Please advise where can I get resources about "motifs" in T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" poem?? Thanks and kindest regards,

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I have changed your topic from "Literature" to "The Waste Land," which should make it easier for you to access all the excellent information about the poem available in the eNotes study guide. This famous poem is difficult for anyone to understand and must seem overwhelming to a student who encounters it for the first time. The eNotes "Summary" section contains a number of different articles which explain the poem in detail. Perhaps the most useful one is from "Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition." Here is a sample of the coverage of T. S. Eliot's poem in that article:

The poem is divided into five sections. In the first, “The Burial of the Dead,” the speaker is an old Austro-Hungarian noblewoman reminiscing about the golden days of her youth before the disasters of World War I. The second section, “A Game of Chess,” is set in the boudoir of a fashionable contemporary Englishwoman. The third, “The Fire Sermon,” mixes images of Elizabeth’s England, the Thames and Rhine rivers, and the legend of the Greek seer Tiresias. The fourth, “Death by Water,” is a brief portrait of a drowned Phoenician sea-trader. The fifth, “What the Thunder Said,” combines the above themes with that of religious peace. These parts combine in the poem’s overall montage to create a meaning that encompasses all of them. Because the poem is so complex, that meaning must be left to the individual reader; however, many students of the poem have suggested that, generally, Eliot shows his readers the collapse of Western culture in the aftermath of the war.

As the last sentence of that excerpt states, "...the meaning must be left to the individual reader; however, many students of the poem have suggested that, generally, Eliot shows his readers the collapse of Western culture in the aftermath of the war." The war in question is World War I, which had such a shocking effect on Europeans because of the great loss of lives, the terrible destruction, and the introduction of horrifying new weapons such as poison gas, machine guns, and tanks. No doubt the main motif of Eliot's poem is the collapse of Western culture in the aftermath of that war. I refer you to the eNotes Summary of "The Waste Land" on the link below. In my opinion, you should be able to get all the information you need from the "Summary," "Themes,"  and "Analysis" sections in the eNotes study guide. The section on "Critical Essays" also provides valuable information and explication, as well as some bibliographical references.

The "Waste Land" in the poem refers both to the huge areas left devastated by shelling, trench-digging, and other destructive wartime activities, and also to the devastating psychological effect of that event. The poem is hard to follow because it is intentionally fragmented to suggest the fragmentation caused by the fighting; but it has many beautiful and memorable passages. It is a truly memorable reading experience for a serious student of literature.

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