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Poetry Analysis: T.S Eliot's Waste Land

Updated: Mar 13, 2023




Introduction

The Wasteland is a long poem by T.S Eliot, written it in 1922. It's divided into five sections, each of which represents a different stage of the speaker's journey through life. While the poem is difficult to understand at first glance, it has many interesting aspects that make it fun to study—and analyse!


TOC


Background

T.S Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1888. He is known for his modernist poetry and for his play The Cocktail Party. He was a professor of English at Harvard University from 1925 to 1955.



He was an important voice in the Modernist movement, and he played a major role in the development of literary criticism. Eliot’s poetry is often difficult to understand because he uses complex language. He also includes allusions—references to people or events from history—which can make his poems more challenging for readers.


His first two books of poetry were published in London by the Elkin Mathews Ltd. He also published his first book of criticism, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism in 1920.


In 1955 he met Ezra Pound, who encouraged him to write poetry.

He had spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris and another year at Merton College, Oxford University in England, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.


Form & Structure

The structure of "The Wasteland" is quite simple and straightforward. The poem is divided into five sections, each representing a different part of the speaker's life.



The first section introduces us to the speaker and his feelings towards his surroundings; this is followed by another description of what he sees around him, before moving onto a description of how he feels about himself in relation to others in society.


In the final two sections there are references made back to earlier parts of the poem so that readers can see how much has changed since then.


The poem begins with the speaker describing what he sees around him, he says: "Skyline's stained and smeared with smoke and fog / like a broken-down old prostitute on Christmas Eve." This immediately shows us that the speaker is very negative in his thoughts about life. He does not feel that anything good can come from this situation; rather he believes that everything is dirty and broken down.



The speaker then continues to describe what he sees, saying: "The walls are crusted with filth, the streets are lined with garbage." This shows us that he is a very negative person and has no hope for the future. He believes that nothing will ever get better and that things can only get worse.


The speaker then moves on to a description of how he feels about himself in relation to others. He says: "I'm just another face in the crowd, no one special at all." This shows us that he does not see himself as an important person; rather he believes that everyone else is more important than him.



This is a very sad thought because it shows that the speaker does not value himself. He believes that he has no worth and that no one would miss him if he were gone. This is shown through his use of words like "just another face in the crowd."


Setting

The setting is the time and place of a story. It's important because it can help you understand the characters and their motivations, as well as the plot and its meaning.


In T.S Eliot's poem "The Wasteland," the setting is an undefined period of time in which people have lost hope for themselves, their future and humanity itself. They are living in an industrial wasteland with no hope for anything better than life in this desolate place where they work endlessly without rest or reward--just like machines themselves!



But what makes this poem so powerful is that while it has such a bleak view of humanity at its heart (and even seems to suggest there will never be any improvement), it ends on a hopeful note: "Shantih shantih shantih."


The poem's setting is an industrial wasteland, a place where the characters work endlessly without rest or reward. It's a bleak view of humanity at its heart and seems to suggest there will never be any improvement.


Analysis of the poem.

The poem is about the aftermath of World War I and the moral decay of society. It is also about the futility of life, which can be seen in lines such as:

"I could not say if it was twilight or dawn."


This line shows how Eliot feels that there are no differences between these times because they both feel equally meaningless to him. The last stanza also expresses this idea when he says "There will be time for murder & time for love/& time yet for everything." This means that no matter what happens during his lifetime or after his death, nothing will change because nothing has meaning anyway.


The last stanza of the poem also expresses this idea of futility when he says "Between the desire & the spasm/Between the potency & the existence/Between the essence & the descent/ Falls a shadow." This means that no matter what you do or how hard you try, there will always be something preventing you from achieving your goal. The last line also describes this by saying "Life is very long."


This line shows how Eliot feels that life is pointless and meaningless because nothing changes. The last stanza also expresses this idea of futility when he says "Between the desire & the spasm/Between the potency & the existence/Between the essence & the descent/ Falls a shadow." This means that no matter what you do or how hard you try, there will always be something preventing you from achieving your goal.



Summary

The poem is about the futility of life and death. Eliot's use of symbols, imagery and language all contribute to this theme. The speaker's voice is full of despair as he describes how meaningless his existence is.



For example:

"I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker." This line shows how much he has lost hope in himself because he has been through so many hardships in the past that now he thinks they will never end. It also shows how much pain he feels from losing his friends, who were like family members to him at one point but ended up dying anyways due to old age or illness which makes it even harder for him since there wasn't anything he could do about it since there wasn't any way around those things happening either way.


"I am not Prince Hamlet nor was meant t'be" This quote shows how much self-doubt there is within this person who doesn't think highly enough about himself despite being considered royalty (Prince Hamlet) by others around him however despite all this negativity surrounding him still manages somehow find comfort within himself despite all odds stacked against him."Do I dare disturb the universe?" This line represents both fearlessness regarding death itself as well as a desire for meaning within life itself; therefore suggesting that finding purpose may be key to achieving happiness - however difficult such an endeavour might seem at first glance!


In conclusion, I strongly believe that the true meaning of this poem is that we should all be kind to one another and not judge people based on what they look like (or are) but rather by their actions. If we could all do this then maybe our world would be a better place!


You can use these aspects of poetry to better understand other poems.


The Wasteland is a good example of modernist poetry. The use of language and imagery makes the poem feel like it's from another time, but it also has many recognizable references to the world we live in today. This can help you better understand other poems that are written in similar styles, no matter what era they were written in or how long ago they were published.


This poem is also an excellent example of post-war poetry because it deals with themes common during this time period: war and death, loss of innocence and youthfulness (the speaker was once young), feeling lost as if there's nothing left for him in life anymore (he feels he doesn't belong anywhere).


Need help analysing a poem? Watch my video below!


That's a wrap!

We hope that this analysis of T.S Eliot's Wasteland has helped you to understand it better. We also think that by using these tools, you can analyse other poems in a similar way and get a deeper understanding of their meaning.


If you want to listen to Eliot read this magnificent poem, check the video below!



 



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