What the Class Said: Introduction and Background


This electronic edition presents The Waste Land as a collection of individual voices. At first, the text is initially displayed as a poem: as lines of verse divided into stanzas and parts. You can then “activate” any of the poem’s voices by clicking the corresponding check box in the Voice Bar to the left of the poem. In so doing, you will be participating actively in transforming the genre of The Waste Land, from poetry into a species of drama.

You can also receive more information about selected voice-related textual features—such as echo, repetition, onomatopoeia, or foreign language—by using the Textual Features bar to the right of the text.


The vocal divisions presented in this electronic version of The Waste Land were arrived at through the following steps.

First, we polled the students of ENG287, “The Digital Text,” a second-year undergraduate English class offered in the Fall of 2011 at the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto. The students were given a plain-text electronic version of The Waste Land and asked to indicate any places in the poem where they perceived a switch from one voice to another. They were asked to do so by inserting the tag <VS> into the plain text file and then uploading it to a central repository. We then aggregated this data (144 students responded to the poll) into a single file.

The second step involved listening to the six readings of The Waste Land included in the iPad edition released in 2011 by Faber and Faber/TouchPress, noting any places in the poem that these readers appeared to switch into a different voice. The readings on the iPad app are by T. S. Eliot (1933 and 1947), Alec Guiness, Ted Hughes, Viggo Mortensen, and Fiona Shaw. We listened to the readings and noted the apparent switches, employing the same method used by the students, and aggregated the results.

In the third step, we compared the students’ results with those of the “expert” readers, and marked as switches any places where a preponderance of students and experts readers seemed to agree. Where two switches were indicated in close proximity to one another (within less than five words), these were sometimes marked as a single switch.

In the final step, we used qualitative methods to assign particular identities to individual voices and to determine which voices return in the poem (see “Our Cast List”). We had recourse, in this step, to the annotations provided by the students as part of an exercise in TEI encoding.

Read the Poem as Divided by the Class.