The idea of writing dated back to 1919, but the composition took place in 1922 after the intervention of Ezra Pound who gave advice and cut long parts of the poem. It is an anthology of indeterminate states of mind, impressions, hallucinations, situations, fragments taken from various literatures (35 writers, 6 languages). It is considered the poetic equivalent of Joyce’s Ulysses because of the continuous time shifting, the lack of a narrative sequence and plot which makes it similar to the stream of consciousness based on the free association of thoughts.
It is divided into 5 sections: “The Burial of the Dead”; “A Game of Chess”; “The Fire Sermon”; “Death by Water” and “What the Thunder Said”. It is like a symphony made up of musical movements which revolve around the same vision of the world, seen as a sterile and arid land inhabited by people who are spiritually dead because of their lack of faith and values.
The poem is supported by notes Eliot himself supplied hoping to help the reader better understand it but which actually increase doubts and misunderstandings. The result is that finally poetry does not have to be understood to convey its message, it can be enjoyed without a full understanding like music and painting.
The method used by Eliot to compose is the same mythical method used by Joyce in Ulysses that is a continuous reference to myth, antiquity, past because modern life receives significance if it is presented parallel to equivalent models of behaviour from the mythical past and the past is an active part of the present and the future.