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T. S. Eliot

The Waste Land

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1922

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Summary and Study Guide


By any measure—influence, scope, durability, reputation—T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” published in 1922, stands as the defining English-language poem of the 20th century. No other single poem is more widely read, more widely quoted, more widely imitated, or more widely interpreted. The poem itself—notoriously difficult to read given Eliot’s vast erudition and determination to upend all inherited assumptions about the function and form of a poem—is largely a war poem, or more precisely, a post-war poem. The poem established Eliot as the preeminent voice of the generation coming to terms with the psychological impact of World War I. At the time, Eliot was a young American expatriate living in London who belonged to the self-described lost generation of artists and intellectuals who self-consciously called themselves modernists. These artists were stunned by the war’s brutality and were spiritually exhausted by its sheer pointlessness, certain that the depths of its horrors signaled the end to Western civilization.

In “The Waste Land,” Eliot gave voice to that generation’s disillusionment with civilization and to its certainty that all that remained was the living death of spiritual enervation, malaise, lust, and moral corruption. The world, the poem argues, is a self-created waste land, awaiting some long-shot hope for renewal. It is a world lost to its God, a world too content with the soul-numbing cycle of lust and dust, a world that too easily turned its collective back on its own glorious cultural past. In the poem—or, more precisely, the sequence of poems—characters come and then fade. They voice their fears, their anxieties, their loneliness, and their boredom only to fragment into irrelevancy. Loosely set in post-war London, the poem generates a zombie-like feeling to the city using a wide range of allusions to mythology, religion, history, Eastern and Western theologies, and Elizabethan literature. The fragmented feeling of so many references underscores the Lost Generation’s sense of being adrift within a shattered world. Using the Arthurian myth of the Fisher King—a wounded sovereign entrusted to guard the Holy Grail (the purported chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper whose recovery alone will restore his kingdom to moral and spiritual vigor)—the poem ultimately searches to affirm the possibility of redemption.

Poet Biography

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in the heart of America along the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888. He was born to privilege: his father a successful business owner, his mother a teacher and amateur poet. A sickly child, Eliot was early on a voracious reader and a precocious student. He was accepted for study at Harvard, completing a BA in 1909, then pursuing graduate degrees in, among other areas, Sanskrit, Elizabethan literature, and philosophy. At Harvard, Eliot began publishing poetry—dense philosophical works challenging the American sense of optimism and its conservative Protestant religious tradition.

In 1914, Eliot moved to London, married, and took a job as a bank clerk. He established himself within London’s burgeoning underground arts community: of writers, painters, and composers who dubbed themselves modernists. These intellectuals, disaffected by the war raging in Europe, endorsed a sweeping revision of all inherited artistic forms and a bold challenge to the conservative thinking of the era. Within two years, Eliot catapulted to the forefront of the movement when he published “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a scathing indictment of contemporary life lived without spiritual energy or purpose that was hailed for its innovative form and its daring poetics. Eliot accepted a major editorship at a prominent London literary journal.

In addition to pressures from a dysfunctional marriage, the mounting pressure to maintain his position as a major poet led to Eliot’s nervous breakdown in the early 1920s. Under the guidance of fellow American expatriate poet Ezra Pound, however, Eliot crafted what would become “The Waste Land,” a towering achievement immediately hailed by critics impressed by the poem’s ambitions and intrigued by its bold form and dense and difficult lines. The poem established Eliot as the foremost poet of his generation. In 1927, unhappy over America’s culture of rampant consumerism and its spiritual aridity, Eliot renounced his American citizenship and became a naturalized British citizen. He accepted a position as editor at the prestigious publishing house Faber & Gwyer where he would remain for more than two decades helping to shape the direction of contemporary British literature.

