Summary of ‘The Waste Land’ by T. S. Eliot

Summary of The Waste Land

The Waste Land‘ Poem By- T. S. Eliot

The Waste Land is regarded as the most important poem of the 20th century, The Modern Age. This poem is composed by T. S. Eliot. It was published in December 1922. It is an essay in creating a poem on a world that has denied or ignored the spiritual life.

This poem is a combination of the legend of the Holy Grail and Fisher King. It has many allusions from the Western canon, Buddhism, and the Hindu Upnishads.

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

In the first section of the poem, it has been stated that life in the contemporary world is a life in death. It is a living death for man for lost faith in spiritual vision. Love has degenerated into lust, sex. Love has lost its proper function and is no longer a source of life and vitality (जीवन-शक्ति, तेजस्विता). It introduces the diverse (विविध) themes of disillusionment (मोहभंग) and despair. This section takes its title from the line in the Anglican (अंग्रेजी) burial service. Eliot first depicts the stirring (उद्दीपक, उत्तेजना) of life in the land with the coming of spring.

This section sets up the main themes of the poem by establishing the modern city as the real Waste Land of the poem. The section is made up of four vignettes (शब्द-चित्र), each from the perspective (सन्दर्भ, परिप्रेक्ष्य) of a different speaker. According to T. S. Eliot- April is the cruelest month because April is the month of rebirth and joy, but as the land is waste spring is painful and unwelcome to it.

In the first part, the speaker comes into the poem in unidentified person, a modern person who drinks coffee and talks for the specific and artificial time increment of an hour. Then the speaker identifies herself as Countess (बेगम, कुलीन स्त्री) Marie Larish. She was a German princess.  She tells about her childhood how extravagant she was. Eliot used the autobiography ‘My Past’ (1913) by Countess Marie Larisch in this part.

The second part of this section gives a description of a very dry, dusty, and desolate (सूनसान,उजाड़) world. A girl who was known as the hyacinth, tells herself neither living nor dead. 

The third part Madame Sosostris reads tarot cards and predicts. The predictions will be fulfilled in later parts of the poem.

The fourth part of this section mentions about the ‘Unreal City’. In the poem, civilization has been destroyed by death.  Crowd walk and stare the ground in front of their feet. In the meanwhile, the clock clangs the ninth stroke. The speaker asks a person about a corpse planted in the garden. Are they started sprouting?

The title of this section comes from ‘A Game at Chess’ and ‘Women Beware Women’, by Jacobean playwright ‘Thomas Middleton’.

This section depicts the failure of love/sexuality in the modern world.

At the starting of this section, a woman was sitting on a beautiful chair that looks ‘like a burnished (चिकना, चमचमाता हुआ) throne’ as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra. She has a splendid drawing-room that was beautifully decorated. The room is of the Lady of the Rocks, Belladonna. There is a painting on the wall of the room. The painting depicts the story of Philomela. Philomela was a maiden who was raped and silenced by Tereus, her brother-in-law. There were living a nightingale (बुलबुल) in the heaven of the Earth, it sang a sad song- “Jug jug’ (Jug Jug words were used in Elizabethan poetry to representing a bird song. It was also used to crude joking reference to sexual intercourse.) to tell the tragic story of Philomela. Later both the sisters were changed into birds, Procne to a swallow (आबाबील) and Philomela to a nightingale.

Here poet wants to tell that there are many Philomela in our society suffering from the same case but the difference is that Philomela changed into a bird that sang a sweet song. Such a change is impossible in this degenerate (पतित) world.

The second part of this section shifts to a London barroom, where two women discuss a third woman. One of the women recounts (व्योरा देना) a conversation with their friend Lil.  His husband was Albert has just been discharged from the army. She was pregnant and has 5 children, her husband suggested her on every pregnancy to take pills to cancel the pregnancy.  The pills that she has taken to avoid conception have made her ‘antique’ (पुराना, वृद्ध) and toothless. She was childless.

In this section, we are introduced to sexual degeneration (पतन), sterility (बाँझपन) and stalemate (गतिरोध, ठहराव). In the modern age even in the poorer sections of society sex is no longer a source of life and vitality as it is used for pleasure and not for procreation (संतानोपत्ति).

Section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Section 4

Section 5

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