An Analysis of the Poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

Topics: The Waste Land

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot has been and is a vastly discussed topic, it can be interpreted in many ways and all of those ways have various arguments supporting their claim, for example, whether this poem is hopeful or pessimistic. To fully grasp the poem, you also need to understand Eliot and the times he lived in. T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) moved to England from America in 1914, this was coincidentally the year that World War I broke out. Eliot’s disdain for the war led to his views on the human race changing for the worse.

Hope. Hope is a reoccurring vital element in the Waste Land. Throughout this sad poem, Eliot gives the reader a small glimpse of possible redemption. “That corpse you planted last year in your garden, Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?” Due to the speaker not giving Stetson a chance to respond, it remains unknown to the reader if Stetson buried a corpse and if so if it did sprout or if the speaker was alluding.

Assuming that the speaker speaks the truth, the corpse could symbolize the end of wars (WWI was the war to end all wars) but the question of, has it begun to sprout can be seen as if a rebirth of values in humans has begun. After that specific part in the poem, Eliot creates a feeling of hope which he immediately extinguishes. “Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed? Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s a friend to monitor with his nai, ls he’ll dig it up again!” In the second part of this speech, the crucial part is “he’ll dig it up again”, where he refers to a dog digging up the corpse again which I believe symbolizes having another war, and redoing all the mistakes again.

Get quality help now
Sweet V

Proficient in: The Waste Land

4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

But then again Eliot left this open-ended by not having Stetson answer, leaving us with the feeling of uncertainty in regards to if humanity has hope.

This uncertainty is shown in lines 331 to 359 where he shifts gears to a pessimistic perspective when he repeatedly expresses the dryness of the Waste Land, where there is no water and only rocks. This displays a lack of fertility, and water is the key essence missing. Eliot continues to tease and point out the absence of water in line 342, “dry sterile thunder without rain” where he gives the reader something to relate to. Something that happens, in reality, is that when you hear thunder you anticipate the rain, but in this case t,h e rain is nowhere to be found. Eliot then goes on and gives the reader an alternate reality, “if there were water and no rock if there were rock and also water”. Where ‘it is the crucial piece to the puzzle, he lets the reader imagine this alternate reality, where things are better off, and just when the reader is caught up in these thoughts he snaps you back into reality, “but there is no water”. This dry wasteland which is in desperate need of water symbolizes our society’s need for change, in the sense that what water is to fertility is what change is to the redemption of the human race.

Coming back to the aspect of change, in lines 427 and 428, Eliot talks about London Bridge falling, and directly after that he quotes Dante’s encounter with Arnaut Daniel, he writes the following but in Italian, ‘then he hid in the fire which refines them’. Due to England’s importance in the war, I believe that he uses England as a depiction of Europe, and he uses this nursery rhyme to depict Europe’s culture and Europe as a whole on its downfall.

Directly after that, he talks about the refining fire, fire is more often than not associated with bad things, ex. destruction, hell, etc. But I believe that Eliot is approaching fire from a completely different perspective, in the sense that fire is refining / purifying which is a concept that is brought up in for example the Bible. “I will refine them like silver [Zechariah 13:9)”. The reason silver is refined is to separate it from various metals that it is fused within rocks. One can speculate that Eliot is referring to Europe stepping into the fire in hope of refinement to ultimately cleanse itself from the other metals, from the bad values.

That the western culture needs this burning to come back as a purer version of what it was.  Eliot ends the poem with a Hindu prayer where he says three words, Datta (generosity), Dayadhyam (compassion), and Damyata (self-control). Eliot is praying that people will eventually find these three things inside of themselves which will ultimately lead to the world-changing, it would rain. However, the prayer is incomplete. Thepoem’smendsg truly confirms Eliot’s uncertainty about his faith in humanity, his uncertainty regarding if we humans can climb out of the hole that we created.

In conclusion, Eliot is undecided in regards to this topic, and therefore there is a variety of different opinions that he expresses throughout the poem. In lines 331 to 35,9, he clearly states that there is no water, which we know symbolizes change. Nevertheless, I still believe that he has hope for humanity or he would not leave us with all of these options in numerous scenarios, for example, the corpse, the refining fire, and the prayer. The message I believe that Eliot wants to put forth through the Waste Land is that redemption is possible and simple, but it will be challenging to achieve, and as Eliot accurately stated, it will require, Datta, Dayadhyam, and Damyata.

Cite this page

An Analysis of the Poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. (2022, Jun 15). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7