Over the next 40 years, Eliot cemented his position as a major literary force. His most prominent poetic works, “The Hollow Men” (1925), “Ash Wednesday” (1930), and the monumental “Four Quartets” (1941), reflected his own religious evolution, his restless search for spiritual purpose, and his conversion to Catholicism in the late 1920s. In addition to his essays on literature and culture, Eliot pioneered the verse drama, most notably in his play The Cocktail Party. On a lighter note, he published the whimsical Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), which more than 50 years later served as inspiration for the Tony-winning musical Cats. In 1948, Eliot received the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on January 4, 1965 at the age of 76. His ashes were interred on Easter Sunday in a modest churchyard gravesite in East Coker—a rural village three hours west of London where his family was founded. On his modest gravestone is the inscription, “In my end is my beginning,” a line from Four Quartets.

Poem Text

I. The Burial of the Dead

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.

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,

My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,

And I was frightened. He said, Marie,

Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.

In the mountains, there you feel free.

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

                     Frisch weht der Wind

                     Der Heimat zu

                     Mein Irisch Kind,

                     Wo weilest du?

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

“They called me the hyacinth girl.”

—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither

Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,

Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Oed’ und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,

Had a bad cold, nevertheless

Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,

With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,

Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,

(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,

The lady of situations.

Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,

And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,

Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,

Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find

The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.

I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.

Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,

Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:

One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,

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.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!

“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!

“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,

“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!

“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

              II. A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,

Glowed on the marble, where the glass

Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines

From which a golden Cupidon peeped out

(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)

Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra

Reflecting light upon the table as

The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,

From satin cases poured in rich profusion;

In vials of ivory and coloured glass

Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,

Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused

And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air

That freshened from the window, these ascended

In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,

Flung their smoke into the laquearia,

Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.

Huge sea-wood fed with copper

Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,

In which sad light a carvéd dolphin swam.

Above the antique mantel was displayed

As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene

The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king

So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale

Filled all the desert with inviolable voice

And still she cried, and still the world pursues,

“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.

And other withered stumps of time

Were told upon the walls; staring forms

Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.

Footsteps shuffled on the stair.

Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair

Spread out in fiery points

Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.

“My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.

“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.

“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?

“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

I think we are in rats’ alley

Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is that noise?”

                         The wind under the door.

“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”

                          Nothing again nothing.


“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember


      I remember

Those are pearls that were his eyes.

“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”   



O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—

It’s so elegant

So intelligent

“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”

“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street

“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?

“What shall we ever do?”

                                              The hot water at ten.

And if it rains, a closed car at four.

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said—

I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,


Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.

He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you

To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.

You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,

He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.

And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,

He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,

And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.

Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.

Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.


If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.

Others can pick and choose if you can’t.

But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.

You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.

(And her only thirty-one.)

I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,

It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.

(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)

The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.

You are a proper fool, I said.

Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,

What you get married for if you don’t want children?


Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,

And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—



Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.

Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.

Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

              III. The Fire Sermon

The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf

Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind

Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,

Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends

Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.

And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;

Departed, have left no addresses.

By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,

Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.

But at my back in a cold blast I hear

The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation

Dragging its slimy belly on the bank

While I was fishing in the dull canal

On a winter evening round behind the gashouse

Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck

And on the king my father’s death before him.

White bodies naked on the low damp ground

And bones cast in a little low dry garret,

Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.

But at my back from time to time I hear

The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring

Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.

O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter

And on her daughter

They wash their feet in soda water

Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!

Twit twit twit

Jug jug jug jug jug jug

So rudely forc’d.


Unreal City

Under the brown fog of a winter noon

Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant

Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants

C.i.f. London: documents at sight,

Asked me in demotic French

To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel

Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a taxi throbbing waiting,

I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,

Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives

Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,

The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights

Her stove, and lays out food in tins.

Out of the window perilously spread

Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,

On the divan are piled (at night her bed)

Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.

I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs

Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—

I too awaited the expected guest.

He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,

A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,

One of the low on whom assurance sits

As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.

The time is now propitious, as he guesses,

The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,

Endeavours to engage her in caresses

Which still are unreproved, if undesired.

Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;

Exploring hands encounter no defence;

His vanity requires no response,

And makes a welcome of indifference.

(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all

Enacted on this same divan or bed;

I who have sat by Thebes below the wall

And walked among the lowest of the dead.)

Bestows one final patronising kiss,

And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,

Hardly aware of her departed lover;

Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:

“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”

When lovely woman stoops to folly and

Paces about her room again, alone,

She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,

And puts a record on the gramophone.

“This music crept by me upon the waters”

And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.

O City city, I can sometimes hear

Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,

The pleasant whining of a mandoline

And a clatter and a chatter from within

Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls

Of Magnus Martyr hold

Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

              The river sweats

              Oil and tar

              The barges drift

              With the turning tide

              Red sails


              To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.

              The barges wash

              Drifting logs

              Down Greenwich reach

              Past the Isle of Dogs.

                               Weialala leia

                               Wallala leialala

              Elizabeth and Leicester

              Beating oars

              The stern was formed

              A gilded shell

              Red and gold

              The brisk swell

              Rippled both shores

              Southwest wind

              Carried down stream

              The peal of bells

              White towers

                              Weialala leia

                              Wallala leialala

“Trams and dusty trees.

Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew

Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees

Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.”

“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart

Under my feet. After the event

He wept. He promised a ‘new start.’

I made no comment. What should I resent?”

“On Margate Sands.

I can connect

Nothing with nothing.

The broken fingernails of dirty hands.

My people humble people who expect


                      la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning

O Lord Thou pluckest me out

O Lord Thou pluckest


              IV. Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell

And the profit and loss.

                                  A current under sea

Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell

He passed the stages of his age and youth

Entering the whirlpool.

                                  Gentile or Jew

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

              V. What the Thunder Said

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces

After the frosty silence in the gardens

After the agony in stony places

The shouting and the crying

Prison and palace and reverberation

Of thunder of spring over distant mountains

He who was living is now dead

We who were living are now dying

With a little patience

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

                                     If there were water

  And no rock

  If there were rock

  And also water

  And water

  A spring

  A pool among the rock

  If there were the sound of water only

  Not the cicada

  And dry grass singing

  But sound of water over a rock

  Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

  Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop

  But there is no water

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

I do not know whether a man or a woman

—But who is that on the other side of you?

What is that sound high in the air

Murmur of maternal lamentation

Who are those hooded hordes swarming

Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth

Ringed by the flat horizon only

What is the city over the mountains

Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air

Falling towers

Jerusalem Athens Alexandria

Vienna London


A woman drew her long black hair out tight

And fiddled whisper music on those strings

And bats with baby faces in the violet light

Whistled, and beat their wings

And crawled head downward down a blackened wall

And upside down in air were towers

Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours

And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

In this decayed hole among the mountains

In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing

Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel

There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.

It has no windows, and the door swings,

Dry bones can harm no one.

Only a cock stood on the rooftree

Co co rico co co rico

In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust

Bringing rain

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves

Waited for rain, while the black clouds

Gathered far distant, over Himavant.

The jungle crouched, humped in silence.

Then spoke the thunder


Datta: what have we given?

My friend, blood shaking my heart

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender

Which an age of prudence can never retract

By this, and this only, we have existed

Which is not to be found in our obituaries

Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider

Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor

In our empty rooms


Dayadhvam: I have heard the key

Turn in the door once and turn once only

We think of the key, each in his prison

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours

Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus


Damyata: The boat responded

Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar

The sea was calm, your heart would have responded

Gaily, when invited, beating obedient

To controlling hands


                                   I sat upon the shore

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow

Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

                 Shantih    shantih    shantih

Eliot, T.S. “The Waste Land.” 1992. Poetry Foundation.


