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The Waste Land

Shmoopril is the cray-est month.

We won't lie: The Waste Land is a doozy. It's generally considered the 20th century's most important poem—and as you might expect, that means it's also one of the most challenging. Fortunately for us, it's a challenge we're well equipped to conquer. As we battle through this five-part journey, we'll hang out with some zombie hordes, dance to pop songs from the 60s, and dive into a few Greek myths, examining our ideas about art, culture, and identity along the way.

Oh, and we'll have a bit of fun, too.

Not only will we emerge having defeated one of the main bosses of poem-land, we'll also come out the other end with a great arsenal of literary terms and techniques, a sense of history in post-World War I Europe, and a few creative projects to boot:

  • Through interactive activities and assignments, you'll situate The Waste Land in greater historical and literary context.
  • We'll guide you through the tough passages with intensive close readings.
  • Via Common Core-aligned lesson plans, you'll debate the value, relevance, and effectiveness of seemingly dated references. Believe us: there are plenty of 'em.

Now dive on in. The waste land's nice.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. The Waste Land

Get ready to tackle one of the most difficult English-language texts in existence. Don't panic, though: in 15 lessons, you'll go from noob to snob.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 1: Who Is This Eliot Guy?

Looks can be deceiving.


Don't let his meticulously combed hair fool you: T.S. Eliot was a pretty rebellious guy—as far as poets go, at least. Following the First World War, Eliot changed the rules of modern poetry for good. We credit Eliot today with some of the greatest poems of the 20th century (including The Waste Land), and his rule breaking even won him a Nobel Prize.

Basically, he's a big deal.

In this first lesson, we'll learn more about who Eliot was, who his friends were, and what life was like in the 1920s when Eliot wrote The Waste Land. (Er…the title of the poem provides a hint.) This background will help us understand why the poem takes the form it does and what Eliot was trying to accomplish in this work.

When Eliot wrote The Waste Land, World War I had just ended, and the effects of this conflict on Europe and rest of the world were massive. Seriously...huge. The war left whole sections of some of Europe's biggest cities, including London (where Eliot spent much of his time), in ruins. These events influenced Eliot in a major way, and we can see the war-torn cities of WWI lurking behind the ruinous landscapes we find all over Eliot's poem.

The world had changed, and Eliot wasn't alone in feeling like poetry needed to change too in order to reflect the experience of a new, disillusioned generation. T.S., along with a group of writers called the modernists, set about developing new rules for literature and poetry—and the results of their efforts amounted to nothing short of a revolution.

Shmoop has front row seats to the rebellion: Let's dive right in.