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Waste Land

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A poem by T. S. Eliot, first published 1922 in the Criterion.

It consists of five sections, ‘The Burial of the Dead’, ‘A Game of Chess’, ‘The Fire Sermon’, ‘Death by Water’, and ‘What the Thunder Said’, together with Eliot's own ‘Notes’ which explain his many varied and multicultural allusions, quotations, and half‐quotations (from Webster, Dante, Verlaine, Kyd, etc.), and express a general indebtedness to the Grail legend and to the vegetation ceremonies in Frazer's The Golden Bough. The poem was rapidly acclaimed as a statement of the post‐war sense of depression and futility; it was seriously praised by I. A. Richards as ‘a perfect emotive description of a state of mind which is probably inevitable for a while to all meditative people’ (Science and Poetry, 1926), and less seriously but significantly chanted as a kind of protest against the older generation by the undergraduates of the day. Complex, erudite, cryptic, satiric, spiritually earnest, and occasionally lyrical, it became one of the most recognizable landmarks of Modernism, an original voice speaking through many echoes and parodies of echoes. Eliot himself remarked that the poem could be seen not so much as ‘an important bit of social criticism’, but as ‘the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; it is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling.’

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T. S. Eliot (1888—1965) poet, critic, and publisher