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 fifth section “What the Thunder Said” which is summarized here is the last section of the poem. The last section comprises four scenes. First is of Gethsemane, when Jesus Christ was arrested and crucified. The second is a barren mountain with only rocks and no water. The third is the search for the Holy Grail and images of broken cities. Fourth is the analysis of thunder sound Datta, Dayadhvum, and Damyata. The poet teaches his reader to adapt the three mantras, to live a meaningful and hopeful life.The summary of the poem is as below.
In the first scene, the poet T.S. Eliot is trying to portray the pain and agony of Jesus Christ before and during the crucifixion period. The next few lines describe the scene of the garden of Gethsemane. When the guards were sent to arrest Jesus Christ, a huge crowd gathered to protest this. So, here the poet says, the torchlight falls on the crowd’s sweaty faces. There is a cold silence in the garden of Gethsemane. The garden of Gethsemane witnesses the agony and suffering of Jesus Christ during his trial. And when the crucifixion order comes, the supporters of Jesus Christ are crying and shouting in prison and palace. There are echoes of spring thunder over the distant mountains. Now he (Jesus Christ) is dead. Thus, Jesus Christ’s death is marked by an earthquake and violent thunder. Yet in the end, he rises from the grave. We who were alive are now dying, slowly. Thus, it is still in despair.
The desolation continuesbecause of no water.There is no water here. There are only rocks and a sandy road. The road is winding up through the mountains. These mountains are made of rocks with no water. If there would be any water, we would stop and drink. Among the rocks, one cannot take rest or think. The feet are in the sand. The sweat has been dried. This is a dead mountain, like a mouth with decaying teeth that can no longer spit. This is a place where people cannot wait, stand, lie down, nor sit. There isn’t even silence in the mountains. There are thunder sounds in the Rocky Mountains. These thunders are without rain. One is not even alone in the mountains.Instead, red pouting faces of the local’ssneer and snarl from the doorways of their dry mud houses. The narrator wishes that if there were only water and no rock. Or maybe water along with rock, or spring or pool among the rocks. He wishes if there was the only sound of water. He wishes if there would be no sound of blowing of dry grass or no sound of cicada. He wishes if there would be the sound of running water over the rock where hermit bird would sing in the pine trees. The sound of water, drip drop drip drop drop drop drop. But unfortunately, there is no water. The repetition of the phrases ‘no water’, ‘only rock’ and ‘sand’ show a sort of loss of coherence, which is emphasized by the fact that the narrator says, among the rocks, one cannot stop and think’. Water symbolizes fertility and growth both of nature and of the human intellect. The thunder which heralded the death of the Christ before is dry and sterile, foretelling of rain which does not come.
This passage is based on the tale of the “Legend of Emmaus”. When there was news of the return of Jesus. His two-disciple reach Emmaus while searching for Jesus. Jesus comes in front of them in a brown gown and his disciples could not recognize him. These two disciples are talking with each other. One asks, who is the third person always walking next to you? When I count, there is just you and me, side by side. But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always someone walking next to you. The person is wearing a brown cape with a hood and continuously moving with us. I do not know whether the gliding person is a man or a woman—but who is that, next to you?
This stanza describes the condition of Eastern Europe after the First World War. The lines explain the scene when after the war; there was the destruction of people and places. The narrator asks, what is that high-pitched sound in the air? Is this motherly crying? Who are these people in hoody swarming over endless plains, stumbling over the cracked ground, surrounded only by the endless horizon? What is the city on the other side of the mountains? There are cracks and repairs and explosions in the dusk. Towers are falling. Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, London. All of them are unreal. The word “unreal” depicts the current destructionand hopelessness which is happening so fast that it seems like a dream.
A woman pulls her long black hair tight and plays ominous music like a fiddle on those hair strings. Bats with the faces of babies whistle at dusk. They beat their wings and crawl their heads down on a burnt wall. Now the towers are upside down. The sound of the bells symbolizes the old times. But it doesn’t offer any look to the future. The sound coming from the empty tanks and dry wells describe the decay and destruction in the wasteland in this modern era. And it also signifies the loss of faith and worship of a false god.
In this stanza, the poet focuses on the little hope in the wasteland. This hope comes in a sudden flash of lightning with the rain. In the decayed hole, in the middle of the mountains, and the dim moonlight, the wind blows through the grass. There is a collapsed grave around the chapel. There is an empty chapel where only wind crosses in and out. In the chapel, there are no windows, and the door swings because of the crossing wind. There is no life around the chapel. There are only dry and old bones that can’t hurt anyone. Only a cock stands on the rooftree and crows co co rico co co rico. The crowing of the cock washes out all the negativity and evilness. And then a sudden flash of lightning and the damp wind brings the rain as a new hope in this hopeless wasteland.
