The Waste Land

Dry, Allusive, and Ambiguous: A Close Reading of "The Wasteland"

T.S. Eliot peppers "The Wasteland," his apocalyptic poem, with images of modern aridity and inarticulacy that contrast with fertile allusions to previous times. Eliot's language details a brittle era, rife with wars physical and sexual, spiritually broken, culturally decaying, dry and dusty. His references to the Fisher King and mythical vegetation rituals imply that the 20th-century world is in need of a Quester to irrigate the land. "The Wasteland" refuses to provide a simple solution; the properties of the language serve to make for an ambiguous narrative and conclusion, one as confusing and fragmented as Eliot's era itself.

Eliot wastes no time drawing out the first irony of the poem. In the first lines of "The Burial of the Dead," the speaker comments on Jesus' crucifixion and Chaucer while using brutal sounds to relate his spiritual coldness in a warm environment. In "The General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer poetically writes "Whan that April with his showres soote/ The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,/ And bathed every veine in swich licour,/ Of which vertu engrendred is the flowr" (Norton Anthology to English Literature, sixth edition,...

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