Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book 61: Book Stats, The Waste Land, and Finished.

Before you read any further, I should point out that this post was originally written when I finished the book during the read-a-thon (yes, a long long time ago). It has been sitting in draft form waiting to be posted. Here it finally is. :) And I should point out that because this "book" is actually a poem, everything about this is in one post. When does that ever happen? ;)

Title: "The Waste Land"
Author: T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

First Published: 1922
My Edition: Harcourt (Seen at left)
Pages: The full book is 88 pages, however, the poem is about 25 pages in length.

Other Poems Include: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), "Gerontin" (1920), "The Hollow Men" (1922), "Ash Wednesday" (1930), "Four Quartets" (1945)

Plays Include: The Rock (1934), Murder in the Cathedral (1935), The Family Reunion (1939), and The Cocktail Party (1949)

I am a huge poetry fan. And while I don't read it as much as I probably should, I do read more than the average Joe. There is something very relaxing and comforting about a poem.

This is the one solitary poem that made my list. I took off quite a few others, including Eliot's other masterpiece "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in an attempt to rein in my list, but this one had to stay, only because I had never read it. Seems silly, doesn't it? All the other poems were removed, but this little title stayed through a bunch of cuts and edits to be in the final 250.

And while I know it is not a "book" it stills counts as one title off my list.

At only 25 pages, and a poem, this was a quick and easy read for the purposes of the read-a-thon. I will have to remember to read some poetry in the next read-a-thons if I ever get the chance.

The poem is structured into five sections: The Burial of the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, and What the Thunder Said. Each section has its tone, voice, and mood. The narrator switches and gives the poem a very melancholy feel.

To be honest, this is a hard poem to describe, especially that I read it in one sitting and haven't had a great deal of time to digest all of the little nuances that come into play with poetry. But, speaking as someone who has read it for the first time I will say this: it captures a lot of the desolation and pain that was felt after The Great War (WWI). Some of the scenes Eliot described seemed to be of empty battlefields and rebuilding.

As I have not lived through a great war, or had personal destruction come down around me, I cannot really relate to the struggle of that kind of pain-of seeing the world crumbling and life disappear. But Eliot captured it for me in his words, so I could feel a glimpse.

I loved his language. Everything was vivid and alive in the way that only poetry can be. Here is the beginning to show what I mean:

"APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter," (29).

It is simply beautiful. My favorite of the five sections was the last, the one called What the Thunder Said.

"AFTER the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience," (42).

I really believe this captures the mood of the entire poem. Those last three lines I choose were just so powerful as I read them.

I wish I knew more about Eliot so I could understand the deeper meanings of this poem. But he is not a poet I am familiar with. I think to truly understand poetry, you just read and reread it, immerse yourself in the knowledge of the poet, and just let it sink in. I haven't the opportunity to do that now, but I know I will be returning to Eliot eventually, to read more and learn more about the man who wrote such a chilling poem.


  1. I absolutely detest poetry; however, I love Elliot. There are always exceptions right? I hope it pleases him in his afterlife...

  2. I picked up a copy of The Waste Land at my library's book sale yesterday. I remember reading it in HS, but think I'll get a lot more out of it now.

  3. I love T.S. Eliot. When I've been away from his work for a while, I start forgetting how gorgeous his language is, and I'm startled by it all over again. I love the line in Waste Land "Humankind cannot bear very much reality". He's just so great.

  4. I love Eliot, and I love this poem. The hyperlink site is a great resource for exploring all the different allusions in the poem, I really recommend you check it out, even for a brief skim through.

    Site is here:

    My favourite line is 'those are the pearls that were his eyes' and 'On Margate sands. I can connect nothing with nothing.'

    He was treated for some nervous disorder when he was writing this, and I love how his poems are so infused with anxiety and doubt. It's really tragic and really human.

    Love, love, love! Thanks for the review :)

  5. I've never been a huge poetry fan; not until I read Eliot! I had a wonderful prof as an undergrad who was an Eliot expert. He read "The Wasteland" aloud to us and suddenly it came alive. We discussed many of the references and deeper meanings, and at the end of that class discussion he told us that he was leaving his teaching job to become a Jesuit priest. The poem, especially the bits about confronting the abyss and one's fate, really hit home with him. Amazing teacher, amazing class, amazing poem.

  6. I started a poetry project when I first began blogging but sadly it has fallen by the wayside. This was on the list. I really need to start reading poetry again. I do like.