What does the term "Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata" signify in "What the Thunder Said" in the poem The Waste Land?

The terms “Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata” in the section of The Waste Land entitled “What the Thunder Said” signify a possible way of escaping from the malaise of the fractured modern-day existence. The terms respectively mean “give,” “be sympathetic,” and “control,” which could collectively be interpreted as a way of dealing with the chaos and disorder of post-war life.

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The terms "Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata" are from Hindu mythology, specifically from the second Brahmana. In this Brahmana, the gods ask Devas and Asuras to have self control and be compassionate and ask mankind to be charitable.

In this poem, the terms suggest that mankind needs to follow these instructions...

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The terms "Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata" are from Hindu mythology, specifically from the second Brahmana. In this Brahmana, the gods ask Devas and Asuras to have self control and be compassionate and ask mankind to be charitable.

In this poem, the terms suggest that mankind needs to follow these instructions in order to avoid a repeat of World War I.

In the poem, Eliot's speaker asks, "What have we given?" To him, datta here refers to self-sacrifice, particularly in terms of giving life and limb for a friend. This can be connected to the First World War: in this section of the poem, Eliot refers to a "friend" and an act of sacrifice for him, which alone means that someone has really existed.

In terms of dayadhvam, Eliot alludes to prisons and how each person is in his own prison. In order to be sympathetic, as this order directs, it is important for everyone to be aware that we are all in our own prisons and to sympathize on this front.

Damyata, the final element, directs the reader to be compassionate. Eliot describes a boat which responds as directed to the hands which control it and suggests that we, like the boat, will feel more secure if we do not resist what is happening to us, but instead have compassion for what the world is being asked to do in order to recover.

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One of the most noteworthy features of Eliot's The Waste Land is its polyphonic quality (its use of many different voices). One of those voices is that of the thunder that speaks in the poem's final section. Eliot derives the speaking thunder from an ancient Indian philosophical work called the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in which people are enjoined to adopt certain moral standards in their lives.

These standards are “Datta,” giving; Dayadhvam,” being compassionate; and “Damyata,” exercising control. Though these moral commands are unmistakably the products of Eastern philosophy, their derivation from the thunder, which all of us experience at some point in our lives, gives them a universal relevance, even to those of us who live in the West.

In fact, they are particularly relevant to those who live in the West, especially those who live in the fractured, chaotic society of the post-war era, when many of the old moral, cultural, and political certainties had been upended by years of bloody, senseless conflict.

In the midst of all this chaos, amid the broken fragments of Western civilization, the wisdom of the East, as manifested in the notions of giving, sympathizing, and controlling, hold out the hope, however remote, of building the foundations of a new social and moral order on the ruins of the old.

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There are so many things going on in "The Waste Land" and so many literary references that it is an oversimplification to suggest one grand meaning. But in general, the 'wasteland' suggests that the Modern era (then 1922) was the waste land. The tone of the poem is mournful (with only bits of hope, more toward the end); the period after World War I left many people disillusioned, not just about the current state of the industrialized world, but with the idea of progress. In other words, if progress is real, if the world is getting smarter, more advanced and so on, then how can such a war occur. In the first section, the opening line is "April is the cruelest month." April is a time of renewal; but in this context it is cruel; the idea is that renewal should be occurring but it is not.

After all of this talk of a waste land, the thunder becomes audible, "da" (which may be German for "there" - the thunder being there, audible but in the distance) and then "Datta," "Dayadhvam," and "Damyata." In order, they mean "give," "compassion," and "control." These come from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is an ancient philosophical text containing Hindu and Buddhist concepts. Among these concepts and statements are three duties (giving, compassion, and control). These are things each individual must sacrifice to the gods, to other people, animals, and so on. It is part of the lessons of ethical responsibility for each person. 

So, when the thunder "says" these three things (giving, compassion, and control), the thunder is far away - and still no rain. While the landscape is still dry and dead (waiting for rain), the thunder at least offers the possibility of rain (the hope that these things will rain down on the waste land and provide the spring that April has not yet provided). The thunder's potential promise of rain - leading to growth and life - is a parallel to the promise of individual and social improvement. So, the poem ends, not with the achievement of peace, but with the potential of it. The thunder is the hope/potential; the rain, if it eventually comes, is the achievement. 

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The Waste Land is a tricky compilation of Eliot's meanderings and responses to current events, mythology, and obscure texts.

Fortunately for the reader, Eliot took it upon himself to make a series of notes at the end of the poem to explain some of his references. 

In the section of "The Waste Land" entitled 'What the Thunder Said,' Eliot uses personification, making the rumbles of the thunder into a conversation piece.  This is actually based on a Hindu fable about what thunder says when it rumbles “Datta, dayadhvam, damyata” (Give, sympathise, control)" (from Eliot's note for line 401). 

Representing the coming of a destructive storm, Eliot's 'What the Thunder Said' is the last section of the poem. 

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