T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land Wiki

Chapter Summary[]

The Golden Bough is name of chapter in Virgil's epic poem Aeneas

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T. S. Eliot begins with the contrasting notion of “April”. He alludes to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where “April” is not the sweet and joyous time of the year but the cruelest. The first stanza is filled with similar ironies and juxtapositions. After the descriptions of the seasons, the reader meets with someone named Marie. Marie is alleged to be Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich’s whom Eliot happened to meet with while he was in America. Lines 9-18 is are supposedly part of her autobiography “My Past”. In the next stanza we are taken to another completely different setting, where it seems to be quite barren, dried, and deserted. Here Eliot alludes to the book of  Ezekiel from the Bible which implies a sort of prophecy being spoken. He also alludes to Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and quotes a few lines in German. What happensed in the second stanza was is quite abstract, because we have settings at a barren place, at sea and at a Hyacinth garden. In the third stanza we first meet a clairvoyant who might be an allusion to Madame Blavatsky and have tarot cards being read. Most of the cards are real but some of them are made up by Eliot. Lastly, we are transported to a city-like setting, no more abstract places. In this last stanza, Eliot alludes to many poets like Baudelaire, Dante, and Webster. He ends the chapter with the last line in Baudelaire’s “To my reader the Reader”, indicating that the author is directly speaking to the readers. 

For detailed analysis of each stanza follow the links below,

Stanza 1 (1-18)

Stanza 2 (19-42)

Stanza 3 (43-59)

Stanza 4 (60-76)



APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding


Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing


Memory and desire, stirring


Dull roots with spring rain.


Winter kept us warm, covering


Earth in forgetful snow, feeding


A little life with dried tubers.


Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee


With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,


And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,


And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.


Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.


And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,


My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,


And I was frightened. He said, Marie,


Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.


In the mountains, there you feel free.


I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.



What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow


Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,


You cannot say, or guess, for you know only


A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,


And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,


And the dry stone no sound of water. Only


There is shadow under this red rock,


(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),


And I will show you something different from either


Your shadow at morning striding behind you


Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;


I will show you fear in a handful of dust.


        Frisch weht der Wind


        Der Heimat zu,


        Mein Irisch Kind,


        Wo weilest du?


“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;


They called me the hyacinth girl.”


—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,


Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not


Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither


Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,


Looking into the heart of light, the silence.


Öd’ und leer das Meer.



Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,


Had a bad cold, nevertheless


Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,


With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,


Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,


(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)


Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,


The lady of situations.


Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,


And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,


Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,


Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find


The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.


I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.


Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,


Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:


One must be so careful these days.



Unreal City,


Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,


A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,


I had not thought death had undone so many.


Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,


And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.


Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,


To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours


With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.


There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!


You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!


That corpse you planted last year in your garden,


Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?


Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?


Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,


Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!


You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”


Chapter Interpretation and Analysis[]

The central theme in this chapter is the futile search for life. The idea of death and rebirth is repeatedly seen in many of the allusions and description. It is common to think of death in terms of sorrow and rebirth ins terms of bliss but Eliot is suggesting otherwise. Perhapse to rise upon the dirt once more is more painful than laying there for eternity. Death is salvation if you only live once. To rise again and again is not different than being subjected to torture and suffering. This idea of death and rebirth is common in Greek mythology, li

Persephone picking flowers on the day she was kidnapped by Hades

ke in the story of  Persophone. Every year Persophone rises again from the underworld to know that after a few months she will be sent back to hell again. To know what hell, what death is like, and to experience it over and over again, Persophone could no longer be the gay maiden she once was. Spring which seems so beautiful and lifeless suddenly becomes dull and tainted.

That being said, a life living in despair is not a life. There must be happy moments, however fleeting, to sustain us. Like in the first stanza, the Marie speaking now must be an adult and she is reminiscing about those happy moments in her past. Marie might not be happy now but as long as she possesses those happy memories she lives on. But what happens when those memories failed to sustain you? Death will come greet you and you will happily walk its way.

"The Waste Land" is heavily influenced by Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and James Frazer's The Golden Bough,. bBoth works are careful analysesis of ancient mythology and how does it relate it relates to the practice and belief of the people at that time. As Frazer said in his book, man's sole purpose is to eat and reproduce and mythology is just ancient man's way of understanding of how the world works. Humans have learned from myths and magic., tThen we have learned from our religion and today we think we know everything with science. Perhaps Eliot is saying man today and man thousands of years ago are just the same man. Today our sole purpose is still to eat and reproduce, and our way of understanding the world however different but is still the same in essence. War, marriage, relationships, love, urbanization, these are all things we do today to in order survive and sometimes what we do in order survive backfires on us. Sometimes we make mistakes that we wish to undo but sometimes it is too late for us to undo them it. Sometimes we need a cure, a miracle but never do we find it. Just like The Fisher King, our land is cursed, we need the Holy Grail, but perhaps we will never find it.

It is important to know that at the time of writting this poem, Eliot was experiencing nervousness and his marriage has was a complicated matter. Eliot has personally said that his wife Vivianne has prompted him in writting The Waste Land.