The Waste Land


The Waste Land made Eliot the leading modernist poet.
It represents the culmination of Eliot's nihilistic phase, when he started to find a new way out of nihilism through religion.
It expresses the modern artist's disillusion with the modern world and need for a new way to life. It also describes the desolation and decay of western civilization that followed World War I.

What is the central theme of the poem?

The central theme of the poem is the spiritual dryness and sterility of modern life, lack of eny belief that can give meaning to life.

Structure

The poem is divided into five sections:
1."The Burial of the Dead"
2."A Game of Chess"
3."The Fire Sermon"
4."Death by Water"
5."What the Thunder Said"
It has not a logical and chronological narrative order.
The fragmentation of the poem reflects the fragmentation of the contemporary culture.

Mythical structure

Eliot related the image of modern decadence with images, allusions and quotations from ancient myths and legends, as the medieval romances of the Holy Grail (in which the ruler Fisher King brought sterility to his land).
In all the fragments of the poem there's the contrast sterility/fertility to point out the differences between the order of myth and the chaos of modern life.

Narrative method

The lack of traditional structure (five unequal sections without logical continuity in which the poem is divided)is modernist.
Eliot's "stream of consciousness" technique is made up of lack of narrative sequences and the shifting of time.
Eliot uses quotation from writers or philosophical and religious traditions, for example the crowds flowing over London Bridge at the end of "The Burial of the Dead" recalls the same crowds of damned souls in Dante's "Inferno".
The metrical patterns is similar to the form of free verse, although there are some regularities and rhymes.
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