I’ve always loved this poem, but it was only after hearing Eliot read it that I got it. I don’t mean that it made sense, or that I’d figured out its hidden order, or anything like that. I just mean that I sensed, for the first time, that I was encountering it as it should be.
Anyway, if you have 23 minutes, here’s the poem, read by the man himself.
A great online resource about this poem is the website He Do the Police in Different Voices, which includes this online version of The Waste Land–complete with colour coded voices and other cool features. The website, by the way, is designed and administered by Dr. Adam Hammond of UofT.
Finally, here’s a link to Eliot’s famous essay on James Joyce’s Ulysses, another landmark literary work of 1922, but which Eliot had been reading earlier, as it came out in small literary magazines. His argument about Joyce’s novel, some people say, is probably a better analysis of his own goals in The Waste Land than it is of Ulysses. In any case, it is a very clear statement of what sort of order and shape Eliot imagined hiding below the surface chaos of his poem.