T.S. Eliot, author of the Waste Land, has been called the most influential poet of the twentieth Century.He received the Nobel Prize in 1948. He revolutionized the intellectual climate of English poetry. He initiated a new brand of poetry of the city, a poetry essentially cerebral, impersonal, imagistic, urbane, ironic and observational

The Waste Land, a compressed epic, is Eliot's most famous poem. It is an allusive and complex poem. It made great impact on the post war generation. It gives voice to the utter despair of modern man. Thus it is a poem of despair par- excellence.  The Waste Land, a portrait of modern society, first appeared in 1922 in a periodical named the Criterion.

About its theme various interpretations and contradictory opinions have been expressed. No two critics agree completely on its meaning. According to F. R. Leavis its theme is 'the disillusionment of a generation'. It merely presents 'a vision of desolation and spiritual draught'. Some other critics are of the opinion that The Waste Land is a 'diagnosis of the spiritual distemper of the age'. Here Eliot mourns the death of Europe. Some regards that It is a poetic and social document of the age.

But the fact is that The Waste Land is a bitter criticism of the hollow and rootless modern civilization. The ravages caused by the World Wars form the basic theme of this poem. It is often read as a representation of futility, anarchy, disorder, disintegration, agony, despair, frustration and the disillusionment of the post-war generation. Its theme can be studied under different heads as the lack of faith, lack of communication, fear of life and death and corruption in the modern world.

The modern world has lost its faith. In The Waste Land Eliot illustrates this at several points. One of the Thames daughters states, "I can connect / Nothing with nothing." It seems that she has no faith. There are no connections and no meaning in her life. Another indication of the people's lack of faith is the story of the merchant. Unfortunately, the people in the waste land have lost the ancient belief that water is sacred and life-giving. They have corrupted the life symbol. For example, the Phoenician sailor dies by drowning. Water certainly does not represent life to him. Since the protagonist does not have faith and so water means death to him. Mrs. Porter and her daughter wash their feet in soda water.

The people in the waste land have problems with communication. This is first illustrated in the Hyacinth girl scene. She indicates that she is unable to speak. She feels the need to communicate but does not know how. The response to the command Dayadhvam (sympathize) also shows that the people cannot communicate.

The inhabitants of the waste land are too afraid of death. The opening lines of the poem describe the feelings of the protagonist.The statement “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” refers to fear of death. The scene of planting of the corpse is an example of fear of life. The protagonist asks if the corpse sprouts what will happen.

‘Contemporary disintegration due to sexual degeneration' presents a vision of desolation and spiritual draught. This draught arises from the perversion of sex. When sex is exercised for the sake of momentary pleasure and monetary benefit, it becomes a source of degeneration and corruption. It then represents the primacy of the flesh over the spirit. Such perversion results in disillusionment, hopelessness and the spiritual decay and death. This perversion has been described in The Game of Chess. The entire Europe is burning with lust and sexuality.  The feelings of the society are that lust should be satisfied no matter what the consequences may be. Love in modern society is not really love. It is merely the fulfillment of instinctive desires.

 In short, Eliot is the greatest poet of the 20th century. No other English poet of the 20th century has shown such versatility and originality. His influence has been immense on English poetry. Bullough says that 'The Waste Land goes beyond a mere diagnosis of the spiritual distemper of the age'. It suggests that regeneration is possible. DA - Datta (give), Dayadhvam (sympathize) and Damayata (control) are the keys to new life for the waste land. They are the antithesis of modern problems. If people learn to give, sex will gain new meaning. If they sympathize they will be able to communicate. Finally, if they develop self-control, their faith will return. 


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