Thursday, 30 October 2014

Structure and Form of 'The Waste Land'


The critics have taken objection to the form of ‘The Waste Land’. Some are of the opinion that it is a group of separate poems loosely strung together. Others feel that it is a parade of the poet’s learning. Some critics understand that there is no story or movement in the poem. The poet keeps beating about the bush without reaching any conclusion. However, on a careful study of the poem it has been found that there is a thin and subtle thread which runs throughout the poem and gives it a sort of unity. This pertains to the evils of civilization and how civilization can be saved.

Tiresias, The Unifying Link

Tiresias, the protagonist, imparts a sense of unity to the poem as a whole. Through the stream of consciousness method Tiresias reflects on the past and the present, and sees a lot of resemblances between them.

Film Technique-Montage

Eliot follows the film technique in representing scenes from the ancient world and modern life. He builds up a sequence of pictures from the parts of a scene, rather than giving a scene from beginning to end. He also recalls previous scenes from memory. This is called Montage in technical language.

Spiral Structure

Some critics feel that the structure of the poem is circular; the argument does not progress and it ends where it began. Helen Gardner however writes. ‘We are not, however, moving in a circle but on a spiral up and down’. The theme is one and the same i.e. the evils of civilization. Sometimes the poet takes up one point and then takes up the next and reverses to the first point again. However, there is some kind of forward movement. In the beginning, the poet refers to the desert and rock but at the end there are cloud and the hope of rain.

Use Of Myths / Parallelism

Eliot’s vast scholarship is reflected in literary allusions, symbols and myths. He deliberately chooses the mythical method for obvious advantages. It helps in concretizing parallelism between past and present. Secondly, it bridges the gulf between the crises in human history and civilization. It gives a sense of the continuity of time and human consciousness. Eliot mentions a number of wastelands which are so much alike; the Biblical wasteland, the wasteland of King Oedipus, the wasteland of King Fisher, and the modern wasteland. The root cause of these wastelands, their barrenness and desolation was loss of moral values and sexual perversion. The way to regeneration and salvation is given by Eliot in the last section in the words of the Thunder.

Irony And Contrast

Eliot pinpoints the distortion of values in the modern age through ironic contrasts too. The banks of the river Thames were once full of nymphs, but now they are full of young girls for having a good time with their lovers. In the past the loss of virginity led to suicide. Goldsmith’s heroine in ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ contemplates death after seduction. But the typist girl after having sex with her lover stretches her hands to play a gramophone record, as if nothing had happened.


Use of symbols adds to the clarity and significance of the poem. The recurrent mythical symbols are taken from the cycles of seasons. ‘Winter’ stands for death, ‘spring’ for rebirth, ‘drought’ for spiritual barrenness, ‘rain’ for spiritual rebirth and productivity. Eliot uses his own personal symbols in very meaningful way. ‘Dog’ is a symbol of human conscience. ‘Red Rock’ stands for Christian Church which offers a place of refuge for the lost soul of man.

Poetic Shorthand

Eliot compresses his ideas and impressions through poetic shorthand. It is device which brings together places and events, and history and legends through the use of words and lines written by writers of different countries and times.

After all human experience is practically one and the same throughout the ages. The use of quotations and allusions from different books is a part of the poetic shorthand used by Eliot.

To conclude, the poem has a pattern and purpose. Through literature and history, Eliot has shown how period of spiritual barrenness and decadence have been followed by the periods of rebirth and regeneration. He offers a comprehensive solution to the problems of the modern age by combining the wisdom of the East and the West.


  1. Thank you for this essay. It was quite useful and helpful for better understanding.