The Waste Land is a highly influential and controversial 433-line modernist poem. It is perhaps the most famous and most written-about long poem of the 20th century, detailing the journey of the human soul searching for redemption, the decline of civilization, and the impossibility of recovering meaning in life. Despite the alleged obscurity of the poem — its shifts between satire and prophecy, its abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, its elegiac but intimidating summoning up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures — the poem has nonetheless become a familiar touchstone of modern literature.
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Thomas Stearns Eliot was one of the most distinguished literary figures of the 20th century, winning the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”. Although born in Missouri and attending Harvard, he lived most of his life in England. Eliot, while on a three month leave in the coastal resort of Margate for a period of convalescence possibly showed an early version of the poem to Ezra Pound. A year later Eliot had produced a 19-page version of the poem and Pound then made detailed editorial comments and significant cuts to the manuscript. Eliot dedicated the poem to Pound, referring to him as “il miglior fabbro”, Italian for “the better craftsman.”