The Waste Land Questions and Answers
by T. S. Eliot

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Discuss the theme of regeneration and rebirth in The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot.

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T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land develops themes of regeneration and rebirth by intertwining images of death with images of life (or the potential for new life), beginning with the first seven lines:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Here, the poem alternates between images of death/inertness and life/movement: "cruellest" is followed by "breeding," "dead" by "mixing" and "stirring," "dull roots" by "spring rain," and "forgetful" by "feeding." Death, silence, and stillness are intertwined with signs of life, change, and movement, implying that regeneration is occurring beneath an otherwise inert surface.

Eliot continues to mix images of death and life throughout the poem in order to create the sense of new life regenerating or being reborn—breaking through that which is dead and gone. For instance, the second stanza begins with several lines about a parched desert in which

... the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.

In the shadow of a rock, however, the poem says, "I will show you something different," describing how shadows change as the sun moves. Although the lack of life in the desert seems final, the changing of shadows indicates that death, too, has to change into a different form.

The second half of this stanza develops images of a hyacinth garden. The poem's narrator says,

... I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing.

Like a seed just before it sprouts, the narrator is caught in the potential of regeneration or rebirth: He's not dead, but neither has he yet burst into life.

In his notes on The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot explains that the poem is based heavily on The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer. Specifically, Eliot says he relied on the part of The Golden Bough that focuses on how ancient Mediterranean cultures personified agricultural cycles in myth, by attributing the life and death of people to the lives, deaths and resurrections of various gods. Likewise, in The Waste Land, Eliot combines images of death that appear final but that actually set the stage for resurrection or rebirth.