The Waste Land has long been considered T. S. Eliots masterpiece. In its five sections, he delves into themes of war, trauma, disillusionment, and death, illuminating the devastating aftereffects of World War I. The poems final line, however, calls for peace with the repetition of shantih (the Sanskrit word for peace).
Part I opens with the famous line, April is the cruellest month. The speaker, Marie, is a young woman who bears witness to the physical and emotional devastation caused by the war.
Parts II and III describe the inside of a wealthy womans bedroom and the garbage-filled waters of the Thames, respectively. Part IV eulogizes a drowned man named Phlebas.
In the fifth and final part of the poem, the speaker translates the thunderclaps cracking over an Indian jungle. The poem ends with the repetition of the Sanskrit word for peace: Shantih shantih shantih.
The Waste Lands first section consists of four stanzas. In the first stanza, Marie, the speaker, reminisces about the carefree, innocent time before World War I. Here, Eliot includes references to Germany, such as a lake called the Starnbergerse, and uses German speech excerpts, such as the following (which means Im not Russian at all, Im from Lithuania, really German):
Marie speaks of the changes from winter (on which she looks back) to spring, as represented by April, which she calls the cruellest month. It seems that barely has spring taken hold, however, when summer arrives (Summer surprised us). Winter, as Marie looks back on in memory, is connected to sledding with her cousin and overcoming her fears.
The mood turns darker, however, in the second stanza. The speaker no longer seems to be Marie, exactly, though it is not immediately clear who is speaking (or if it is simply Marie in a much different mood); this pattern of vocal instability persists for the length of the poem. The speaker comments on the desolation of the stony rubbish and dry stone, referencing death in the image of the dead tree. Their mood is pessimistic, fixating on fear in a handful of dust. These images initially seem to be in contrast to the images in the quoted material of the innocent hyacinth girl; however, despite the sensualimageryof the hyacinths and the line Your arms full, and your hair wet, the overall scene sets up a similar failure of flourishing and nature, and ends with the German for Dull and empty is the sea:
The subject and ultimate speaker of the third stanza is Madame Sosostris, a fortune-teller who uses tarot cards. Eliot includes references to both the traditional cards in the deck and some innovations. Establishing one of the poems central conceits, a focus on water and its lack, Eliot introduces the card called the drowned Phoenician sailor; Phoenicia also calls to mind the phoenix, symbolizing rebirth from flame (in contrast to water). Later in the stanza, Madame Sosostris commands,
(This command recurs as the title for the poems fourth section, Death by Water.)
Madame Sosostris also draws a blank, unreadable card (Which I am forbidden to see), symbolizing the unknowable future. Seeing plays an important role: this is illustrated by the pearls that are the sailors eyes (a quotation from ShakespearesThe Tempest), the one-eyed merchant card, and the clairvoyant seeing a crowded ring of people. She urges caution in speaking about horoscopes.
The fourth stanza is set in London, called Unreal City, where a wintry brown fog has enveloped London Bridge. The multitudes seem to be Madame Sosistriss predicted crowd. The speaker…
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