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. In the third section “The Fire Sermon” which is summarized here, have different episodes. This title is borrowed from a Buddha’s scriptures, “The Fire Sermon“. Here, Lord Buddha teaches his followers to stay away from all emotions related to fire, such as lust, anger, frustration, and other earthly pleasure. In this section, Eliot tries to show the modern world’s loveless relationship and meaningless sex. He also tells us about the unreal city of London; whose streets and rivers get polluted after industrialization.
In the first scene, the speaker describes the Thames River. Speaker says trees shed over the river are no more, as the last of their leaves cling and sink into the wet bank. The wind crosses the wasteland, and no one hears the sound. The nymphs are all gone. In the next line, the speaker requests the Thames river to flow softly until he finishes his poem. There are no empty bottles, sandwich papers, Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette butts, or any other trash floating along the river that could give the evidence of people partying there on summer nights. The beautiful ladies are gone. And their friends,high society people’s spoiled heirs, who pollute the river are also gone without leaving any contact details. The next line is borrowed from “The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137“. Speaker sits beside the Lake Leman and cried. . Sweet Thames, please flow softly until the speaker finishes his poem. Speaker again requests the sweet river Thames to flow soft so that he can speak slow. The next line is borrowed from “To His Coy Mistress” where the poet shows us a sad truth about death. Behind the speaker’s back, when the wind blows strongly, he hears the deathly rattle of bones and an evil laugh that spread ear to ear.
When the speaker was fishing in the polluted canal on a winter evening behind the gashouse, a rat gently crawls on the grasses, dragging its slimy belly on the riverbank. While fishing, the speaker is thinking about the ship sinking off the king’s brother and the death of the king’s father. He is thinking about the white naked bodies lying on the damp ground and their bones in the low little attic which is disturbed by rats, year by year. Speaker hears horns and motors which indicates that Sweeney is visiting Mrs. Porter in the Spring to fulfill his lust. When the moon shines, Mrs. Porter and her daughter wash their feet with soda water to make their feet shinier and smoother. The last line of this stanza is in French, which means “oh, those children’s voices, singing in the dome!”
In the next scene, the poet again brings philomel (from part 2) and remembers how her sister’s husband Tereus brutally raped her. This shows the depiction of sex and violence in the wasteland. Further, the poet talks about homosexuality in London city. It is winter afternoon in a polluted unreal city. Mr. Eugenides, the unshaven merchant from Smyrna is having a pocket full of raisins. (Mr. Eugenides is probably a one-eyed merchant to whom Madame Sosostris referred in part 2). Mr.Eugenides has documents related to the cost, insurance, and freight. He asks the narrator in causal French for lunch at the Cannon Street Hotel and invitesthe narrator to spend the weekend together at the Metropole Hotel. These Hotels were well known for sexual activities at that time.
In the next scene, the narrator is now Tiresias, who is taken from Greek mythology. He is having both male and female characteristics. At sunset, when the human finally gets up and takes his eyes away from the desk, the human engine waits the same as when a thumping taxi waits. The narrator, Tiresias is bind and living two lives of both male and female. He is old and with wrinkled breasts. Though he is blind, he can see at dusk, everyone proceeds home. The sailor comes home from the sea.The typist comes home at teatime, washes her breakfast dishes, lights her stove, and arrange food in cans. At her laundry line, her drying undergarments are hanging in the sun’s last rays. Her other clothes like stockings, slippers, and corsets are piled up on bed-cum divan.
The narrator again introduces himself, I Tiresias, an old man with wrinkled breasts. Tiresias saw this scene and predicts the rest. The narrator is also waiting for the expected guest in the typist house. The young man with lots of acne arrives at the lady’s place. He is a small clerk and low-born but stares at the lady with confidence like a Bradford millionaire wearing a silk hat. This is the right time and the young man guesses that the meal is over, and the lady has bored and tired. He tries to bring the lady into a sexual mood. The lady is not in desire currently, but she also does not resist. The guy is thrilled and determined and then he attacks the lady. He moves his hand into her, and the lady does not stop him. He is so egoistic and self-obsessed that he does not even care about the cold feeling of the lady and welcome this indifferent mood. (In between Tiresias says, I Tiresias have already suffered this on same bed-cum-divan. I sat by the city of Thebes below the walls to see the future of kings and walked among the worst of the dead, to see this meaningless sex of dead souls.) And at the end of the sexual course, the man gives the last kiss to the lady and moves out finding his way through dark stairs.
She turns and looks in the mirror. She is hardly aware that her lover is now departed. A half-formed thought passes through her brain. “Well, it’s over! I am glad that it’s over now”. A beautiful lady does some foolish things and now can only pace around in her room, alone. She smooths her hair with her robotic hand and puts a record on the gramophone.
Here starts the last episode of this section. In this section, the speaker explores London’s streetand the Thames river. The first line “This music crept by me upon the waters” is taken from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest“. When the speaker crosses the Thames River, he hears the music. And when he goes along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street he hears the music. The narrator sometimes hears the pleasant sound of mandolin beside the public bar in Lower Thames Street. When the narrator comes a little more down where the walls of the church St. Magnus Martyr preserve the unexplainable splendor of ancient Roman white and gold columns, he hears the clattering and chit-chat of fishermen who are hanging around in noon.
Again, the narrator takes us to the Thames river and says after industrialization the river has become so polluted that it is sweating oil and tar. The boat drifts down the water with the changing tide. When red sails open wide, downwind, swinging on the heavy pole. The boat washes the drifting logs and pushes them to Greenwich, reaching past the Isle of Dogs. Weialala leia… Wallala leialala…
Queen Elizabeth and her lover Robert Leicester go for boating, beating oars of their boatwhose stern is a gilded shell of red and gold. The water swells and ripples both shores. The southwest wind carries the ring of bells from the white towers downstream.
The next few lines are borrowed from Richard’s opera, Ring Cycle. The three ladies from the opera tell her story. I first lady says, “Trolleys and dusty trees. I was born in Highbury. I was ruined in Richmond and Kew. In Richmond, I lost my virginity. I was laid out on the floor of a narrow canoe raising my knees”
The second lady says “I lost my virginity in Moorgate when my heart was below my feet. After the sex, my partner cried. He promised to have a new start. But I said nothing. What should I resent?”
The third says “At Margate Sands, I can’t make connections between anything, the broken fingernails of dirty hands. My people are humble people who expect nothing.” The last few lines are taken from Buddha’s “Fire Sermon” and St. Augustine’s“confessions”. Here St. Augustine confesses the sensual temptation. He says when he was in an ancient city Carthage, there was a lustful environment. He prays to Jesus to save him from this lust and take him away from this burning.
The third section of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste land” symbolizes the lack of culture and class in the modern world. And this descent into vulgarity is part of what drives people apart. In the modern world, love is reduced to just physicality. This section has some popular poetic forms, particularly musical ones. It includes bits of musical pieces. Thus, the poet uses different references and music to describe cheap sex and rape in the modern world. The highly complex, erudite, and allusive style of the poem is commendable. In “The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot incorporated past historical, mythological, and literary ideas in a new form.