The Waste Land: a difficult poem
The poem is divided into Five sections of various length Section I: The Burial of the Dead, dealing with the coming of spring in a sterile land; Section II: A Game of Chess, juxtaposing present squalor and past ambiguous splendor; Section III: The Fire Sermon, reinforcing the theme of squalor and introducing Tiresias, the blind spectator, whom Eliot himself considered the most important character in the poem; Section IV : Death by Water, focusing on Phlebas , a drowned Phoenician sailor, and on the idea of purification (given by the water); Section V: What the Thunder Said, conveying the image of disintegration of Western civilization and suggesting its possible salvation.
The Waste Land is a difficult poem to read, its structure in particular is not easy to figure out. What makes it so difficult is:
- the lack of explicit links between the episodes described ;
- the language used, made up of verse that often sounds like prose, where the occasional rhymes are sometimes imperfect and irregular, and where lyrical passages alternates with others that are narrative, autobiographical, colloquial or even ironic.
- the presence of sentences and quotations from foreign languages;
- the frequent allusions to people, traditions or events that require a wide cultural background in the reader.
- the various levels of reading suggested by the poem (realistic, symbolic, surrealistic, etc.);
- the occasional discontinuities leave thoughts unfinished;
- the religious symbolism which is frequently hard to decipher;
- the use of the "stream of consciousness" technique, which virtually turns the five sections into interior monologues.
- the peculiar temporal structure which, disregarding any logical time sequences, mingles past, present and future.
- the notes that Eliot himself attached to the poem (hoping to help the reader) paradoxically often increasing doubts, confusions and misunderstanding;
- the specific references to places and times being transformed into universal symbols, the places mentioned are thus "unreal".