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T.S. Eliot's Waste Land

ENGL 259.301
TR 12:00-1:30pm

This class will explore in detail one of the most influential poems of the twentieth century, The Waste Land. Because this poem was not created in isolation, it brings with it a whole group of drafts and unpublished texts. We will study its textual genesis along with the historical contexts of the Waste Land. We will analyze its layering of voices, define the nuances of its polyphony as it shifts from musical quotes to borrowings from popular culture. We will pay attention to its critical, literary, sexual and philosophical intertexts. We will wonder whether this poem has to be understood as a London poem or an American poem. We will assess how much of it was shaped by Eliot’s experiences during WWI. Finally, we will try to define its modernity. If the Waste Land has remained one of the best examples of modernist classicism, what can this convey about the future of poetry?    


T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, ed. V. Eliot, 1971. 

T. S. Eliot, Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917, ed. Christopher Ricks, 1996.   

 Gabrielle McIntire, ed, The Cambridge Companion to the Waste Land (2015) 

Other texts like The Sacred Wood and Eliot’s early essays are available online.


Requirements: one oral presentation (20 minutes), one short paper (10 pages) and one research paper (15 pages).




8/30 T. S. Eliot today.


9/1 Eliot in Saint Louis and at Harvard.


9/6 Eliot the Parisian and the symbolist echoes in the poem. 


9/8 Eliot the philosopher. 


9/13 Inventions of the March Hare (1)


9/15 Inventions of the March Hare (2)


9/20 Inventions of the March Hare (3)


9/22 Eliot and Vivien: the sexual issue.


9/27 Eliot and the London avant-garde: Blast.


9/29 Pound as editor of the manuscript of the Waste Land.


Fall break


10/11 The Waste Land, “Gerontion,” and the excluded poems. 


10/13 The Waste Land and the main essays of The Sacred Wood. 


10/18 The Waste Land, part 1.


10/20 The Waste Land, part 2


10/25 The Waste Land, part 3.


10/27 The Waste Land and Wagner.                       First paper due.


11/1 The Waste Land part 4.


11/3 The Waste Land, part 5.


11/8 The Waste Land and the Great War.


11/10  Religion and myth in The Waste Land.  


11/15 Popular culture and The Waste Land.  


11/17 Trauma and pathology in The Waste Land.  


11/22 The Waste Land and Eliot’s later poetry (1).  


Thanksgiving break


11/29 The Waste Land and Eliot’s later poetry (2).  


12/1 The Waste Land and The Criterion.


12/6 The Waste Land and Eliot’s subsequent criticism. 


12/8 The Waste Land’s modernist classicism.         Final paper due.

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major