"The Waste Land" is probably the most famous work by T.S. Eliot, its first publication occurred in October 1922 in the journal "The Criterion". It resumes devastated land of the medieval world and of the modern world, marked by the crisis and the sterility of Western civilization. The idea of waste land also used to refer to London, the city where Eliot lived.
"The Waste Land" is a long poem of 433 lines about a waste land which seems both personal and external. It is divided into five sections; each of them has a different heading with a symbolic meaning which adds to the symbolism of the whole work.
- I. "The Burial of the Dead", which is focused on the basic opposition between sterility and fertility, life and death.
- II. "A Game of Chess", which juxtaposes the present squalor to a past ambiguous splendor.
- III. "The Fire Sermon", where the theme of present alienation is rendered through the description of a loveless, mechanical,
squalid sexual encounter.
- IV. "Death by Water", which reinforces the idea of a spiritual shipwreck.
- V. "What the Thunder Said", which evokes religions from East and West.
The poem is a web of references to and quotations from a variety of cultural sources. The device of bringing borrowed lines, ideas and myths into a new context served several purposes, it allowed the poet to universalize the context of the poem and to convey the "sense of the past" as an active part of the present.
Eliot's style is characterized by metric experimentation, the frequent use of conversational language and lack of punctuation. He often shifts from a style of lyric intensity to another of ironic or bitter realism.