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VSRD-TNTJ, Vol. 2 (7), 2011, 326-328


Eliots Use of Symbols in The Waste Land


Rita Singh*

The paper discusses the use of symbols in T.S. Eliots poetry with special reference to The Waste Land. The
importance of symbolism has not been adequately emphasized in the critical work of T.S. Eliot. The roll of
symbols in his poetry, even when discussed by the critics has not been described with theoretical rigueur. From
the earliest times, symbols have been used by men to aid the process of thinking and to record their
achievement. These symbols have been a continuous source of deeper thoughts, while creating wonder and
illusion at the same time. The use of symbols is simply one aspect of language. A symbol is nothing more than a
vehicle for communicating through language and imaginative experience which can not easily be conveyed
directly or explained in analytical terms. Symbolism is a literary device through which comparisons are
established between certain things. Symbolism is very hardly methods which enables the poet of use myths and
images to bring out the resemblance between two different things. Eliot has used a lot of symbols are at once
centered round the basic theme of the poem i.e. birth-death-rebirth. Most of the symbols used in the poem are
drawn from ancient myths and religions from the European literary tradition and some from the Bible. Eliot has
used symbols not as an ornament but employed them as the only mean available for communication for certain
levels of experience which are not available to us though direct perception.
Keywords : Uses of Symbols, Monumental Work.

It was Eliots discovery of French symbolists that really launched him into read Simons monumental work, The
Symbolist Movement in Literature, which come to him as an introduction to wholly new feeling, as a revelation.
The critical writing of re my de gourmand, one of the first critics to dispense justice to the French symbolists,
influenced Eliot deeply. it was the use of symbols that enable Eliot to express the inexpressible, the obscure and
the recondite. His spiritual and mystical learning also lead him to interpret the abstract in poetry in a concrete
from. Eliot has used the symbolist technique to express, hot the personal sensation, but a complex and decadent
civilization with all its soul- killing monotony and meaningless routine. Eliot symbolism is, therefore,
predominantly objective and impersonal rather than subjective or personal and so comparatively, easy to

*Correspondence :








Rita Singh et. al / VSRD Technical & Non-Technical Journal Vol. 2 (7), 2011

Eliot symbols are pre-dominantly traditional since most of them are drawn from literatures and mythologies of
the past. Moreover, the same symbols are frequently repeated and this helps to clarify their suggestive
significance. It through this technique of symbolism that Eliots becomes capable of exploring the subject.
The present paper proposes to highlight the symbols in T.S. Eliots poetry with special reference to The Waste

2.1. Meaning of Symbolism
Symbolism is an oblique mode of saying things which suggests much more than is actually described asserted. It
deals with the infinite and the absolute and expresses the spiritual and the abstract through the physical and his
concrete. In fact, symbolism is a deep stream of thought which flow invisibly but constantly in life, language
and literature. Symbolism has been an unavoidable source of recording and communicating subtle and obscure
thoughts in literature.
Symbolism is a technique of representing ideas (especially in literature and art) by the use of symbols.

Symbolism is thus first and for most a device to look beneath the baled surface and trace a hidden
meaning. Charles Chadwick rightly commented on symbolism saying, it can be used to describe any
mode of expression which instead of referring to something directly refers to it indirectly, though the
medium of something else.


Both these definition imply that a symbol carries with it what we know and what we do not know. A
symbol expression of some invisible essence, a transparent lamp about a spiritual flame.

The rationale for using symbols in The Waste Land.
The Waste Land is a poem where Eliot makes a serious attempt to give us an important philosophical
message. It is an epic on man and on human civilization C. Day Lewis writes about the poem in A Hope for
Poetry (1954) The Waste Land seems to me chiefly important as a social document. It give an authentic
impression of the mentality of educated people in the psychological slump that took place immediately after the
war(3). The poem offers a scathing attack on the materialistic trends in western civilization and bemoans the
loss of ultimate values in modern mans life.
Most of Eliots symbols used in the poem The Waste Land are used not express personal sensations; rather
they are used to depict a complex and decadent civilization with all soul killing monotony and meaningless
routine. Eliot deals with the contemporary life ruthlessly as it is and for this he depends a great deal on the
suggestive power of the symbols used in the poem.

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Rita Singh et. al / VSRD Technical & Non-Technical Journal Vol. 2 (7), 2011

The most significant of his symbols are drawn from ancient myths and legends and are centered round the basic
theme of birth-death-rebirth. Thus spring stand for rebirth, winter for death and rain for spiritual sterility,
draught for spiritual dryness. Fishing symbolizes spiritual rebirth and rejuvenation, water is an ambivalent.
Symbol, it symbolizes destruction as well as transformation grass or root symbolizes spiritual desolation. Fire is
another ambivalent symbol used by Eliot in this poem. It symbolizes lust and passion which are destructive, it
also symbolizes spiritual exaltation and purification planting of the corpse symbolizes both death and
Eliot has used some complex symbols. The title of the second part A Game of Chess symbolizes sex-intrigues
and counter-intrigues in family life in contemporary waste land. The river sweating oil and tar symbolizes
squalor and dirt of modern life. The uselessness and emptiness of modern life is symbolized by the rats allege ,
where dead men lost there bones. Breaking rock, the London Bridge symbolizes the spiritual, social and political
disintegration of the post-war Europe. Paresis himself is a complex symbol; a symbol of human conscience and
the spokes man of humanity.
No discussion of the symbolism of the poem which does not take into account or satisfactory. The cricket which
give no relief the address son of man, the fear in a handful of dust, the rock, the dead tree, the dry bones are all
symbols derived from the bible. In the end, the tarot pack has its own symbolic significance. It is an obscure
symbol difficult to explain. The tarot pack is a pack of card, still used by gypsies for telling fortunes which may
be traced back on an ancient Egyptian calendar recording the rise and fall of the nice.

In this way Eliot has used a complex symbolic technique in The Waste Land with symbolism running from
the beginning to the end of the poem to bring out the decay and desolation of contemporary civilization. Many
of the symbols are ambivalent, the same symbol being used in more than one sense
Though this technique accounts to a great extent for the complexity and intricacy of the poem yet provided
suggestiveness, economy and unique comprehensiveness to it.
I. A. Richards has rightly commented when he says, The Waste Land is the equivalent in content to an epic.
Without this device twelve book we have needed.
Like images, symbols also play an important role in Eliots poetry. Concluding the whole endeavor it can be
said that symbolism form an important aspect of Eliot poetic technique. Thus it is though the use of symbolism
that T.S. Eliot succeeds in capturing the very rhythm of modern life.

[1] Chadwick, C. (1971) : Symbolism. The critical Idiom Series. (London: Methuen and co. ltd.), pp.1.
[2] Fidel son, Jr. C. (1961). Symbolism and American Literature, 5th imps., Chicago & London : The
university of Chicago press, pp.49.
[3] Lewis, D. (1934): Quoted in C:A Hope for Poetry.
[4] Richards, I. A.: The Philosophy of Rhetoric, pp.120.

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