July 17, 2015
Life, Death, Resurrection
Written by T.S. Eliot in 1922, The Waste Land presents the reader with a pessimistic view of a modern world inhabited by a society lacking hope and spirit. In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot utilizes imagery and symbolism to create an overall theme of life, death, and resurrection throughout the poem. The world depicted in the poem is barren; the trees are dead and the rivers have dried up. Those living in The Waste Land are apathetic to themselves and their surroundings. Despite all the death and decay that The Waste Land contains, there still is a light of hope. With an end of a life, there is a beginning of a new one.
Eliot uses the concept of death as means of portraying rebirth, as well as the classic morbid scenario that most are familiar with. Using this theme emphasizes the depressing, lifeless nature of The Waste Land. Eliot makes use of this theme by alluding to it in the second stanza of part 1 “The Burial of the Dead”: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish...and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/ And the dry stone no sound of water” (19-26). This lack of vegetation growth and water help the reader depict such a lifeless place of inhabitance. In the fourth stanza, Eliot makes reference to an entire crowd of people who flew over the London Bridge like ghosts: “Under the brown fog of a winter dawn/ A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many / I had not thought death had undone so many,” (60-63). Eliot then writes about a man named Stentson who planted a corpse in his garden the previous year. The speaker asked this man if it had begun to sprout or bloom (69-76); this imagery allows the reader to better understand the morose mindset of The Waste Land. Eliot alludes to rebirth, or the resurrection of life, in part V “What the Thunder Said” when referring to Luke 24: “Who is the third who walks beside you?” (359-365). This particular stanza refers to when Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and walked along two travelers. The allusion to Christ both emphasizes the theme of death and resurrection.
The Waste Land’s drought is a symbol of death:
“Here is no water but only rock Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit There is not even silence in the mountains But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses” (331-345).
The vivid description of the land in part V “What the Thunder Said” makes the reader want to take a drink to quench their parched mouth. How can something survive in such a painfully dry environment?
Water is a very prominent symbol of birth, death, and resurrection