myths and legends of the poem The Waste Land

Question: Discuss the myths and legends of the poem “The Waste Land”. Or, “The Waste Land” is a sigh for the vanished glory of the past. Examine the view critically. myths and legends of the poem The Waste Land


T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) is the most famous poet, playwright, and critic of the modern era. He manages the subject matter of his poems skillfully. In the modern epic entitled “The Waste Land”, he uses the mythological method to show the present relationship with the past.

The source of myth

Eliot uses myths as an organizational principle in the structure of the poem “The Waste Land” and draws the myth from two sources: Sir James Frazer’s book “The Golden Bough” and Miss Jessie Weston’s book “From Ritual to Romance”. To put it differently, he has basically taken his myths from Frazer’s cultivation rituals and Miss Weston’s Fisher King and Grail myths.

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Myth as objective co-relative or interrelated

An objective co-relative is a series of objects, situations, and events that may be the source of some special emotion of the poet. For example, Milton uses Samson’s story as a purposeful co-relation to express his emotions. Eliot, on the other hand, uses ancient myths and legends, both Christian and non-Christian, as objective co-relative to the purpose. 

Classical myth of Tiresias

Tiresias is a figure from classical mythology who has both male and female features and is blind but can see into the future. Eliot comments on the significance of Tiresias in such a way that even though Tiresias is in fact no character is still the most important figure in the poem since he brings together all the rest. What Tiresias actually sees is the substance of the poem. Ovid who was a Roman poet gave the story of Tiresias. Tiresias is a son of a shepherd, he was transferred into women because of seeing the intercourse of two snakes and after seven years he was again transferred into a man. So, Tiresias is represented as a bi-sexual in the wasteland.

Oedipus, king of Thebes, unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. For this sexual crime, God cursed him and his country was plagued by a deadly epidemic and famine. The king consulted the blind prophet as the cause of this calamity. He told him that the king was responsible for the catastrophe. Thus, King Oedipus was advised to perform penance to purify his interior and remove curses from the country. Here Terisias includes the past and the present. Through this classical myth, Eliot wants to say that if such an epidemic is caused by unknown sexual crimes, then the deliberate illicit sex of modern people will surely destroy this civilization.

The vegetation and fertility Myth

The seasonal cycle of nature is responsible for the primitive vegetation myth. The poem starts with “ April is the cruelest month, breeding”. Winter is the season of death while spring is the season of rebirth. Eliot uses this vegetation to make the pattern of death and rebirth that is continued in the Christian myth until the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection. The commence of the poem by the vegetation myth is undoubtedly superb because the poet takes the attention of the modern people to the point that spiritual death is the result of sin and spiritual regeneration comes through penance and suffering.

The medieval wasteland of the Fisher King

It is a myth that is closely related to the grail legend. In this wasteland, the soldiers of the Fisher King ravished the nuns of the Chapel of the Holy Grail and because of that, the King became impotent and his land suffered from famine. The impotency of the Fisher King was reflected sympathetically in the land of which he was the head and ruler. The country had become dry and barren, the haunt and home of want and famine. The Fisher King was waiting with the hope that one day the knight of the pure soul would come and solve the riddle. Thus, Eliot suggests the modern people be religious if they want to lead a tension-free and long-lasting enjoyable life.

The Biblical legend

The Biblical wasteland is mentioned in the Old Testament. The country and the people were harmed because the people worshiped idols. Prophet Ezekiel warned them to abandon idols. Eliot mentions this wasteland to focus on religious stagnation.


Now we can conclude that the poet has shown the problems and solutions of the neoteric time through the mythological method.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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