You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl."
Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed' und leer das Meer.[4]
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards[5]. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes.[6] Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
Unreal City[7],
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[8].
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled[9],
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.[10]
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying "Stetson!
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
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,[11]
Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!"[12]

A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,[13]
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
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; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia[14],
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carved dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene[15]
The change of Philomel[16], by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale[17]
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
"Jug Jug" to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.
"My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
I never know what you are thinking. Think."
I think we are in rats' alley[18]
Where the dead men lost their bones.
"What is that noise?"
The wind under the door.[19]
"What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?"
Nothing again nothing.
You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
"Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?"[20]
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It's so elegant
So intelligent
"What shall I do now? What shall I do?"
I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
"With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?
"What shall we ever do?"
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.[21]
When Lil's husband got demobbed, I said—
I didn't mince my words, I said to her myself,
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. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o' that, I said.
Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
If you don't like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can't.
But if Albert makes off, it won't be for lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She's had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be alright, but I've never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won't leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don't want children?
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

The Fire Sermon

The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.[22]
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
And on the king my father's death before him.[23]
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.
But at my back from time to time I hear[24]
The sound of horns and motors,[25] which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter[26]
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et, O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole![27]
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.
Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants[28]
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias,[29] though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,[30]
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .
She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
"Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over."
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.[31]
"This music crept by me upon the waters"[32]
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour[33] of Ionian white and gold.
The river sweats[34]
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala
Elizabeth and Leicester[35]
Beating oars
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala
"Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe."[36]
"My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised 'a new start'.
I made no comment. What should I resent?"
"On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
la la
To Carthage then I came[37]
Burning burning burning burning[38]
O Lord Thou pluckest me out[39]
O Lord Thou pluckest

Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

What the Thunder Said[40]

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush[41] sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
Who is the third who walks always beside you?[42]
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?
What is that sound high in the air[43]
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
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
Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
Datta:[44] 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[45]
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison[46]
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
I sat upon the shore
Fishing,[47] with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina[48]
Quando fiam uti chelidon[49]—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie[50]
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.[51]
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih[52]


Original presentation of the author's notes may be found on the subpage Notes on The Waste Land.

