Places: The Waste Land

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1922

Type of work: Poetry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Waste Land, TheGreat 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.

BibliographyBergonzi, 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.
Categories: Places