T. S. Eliot’s lengthy poem “The Waste Land” is fragmented into five parts entitled: 1) The burial of the Dead; 2) A Game of Chess; 3) The fire Sermon; 4) Death by Water; 5) What the Thunder Said. The fourth section “Death by Water” which is summarized here, is the smallest section of the poem. This is because T. S. Eliot and his friend Ezra Pound deducted many lines to make the poem small. When the poem was originally written, it consisted of nearly 1000 lines, which was later revised to 434 lines. This section is inspired by one of T. S. Eliot’s French poems “Dans le Restaurant”. The title “Death by Water” is linked with another section of this poem. For example, it is linked with Madame Sosostris’s tarot card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor, and linked with the warning of Madame Sosostris for her customer to fear death from the water. In this section, the poet warns his reader to remember his aim or goal of life.
The poet says that Phlebas the Phoenician, who died two weeks ago, has forgotten the cry of the seagulls, and the waves of the sea, and the profit and loss of his shipping business. Thus, the poet says that the sailor is no longer knew what he was born to know. He forgot his destiny. He forgot his emotional or human purpose as well as his social or financial purpose.
A current under the sea picks at his bones bit by bit. As he rises and falls with the waves, all stages of his life pass before his eyes and then his body enters in a stormy whirlpool. Thus, all the purpose is pulled under the sea by a natural force which he cannot control. He is trapped by circumstances. He has seen the wheel of life.
Gentile or Jew, one who navigates his own life (or still sailing the sea) and look to the future, remember Phlebas, who was also once handsome and tall. Thus, in the last line of this section, the poet warns everyone to learn something from Phlebas life. He requests all humanity to remember the ultimate meaning, aim, and goal of life. Hence, the poet gives a possible hope in absolute despair.
The fourth section of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste land” inspires its reader to always remember the meaning of his life and not to involve and deviate with earthy pleasure. This section is an example of abridges lyrics where words are joined by ‘and’ or ‘or’, example ‘up and down’, ‘rise and fell’ ‘Gentile or Jew’, ‘life and death’, and ‘profit and loss’. In “The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot incorporated past historical, mythological, and literary ideas in a new form.
‘Death by Water’ being the smallest section of this series raises a lot of curiosity amongst the readers on why T. S. Eliot has kept this part so small. The poet has tried to connect the western and eastern world and takes his readers from the Himalayas and Ganges to the Thames and the London Bridge. This interesting characteristic of T.S. Eliot’s poems captivate the reader’s attention till the end and puts an interesting plot to the flow of the story. His style of writing contains diversity and he tries to bind the subject with a balance of logical explanation and spirituality. He mentions about men, demon and God in his poem and tries to link the happenings in the world with the ultimate power of the universe. This part of the series talks about the art of giving and balance of nature which balances the universe and makes it stable.
The main idea and theme of this poem relates to the Upanishads where men have been taught to give away the greed and their lustful desires. It talks about surrendering to the act of benevolence and live for the mankind. It highlights the importance of intangible things in life and suggests us to stop running behind the tangibles things in life. Further, it asks to have sympathy for all the creatures on this earth and work for the betterment of the universe. It draws the attention to the magic of compassion which can work wonders in case of a grief stricken scenarios. The poem says that the sympathy and care can transform the world in the long run. Greed will only suffice the short term ambitions but ultimately it would lead to loneliness in the long run.
T. S. Eliot also talks about the real meaning of happiness which is mostly misunderstood by majority of the people in this world. He explains that the real happiness is not in fulfilling your wants. It actually lies in the happiness of others. Every small step taken to make the world better for others will ultimately bring happiness for you. Considering the bigger picture, he clearly defines that greed is just a state of mind and it can be controlled with practice. And this control is the base of a stable and a balanced universe.
The poet explains that in our journey of life, we forget to analyze the real purpose of our life and keep living our life without any real purpose. Most of the life is spent without realizing the real goal of life and we do not feel like coming out of our comfort zone. Whenever we see someone in pain we do not feel the pain at that time thinking it would not happen to us. But the wheel of life is not same during all phases of life. Ups and downs would be there for everyone. And showing sympathy for others in their critical time would only make us stronger to deal our hard times. Humans are blessed to have a combination of heart and brain and that should be put to the right purpose as per the poet.
The entire summary of this poem revolves around the story of karma which should be kept in mind during our entire life. The poet has beautifully explained this with his flow of story in this part and has motivated and inspired his readers to follow the path of liberation by surrendering to the benefit of mankind, leaving the selfishness and greed aside. This fourth part of The Waste Land series is a very important link of the story that T. S. Eliot wants to convey about life.