In this stanza, the poet focuses on the eastern part of the world and discusses the Ganga in India. When the Ganga River is dry and limp leaves wait for rain. While black clouds gather distantly over the Himalayas. The jungle humps and waits in silence. Then the thunder comes with the sound, DA. Thus, when the rain comes and the Ganges overflows, this symbolizes the eastern places are still flourishing, while the west has lost its fertility and has become the real wasteland.
The word “DA” is analyzed and interpreted in different ways. The poet uses the ideas of the Upanishads, a series of sacred texts. The Upanishads are followed by both Hinduism and Buddhism. According to Hindu Mythology, when Lord Brahma was asked by his children, how to achieve inner peace. Then Lord Brahma gave them a mantra “DA”. So, this DA is interpreted in three different ways by the three sons. The first son, human, interprets the DA as ‘Datta’. The second son, the demon interprets the DA as ‘Dayadhvam’. The third son, the dev interprets the DA as ‘Damyata’.
Datta means to give. So, the narrator asks, what have you given to society? My friend, my heartbeat pounds with the awful bravery which is required to surrender to a moment of lust.Even our era of cautiousness cannot take back. These lustful acts are the mark of our existence.Though these acts won’t be found in our obituaries, or memories on which spider would make their webs, or in our wills unsealed by our lawyers. Thus, T.S. Eliot again explores the concept of lust but this time in a different way. One should always try to be a giver, though it may be the giving of sexual pleasure. He says one can be only remembered by his deeds after death. These deeds can be good or bad.
Dayadhvam means sympathize. The narrator says that each person is locked in his prison of ego and trying to find the way out. And the key would only turn then we have sympathy and compassion for those unprivileged class. And when the night falls, we realize our true self, as happened with Coriolanus. The mention of Coriolanus comes from a play of Shakespeare’s, where Coriolanus was banished because of his inappropriate behavior towards other people. So the poet wishes that reader would behave with sympathy and shows compassion and love to each class of people.
Damyata means self-control. In this stanza, the poet gives an example of an expert, sailing a boat. The poet says that the boat would respond properly to an expert sails-man hand. The sea would be calm. In the same way, if our mind is calm and controlled, then our heart would follow our command smoothly and happily. Thus, a person should control his mind, heart, and desire to be happy in life.
In the last stanza of the series, the poet T.S. Eliot uses various allusions and references. Firstly, he brings the character of Fisher King from Jessie Weston’s “From Ritual to Romance”. The Fisher King is sitting on the shore. He is fishingwith the barren plain behind him. He wonders, ‘should I at least restore order to my kingdom?’ The next line is borrowed from a nursery rhyme. London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down. This indicates that London is falling, and the path of salvation is slowly destroying. The next line is borrowed from the poem, “Purgatorio”. Which means, he hid in the fire which refines him. When shall I be like the swallow? —Oh, swallow, swallow. The Prince of Aquitaine also refers to the destruction of the towers. Then again, the poet brings back the Fisher King character. He realizes that his kingdom is now ruined. Going mad, he uses the broken things which he has kept saving himself. Then the instruction from thunder comes again, Give. Sympathize and Control. And at last, the poet ends his series “The Waste Land” with “Shantihshantihshantih” which means “Peace, peace, peace”or” the peace which passeth understanding”. This is an acknowledgment of blessing or salvation. The world is destroying, and people are living a meaningless life, but Eliot leaves us with a path of peace and kindness that still can be found. Thus, the poet ends the poem with a positive note of “HOPE”.
T. S. Eliot’s poem symbolizes the spiritual and emotional sterility of the modern world. The poem shows intense knowledge of the poet as he uses several quotations in other languages like French, German, and Sanskrit. The poem consists of collage, having different fragmented scenes and characters. The last section is written in unpunctuated, unrhymed, and irregular free verse. The last section, “What the Thunder Said” concludes with a collage of different quotations from various sources like the nursery rhyme, Dante’s Purgatorio, the Pervigilium Veneris, Tennyson poem, a sonnet by Gerard de Nerval (‘the Prince of Aquitaine in the ruined tower’), and finally, the word ‘Shantih’. Throughout the poem, the poet T.S. Eliot focuses on bothWestern and Eastern religious traditions, particularly Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. And at last, the poem suggests that a spiritual crisis is responsible for people’s isolation and despair in modern society. This makes society, a Waste Land. Thus, to resolve this spiritual crisis, finding faithcould help to restore modern civilization.Only then people and society can achieve “Shantih”, “the peace which passeth understanding”. 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.