According to the calendar, The Waste Land is more distant from us today than In Memoriam and Leaves of Grass were from T. S. Eliot when he completed his masterpiece in 1922. Yet as Eliot himself proved, poetic time, like Einsteinian time, is relative. Dante and Donne, he argued in his essays, were closer to the twentieth-century poet than Tennyson and Whitman. By the same token, even though The Waste Land has been making Aprils cruel for eighty-three years, it remains more modern than any poem written since.

The appearance of Lawrence Rainey’s scholarly new edition of the poem—The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose—serves to sharpen this paradox. Here is a book of 260 pages built on a poem of 433 lines—a text-to-commentary ratio appropriate to the Bible or the Greek classics. More than any previous editor, Rainey provides the reader with every resource...

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