“The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot is a modernist poem of 434 lines and it shifts between prophecy and satire. It has 5 parts entitled, “The Burial of the Dead”, “A Game of Chess”, “The Fire Sermon”, “Death by Water” and “What the Thunder Said”. The first 4 parts of this poem represent the classical Greek elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and the 5th to the mythical Aether. In series of disconcertingly intense impressions, “The Waste Land” progresses through the abrupt transitions of these 5 movements. The technique of the text could be termed as a theatrical approach to monologue. Eliot’s love for the music hall can also be found in the poem as it flows in a pattern of musical fugue. The poem represents the cynicism of the post-war generations.
Unrelated, fragmented, and often broken parts of imagery have been put together in the poem to shape a disjunctive anti-narrative. Although the general aim of the poem is clear, it is difficult to understand the poem in detail since the readers are sometimes confused in trying to figure out the images. It is based on the legend of Fisher king who belonged to the Arthurian cycle and symbolizes modern London as a barren wasteland. T. S. Eliot has built this poem around the symbols of flood and drought and has throughout represented rebirth and death. All through the poem, we see the figure of Tiresias, whose existence, along with an emotional atmosphere, helps to bring a sense of unity to the entire poem.
The style of the poem is a compressed version of clearly visualized metaphysical imagery. Its vocabulary is basically modern and also suggests a subtle use of the rhythms of everyday speech. Although the poem is complex and at times ambiguous it presents a hallmark of modern literature. Its most famous phrases are the first and last lines, where the latter has been taken from a mantra from the Sanskrit language:
“April is the cruellest month”
“Shantih shantih shantih.”