The Waste Land

We’ve spent three sessions looking at The Waste Land, and we need to move on to discuss other great twentieth-century poems, but it is such a dense, allusive poem that we’ve really only scratched the surface. I hope you’ve managed to get a good grasp of the key themes, figures and stylistic features of the poem, but please add any thoughts or questions you have about the poem in the comments below.


In particular, in class today we talked about the particular images or tropes I’d asked you to concentrate on, in small groups, on Tuesday. You might want to write about what you found below, especially if you missed class.

Alternatively, you might want to think about the following questions in relation to the fifth and final section of The Waste Land, ‘What the Thunder Said’.

  • Does this final section offer the hope of rebirth, and if so, for whom, or for what?
  • Does the thunder bring rain?
  • How do you interpret the commands of the thunder?
  • What is the significance of Eliot’s use of the Hindu holy text, the Upanishad, here?
  • Look in particular at the section from line 427 to the end of the poem. This is perhaps the most concentrated collection of allusions and fragments in the poem. Do these lines promise hope, or suggest despair? Or are they ambiguous?

If you have thoughts about any or all of these questions, please add them below.

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6 Responses to The Waste Land

  1. Does the thunder bring rain?
    -For me, there is no direct, correct answer to that question as the speaker creates ambiguity about whether thunder brings rain or no. Although in other parts of the poems, there are allusions, metaphors and implications about water with rebuilding and destroying effect, in the last part the speaker voices a cry for water, rain. He says, “there is not even silence in the mountains /But dry sterile thunder without rain” signifying the fact that thunder is not able to bring rain, which symbolizes corruption and a reversal situation in nature and in modern society. These lines show the absence of rain in spite of violent thunder and “the black clouds”. However, the speaker also says, “then a damp gust /Bringing rain”, which refers to the shower of rain finally, but again this is not the case, because towards the end we see the fisher king “sat upon the shore/ Fishing with the arid plain” and he questions if ever he can bring fertility to his lands, which may refer to the idea that water does not come even at the end of the poem and “Shantih” refers to the peace coming with death or an absolute downfall.

  2. The final episode is the most surreal. The speaker walks through London populated by ghosts of the dead. He confronts a figure with whom he once fought in a battle that seems to conflate the clastes of with the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage. The speaker asks the ghostly figure Stetson about the fate of a corpse planted in his garden. Thunder doesn’t bring rain in this part. There is no water to refresh the soul and land. There is lightining and thundering but not water. Fresh of lightining brings rain and it represents sexual violence. Birds produce song that is a symbol of morning.In modern life, life destroys nature .

  3. ceren20601875 says:

    Thunder unavoidably arouses expectations of rain; but whether these expectations are fulfilled remains ambiguous. The need for water and of all it is expected and hoped to bring; fertility, regeneration, rebirth, purification and so on, reaches a level of desperation as can be understood by the constant repetition that “there is no water”. The lack of water is perhaps more frequently emphasized in the last part with images like “dry grass singing”, “cracked earth” and “empty cisterns and exhausted wells” where not only the speaker, no matter who he or she is at this stage in the poem, but also nature; “the limp leaves”, wait for rain. They would probably be totally helpless if it wasn’t for the thunder giving them a slight hope; the fisher king trying to fish even though he knows that his attempts are futile. The last line of the poem evokes a sense of rain or waves, therefore water; but perhaps it is the water that brings death as in the case of the drowned Phoenician sailor or Ferdinand of “The Tempest”. The fortune-teller warns to fear death by water, the recurring images of sailors and obviously the part dedicated to this motif indicate this fear of drowning. But death may not be such a bad thing as the Sybil in the epigraph longs for it thinking that it will bring peace. If the infertility and wasteland of modern life is represented by lack of water, perhaps death brought upon by abundance of it represents rebirth.

  4. 20801343l says:

    Look in particular at the section from line 427 to the end of the poem. This is perhaps the most concentrated collection of allusions and fragments in the poem. Do these lines promise hope, or suggest despair? Or are they ambiguous?
    Although the final part of the “Wasteland” includes the images of destruction and desperation, there are also images of hope and salvation. “London Bridge is falling down” is a traditional nursery rhyme which symbolizes the downfall of civilization and in the following line there is a reference to Dante’s Inferno which gives the readers a horrible impression. Although this line “Poi s’acose nel foco che gli affina”(428) which can be translated into “he hid himself in the fire that purifies him”, reminds the image of something bad such as punishment or damnation, it can be read something good such as regeneration or rebirth. This is a reference to Dante’s journey through Hell to Heaven, so it is an allusion with an hopeful tone because fire symbolizes purity and destruction. Fire is an important thing in the rebirth of society. The poem ends with the purification of society and the destruction of “London Bridge”. The phrase “Shantih Shantih Shantih” (434) which means “The peace which passeth understanding” shows the purification and salvation of society. It shows that this peace is everlasting. It is evident that the final part of the poem with collection of allusions and fragments promise hope and salvation.

  5. n20900754 says:

    In this last section of the poem, the speaker uses a repetitive language and harsh imagery which suggests that the end is near. This can also be understood from the references to the contemporary events in Eastern Europe. Also, when the speaker says, “Falling towers/Jerusalem Athens Alexandria/Vienna London /Unreal”, we understand that these major cities which have a historical importance are destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again, and this downfall of major empires suggests that it is time for a new beginning, time for the birth of a new era. Another thing I want to comment on concerning the whole poem is the fact that the speaker is very difficult to follow. The reason for using this kind of fragmented language may be that the speaker wants to reveal what it is really like to live in a modern world. So, this fragmentation gives us a sense of the chaos and the shattered condition the modern world is in.

  6. 20801343l says:

    What is the significance of Eliot’s use of the Hindu holy text, the Upanishad, here?
    I think the Upanishads, the holy texts of Hindu belief provides Eliot a kind of spiritual inspiration. The thunder’s message is from the Upanishads which means “give, sympathize, control”. Even though “giving, sympathizing, and controlling can be regarded as a critical view in The Waste Land, this section highlights the value and role of analysis and comprehension.

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