T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland is a long form, four hundred thirty four line poem divided into five parts. Written in 1922, it is waist deep in references to other pieces of literature and in his notes the author proudly cites his influences. It tells the basic legend of the holy grail interwoven with the author’s own conjectures and themes. Eliot switches narrators and shifts from philosophy to satire, making it somewhat difficult to follow. Do yourselves a favor and get a copy of this book with annotations, without them you will be lost in the weeds and curious as to the intentions of this poet.
I feel that parts four and five, Death by Water and What the Thunder Said are my favorite sections of this poem, mostly because they are the easiest to follow. Maybe it’s heresy, but I feel the entire work would have benefited from being a collection of poems as opposed to one long poem. The loose connection maintained throughout the text makes this somewhat difficult to comprehend and causes the reader’s experience to suffer
Overall, this is a great work. My major issues with it revolve around the inaccessibility this will exhibit to some readers. It’s a dense poem, that is hard to consume in large bites and most certainly is not a casual read. I read it twice with the annotations and a study guide as to not miss anything. Even with all that it is well worth your time if you’re willing to put in the extra effort. It’s an intense book, but the author’s talented word structure is unmatched. Often touted as one of the great poems of the twentieth century, this poem certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.
Cody Jemes is the co-host of the Bored Shenanigans podcast available via iTunes and Stitcher. See more of his articles here. Also enjoy his poetry blog here or download his e-book here. Be sure to follow Bored Shenanigans on Twitter or Facebook.