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The Waste Land
The Waste Land
by T.S. Eliot
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The Waste Land Symbolism, Imagery & Wordplay

There’s more to a poem than meets the eye.

Water Imagery

For a poem about the desert, "The Waste Land" sure has a lot of water flowing through it. And what we're supposed to make of all that water is not always clear. Yes, the waste land is dying from la...

Fire Imagery

For most of this poem, Eliot uses fire to describe the hellish experience of having to live in the modern world, a.k.a. the waste land. You can see this in lines 308-311, where the speaker starts s...

Zombie Crowds

To be fair, Eliot never actually uses the term "zombie" in this poem, but his descriptions of modern people going about their daily routines definitely feel zombie-ish. This might be because he usu...

The Polluted Thames River

For Eliot, the Thames River is a place that's been immortalized by English poetry for centuries. But in the modern world, the Thames is just a filthy, polluted waterway whose banks are filled with...

Keys and Prisons

These images show up mainly in lines 412-415, but they're pretty key (pardon the pun) to understanding the huge beef that Eliot has with modern people. Basically, what most of his anger boils down...

Thunder

Thunder pops up mostly in the fifth and final section of the poem, aptly titled "What the Thunder Said." It takes its meaning from the fact that thunder usually symbolizes the coming of rain, but i...

Popular Music

As much as we might all love pop music, Eliot uses it as an example of how crummy Western culture has gotten. Pop music symbolizes how mass culture tends to take objects of very important social va...

Tarot Cards

These fortune-telling cards date back to the 1400's, and Eliot seems convinced that they contain some valuable images for making sense of all that's wrong with the modern world. They're also connec...