The Waste Land
At first glance, THE WASTE LAND appears fragmentary, even incoherent. The themes of the cruelty of physical existence and the unreality of modern life which dominate the poem’s difficult first part, “The Burial of the Dead,” give way to the simpler but no less horrifying portrayal of upper and lower-class life in “A Game of Chess": the materialism and fearful ennui of the one, the abortions and physical decay of the other. Parts 3 and 4 are more deeply and overtly ironic. In “The Fire Sermon,” the reader finds neither the spiritual love that Buddha and Augustine advised nor the sexual passion that they warned against but only perfunctory sexual encounters that leave the partners as separate and unfulfilled as they were before. In “Death by Water,” Eliot turns the symbol of physical and spiritual life into yet another form of death in an age given over to dying.
“What the Thunder Said” is at once the most hopeful and the most pessimistic of the poem’s five sections. The fact that it ends with the Hindu word Shantih (“the peace that passeth understanding”) repeated three times may be construed (like the thunder heralding the needed, life-bringing rain) as a sign of recovery or as yet another of the many fragments that Eliot and his narrator have shored against their--not the reader’s--ruin, a ruin which grows more pervasive, more total throughout the poem.
The ambiguity of the final section of Eliot’s dense and difficult poem is appropriate in that Eliot wishes to leave the reader not with...
(The entire section is 630 words.)
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