‘The Waste Land’, published in 1922, is considered one of the most significant poems of the twentieth century, written by one of the most significant poets of his age.
American-born T S Eliot – Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) – established himself early on with his poem ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' (1915), but it was 'The Waste Land' that cemented his reputation.
Comprised of five parts, ‘The Waste Land’ is 434 lines long and is accompanied by extensive notes, which shed light on the meaning within and help to explain confusing metaphors… or are supposed to. Some have found the notes to be just as indecipherable as the text!
Nevertheless, the Modernist poem retains its importance in literature; its mixture of satire, prophecy and much more besides is a lure to readers even to this day. Opening with ‘April is the cruellest month’, and finishing with ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust', the poem demands attention.
So too did its author. A key figure in the early modernist movement, T S Eliot made waves with word, both in poetry and in plays. He was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
Eliot, who became a British citizen before he turned 40 and purported to feel more in tune with the UK's inhabitants than his own American contemporaries, studied at Oxford like LMS. His heart, he said, was truly British.
The five parts of ‘The Waste Land’ are: ‘The Burial of the Dead’; ‘A Game of Chess’; ‘The Fire Sermon’; ‘Death by Water’ and ‘What the Thunder Said’.