Can you explain Eliot's poem "The Waste Land"?

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The first section, as the section title indicates (The Burial of the Dead), is about death. The narrator is surrounded by a desolate land full of "stony rubbish."

The next section, "A Game of Chess," transports the reader abruptly from the streets of London to a gilded drawing room, in which sits a rich, jewelry-laden lady who complains about her nerves and wonders what to do.  the poem then switches to a pub where two Cockney women are talking.  In just a few words we move from the upper crust of society to the dregs.

"The Fire Sermon" opens with an image of a river. The narrator sits on the banks and muses on the deplorable state of the world.

"Death by Water," the fourth section of the poem, describes a dead Phoenician lying in the water -- perhaps the same drowned sailor of whom Madame Sosostris (in section one) spoke.

The final section of the poem, "What the Thunder Said" calls for rain...a cleansing of sorts...and it comes.

The general theme is desolation, decay, and ruin of society through war, vice, and the dark side of human nature. 

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There simply is not enough space here to explain "The Waste Land" adequately. Please read the eNotes study guide has excellent articles on the themes, style, and historical context of the poem, as well as critical essays on its structure and literary impact and a critical overview.

As for writing your essay, you might find the article "How to Write a Good Essay on English Literature" helpful. I've included a link to that page in the sources section below. I've also pasted a link to the Oxford Companion to English Literature article on the poem.

Good luck!

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Could you please summarize the poem "The Waste Land' by T.S. Eliot?

It isn't easy to summarize this poem.  There are so many images embedded, and a succinct summary will leave much out, but I will do my best for you.

The first part, entitled "The Burial of the Dead" is about death, just as the title suggests.  The images are of the changes in seasons, the passing of time, the death of plants, etc. in the midst of spring turning to summer which in turn changes to fall, and then winter.  There are also references to Germany, which to the audience of this poem at the time it was written would have evoked images of war since WWI had just ended.  He mentions also in this section that humanity is trapped in its own wasteland...rubbish left behind by the war, by dead feelings, by going through the motions of living without really living...a sort of depression of spirit, or walking in a fog...a living dead.

Section 2 of the poem, "A Game of Chess", is just what the title suggests:  a strategy for conquering your opponent.  In this section, Eliot moves from death to sex.  The images of the idle rich and the chess game that is being played out is full of seduction and divide and conquer flirtation.  Sex is also connected with procreation or perhaps even rebirth, so perhaps this section takes on a more hopeful view than the preceding one.  We move from the idle rich to the extremely poor represented by Albert and his wife.  Albert has just gotten out of the army and wants "a good time" or sex with his wife.  She has five children and he is drinking in the bar before going home to all of them and his good time.  In this story, the repetition of the "Hurry up please its time" is meant to remind us of the last call in a bar.  Perhaps she doesn't want sex as it produces too many children, and he needs the drink in order to ignore her complaints and her "antique" look complete with her bad teeth.  Instead of being a loving and nurturing experience between two people who love each other, sex for them has become loveless and perhaps even meaningless.

The third section, "The Fire Sermon", continues to address loveless sex.  The first images indicate the dying fertility of plantlife and other signs of lifelessness.  Throughout the section, he refers to rapes, indifferent women, and loveless sex.  The title suggests that men should attempt to douse or extinguish the "burning" fires of lust and passion.

The fourth section, "Death by Water", is the shortest section of the poem.  Eliot returns to the theme of death, and resurrects a sailor he first mentioned in section two of the poem.  He describes the sailor's drowning and how his body is torn apart by the rough sea.

Section five, "What the Thunder Said", continues to build on the themes of death and infertility.  It also offers hope that these things can be corrected and overcome.  The title refers back to an Indian belief that be communing with nature, people can restore life to the living deadness of the wasteland.  There are images of Jesus Christ, resurrection, rebirth, violence, death, moral decay and chapels.  Eliot's last words indicate that his message may be that only through peace can we restore life and rebirth to the wasteland of our own making.

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