Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Great Britain’s capital city, a place cloaked in brown fog, is populated by people who walk in circles without connection to anything or anyone. The walk from London Bridge down King William Street leads past a church to the financial district, which for Eliot represents spiritual and cultural emptiness. Although the street, named after William the Conqueror, the first king of England, and the church carry important names in England’s rich history and religious experience, the citizens take no note of them. Other scenes convey this spiritual emptiness: a tawdry sexual encounter between a clerk and a secretary in her shabby apartment and a conversation in a saloon involving an anxious pregnant woman concerned about how to deal with a pregnancy by another man now that her lover is returning from a tour of duty in the army.

*London Bridge

*London Bridge. Historic bridge over the River Thames; a transcendental symbol of all that is good and promising in contemporary life, London Bridge leads to the city of the dead, to the loss of possibility and meaningful spiritual life.

*River Thames

*River Thames tehmz). England’s greatest river symbolizes a more romantic and joyful past and, in its present polluted condition, the spiritual emptiness of modern life. An elaboration of this symbolism comes in the reference to the Leman, the Swiss name for Lake Geneva, where Eliot was convalescing while writing this poem. Through the connection of watery sites, Eliot identifies with the biblical psalmist lamenting the spiritual desolation of the exiled Jews in Babylon.


*Europe. Selected sites in Europe also convey a sense of lack of roots or connection to the past. The references to the Starnberger See and the Hofgarten convey a sense of nostalgia for an earlier, more innocent time.


*Ganga. The water references to the Ganges, India’s sacred river, and the dark clouds over Himavant, the Himalayan Mountains, symbolize the potential for spiritual renewal.

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

World War I
While Eliot published The Waste Land in 1922, it was widely acknowledged as reflecting the disillusionment in...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

The most important aspect of the work, and the one that informs all others, is the literary movement to which it...

(The entire section is 266 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

Find a painting, movie, or other visual artwork you think could serve as a companion piece to the poem. Explain why you think this pairing...

(The entire section is 136 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

Eliot’s The Waste Land and several other works were adapted as an unabridged audiobook in 2000, featuring narration by the author....

(The entire section is 37 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

Many critics highlight the fact that Eliot wrote The Waste Land while he was suffering a nervous breakdown. Another group of...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Aiken, Conrad, “An Anatomy of Melancholy,” in New Republic, Vol. 33, No. 427, February 7, 1923, pp....

(The entire section is 449 words.)


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Bergonzi, Bernard. “Allusion in The Waste Land.” Essays in Criticism 20, no. 3 (July, 1970): 382-385. An important analysis of Eliot’s use of both high and low allusions in the poem.

Brooks, Cleanth, Jr. “The Waste Land: An Analysis.” Southern Review 3, no. 1 (1937-1938): 106-136. An influential New Critical reading of the poem that draws out the complexities and the ironic structure.

Canary, Robert H. T. S. Eliot: The Poet and His Critics. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982. A thorough bibliography on the poet and his works and a series of bibliographical essays that discuss various critics who have dealt with Eliot’s criticism and poetry.

Frye, Northrop. T. S. Eliot. New York: Grove Press, 1963. An analysis of Eliot’s works primarily the critical perspective of myth. Excellent conclusions on the archetypal aspects of The Waste Land.

Kenner, Hugh, ed. T. S. Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1962. A useful collection of essays, part of the Twentieth Century Views series. Contains a number of important essays, including three on The Waste Land.

Williamson, George. A Reader’s Guide to T. S. Eliot. New York: Noonday Press, 1953. A close reading of all of Eliot’s poems, with a useful introduction to the interpretative problems of The Waste Land.