  1. Cf. Ezekiel 2:1.
  2. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5.
  3. V. Tristan und Isolde, i, verses 5-8.
  4. Id. iii, verse 24.
  5. I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the "crowds of people," and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself.
  6. Cf. William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act 1, scene 2.
  7. Cf. Baudelaire:
    "Fourmillante cite;, cite; pleine de rêves,
    Ou le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant."
  8. Cf. Inferno, iii. 55-7.
    "si lunga tratta
    di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto
    che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta."
  9. Cf. Inferno, iv. 25-7:
    "Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
    "non avea pianto, ma' che di sospiri,
    "che l'aura eterna facevan tremare."
  10. A phenomenon which I have often noticed.
  11. Cf. the Dirge in Webster's White Devil.
  12. V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.
  13. Cf. Antony and Cleopatra, II. ii., l. 190.
  14. V. Aeneid, I. 726:
    dependent lychni laquearibus aureis incensi, et noctem flammis funalia vincunt.
  15. V. Milton, Paradise Lost, iv. 140.
  16. V. Ovid, Metamorphoses, vi, Philomela.
  17. Cf. Part III, l. 204.
  18. Cf. Part III, l. 195.
  19. Cf. Webster: "Is the wind in that door still?"
  20. Cf. Part I, l. 37, 48.
  21. Cf. the game of chess in Middleton's Women beware Women.
  22. V. Spenser, Prothalamion.
  23. Cf. The Tempest, I. ii.
  24. Cf. Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.
  25. Cf. Day, Parliament of Bees:
    "When of the sudden, listening, you shall hear,
    "A noise of horns and hunting, which shall bring
    "Actaeon to Diana in the spring,
    "Where all shall see her naked skin . . ."
  26. I do not know the origin of the ballad from which these lines are taken: it was reported to me from Sydney, Australia.
  27. V. Verlaine, Parsifal.
  28. The currants were quoted at a price "cost, insurance and freight to London"; and the Bill of Lading, etc., were to be handed to the buyer upon payment of the sight draft.
  29. Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a "character," is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. The whole passage from Ovid is of great anthropological interest:
    '. . . Cum Iunone iocos et maior vestra profecto est
    Quam, quae contingit maribus,' dixisse, 'voluptas.'
    Illa negat; placuit quae sit sententia docti
    Quaerere Tiresiae: venus huic erat utraque nota.
    Nam duo magnorum viridi coeuntia silva
    Corpora serpentum baculi violaverat ictu
    Deque viro factus, mirabile, femina septem
    Egerat autumnos; octavo rursus eosdem
    Vidit et 'est vestrae si tanta potentia plagae,'
    Dixit 'ut auctoris sortem in contraria mutet,
    Nunc quoque vos feriam!' percussis anguibus isdem
    Forma prior rediit genetivaque venit imago.
    Arbiter hic igitur sumptus de lite iocosa
    Dicta Iovis firmat; gravius Saturnia iusto
    Nec pro materia fertur doluisse suique
    Iudicis aeterna damnavit lumina nocte,
    At pater omnipotens (neque enim licet inrita cuiquam
    Facta dei fecisse deo) pro lumine adempto
    Scire futura dedit poenamque levavit honore.
  30. This may not appear as exact as Sappho's lines, but I had in mind the "longshore" or "dory" fisherman, who returns at nightfall.
  31. V. Goldsmith, the song in The Vicar of Wakefield.
  32. V. The Tempest, as above.
  33. The interior of St. Magnus Martyr is to my mind one of the finest among Wren's interiors. See The Proposed Demolition of Nineteen City Churches (P. S. King & Son, Ltd.).
  34. The Song of the (three) Thames-daughters begins here. From line 292 to 306 inclusive they speak in turn. V. Götterdämmerung, III. i: the Rhine-daughters.
  35. V. Froude, Elizabeth, Vol. I, ch. iv, letter of De Quadra to Philip of Spain:
    "In the afternoon we were in a barge, watching the games on the river. (The queen) was alone with Lord Robert and myself on the poop, when they began to talk nonsense, and went so far that Lord Robert at last said, as I was on the spot there was no reason why they should not be married if the queen pleased."
  36. Cf. Purgatorio, v. 133:
    "Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
    Siena mi fe', disfecemi Maremma."
  37. V. St. Augustine's Confessions: "to Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears."
  38. The complete text of the Buddha's Fire Sermon (which corresponds in importance to the Sermon on the Mount) from which these words are taken, will be found translated in the late Henry Clarke Warren's Buddhism in Translation (Harvard Oriental Series). Mr. Warren was one of the great pioneers of Buddhist studies in the Occident.
  39. From St. Augustine's Confessions again. The collocation of these two representatives of eastern and western asceticism, as the culmination of this part of the poem, is not an accident.
  40. In the first part of Part V three themes are employed: the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous (see Miss Weston's book) and the present decay of eastern Europe.
  41. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush which I have heard in Quebec County. Chapman says (Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America) "it is most at home in secluded woodland and thickety retreats. . . . Its notes are not remarkable for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and exquisite modulation they are unequalled." Its "water-dripping song" is justly celebrated.
  42. The following lines were stimulated by the account of one of the Antarctic expeditions (I forget which, but I think one of Shackleton's): it was related that the party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was one more member than could actually be counted.
  43. Cf. Hermann Hesse, Blick ins Chaos:
    "Schon ist halb Europa, schon ist zumindest der halbe Osten Europas auf dem Wege zum Chaos, fährt betrunken im heiligem Wahn am Abgrund entlang und singt dazu, singt betrunken und hymnisch wie Dmitri Karamasoff sang. Ueber diese Lieder lacht der Bürger beleidigt, der Heilige und Seher hört sie mit Tränen."
  44. "Datta, dayadhvam, damyata" (Give, sympathize, control). The fable of the meaning of the Thunder is found in the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad, 5, 1. A translation is found in Deussen's Sechzig Upanishads des Veda, p. 489.
  45. Cf. Webster, The White Devil, v. vi:
    ". . . they'll remarry
    Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
    Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs."
  46. Cf. Inferno, xxxiii. 46:
    "ed io sentii chiavar l'uscio di sotto
    all'orribile torre."
    Also F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 346:
    "My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts or my feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside; and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it. . . . In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul."
  47. V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King.
  48. V. Purgatorio, xxvi. 148.
    "'Ara vos prec per aquella valor
    'que vos guida al som de l'escalina,
    'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor.'
    Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina."
  49. V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.
  50. V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.
  51. V. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.
  52. Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. 'The Peace which passeth understanding' is a feeble translation of the content of this word.


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