The first section, “The Burial of the Dead,” takes its title from the funeral rite of the Anglican Church. Appropriately, the poem introduces four brief evocative episodes that each create a feeling of emotional deadness. In the first episode, Marie, a wealthy German countess, recalls happy childhood memories of sledding in the Bavarian mountains. She is now old and alone. She spends her long days reading. She fears the fast approach of spring because the season’s healing rains that coax open the blossoms compel her to more deeply feel her own emotional emptiness. She is unable to feel anything but bored and adrift in her past, unable to love, unwilling to live.

In the second episode, a nameless voice recalls a fleeting experience of emotional attachment, a young girl carrying a bundle of fresh hyacinths—a memory now lost. The voice in turn recounts the devastation of the modern world: a shattered world whose stark sterility is underscored by a relentless and unforgiving heat reducing the world to a stark and rotten waste land.

The third episode introduces Madame Sosostris, a fortune-teller renowned for her uncanny ability to read tarot cards to predict the future. Ailing from a lingering head cold, she nevertheless reviews the cards displayed on the table. Each foretells a grim, empty future, suggested by her vision of crowds of blank-eyed people aimlessly walking in circles. She cautions to fear particularly death by drowning. The first section closes with an unidentified voice sharing a terrifying vision of a desolate London in the winter, shrouded in a chilly brown fog—its residents moving about like zombies with eyes fixed downward. The narrator momentarily thinks he glimpses the ghost of a man he served with in the army, Stetson, but he understands that unlike seeds, corpses planted do not sprout new life.

The second section, “A Game of Chess,” is divided into two narratives, each of which underscores the emptiness and sterility of the end game of contemporary love. In the first a neurotic wealthy woman nervously waits for her (presumable) lover to arrive. The woman, scented with rich oily lotions and wearing expensive jewelry, methodically brushes her hair, stroke after stroke. She waits in a lavishly decorated room including a carved dolphin on the mantel and a painting of Philomel—a figure from Greek mythology who was raped by a king, her brother-in-law, and whose tongue he cut out to ensure her silence. Philomel was turned into a nightingale known for its heartbreaking song. The woman’s nerves, she concedes, are bad tonight—she begs her lover to comfort her.

In the section’s second narrative, two working-class women in a seedy London dive about to close for the night discuss Lil, a friend whose husband, Albert, is coming home after four years in the army. Lil is suffering from bad teeth—a side-effect of pills she took to abort what would have been her sixth child. The delivery of her fifth child had nearly killed her, but her husband would not leave her alone. The women fear that Lil’s rotten teeth will put off her husband and that Lil should have been fitted for false teeth or her husband will most certainly cheat on her.

The third section, “The Fire Sermon,” takes its name from a scathing homily delivered by Buddha railing against the temptations of passion. In this section, a man walking along the desolate bank of the oily and fetid River Thames amid scurrying rats and trash sees himself as the embodiment of the Greek mythological figure of Tiresias—a blind prophet who was turned by an angry goddess into a woman for seven years. Eliot’s narrator recounts the story of an office typist having a lackluster late afternoon tryst with an unimaginative and uninspiring lover: a pompous and preening office clerk. The encounter is predictably listless. The sex is dull—the woman’s mind wanders—but the man leaves feeling quite satisfied and quite happy with himself. When he finally departs, the woman puts a record on her gramophone, relieved to be alone again. The section closes with the narrator walking along the river and conceiving of a harrowing cascade of images suggesting broken and futile love; most notably, he imagines the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I on a barge on the same Thames awaiting her own disappointing lover, the Earl of Leicester. The section ends collapsing into a raging fire, representing the destructive energy of contemporary passion.

In a poem that has thus far dealt with emotional and spiritual death, the fourth section, “Death by Water,” offers a stark reminder of the absolute reality of physical death. Here a young, strapping Phoenician sailor named Phlebas has fallen off his ship and drowned in turbulent seas. For two weeks, his bloated body drifts along in the currents of the sea floor being nibbled by rapacious sea life. There is no regeneration, no redemption, no resurrection.

The fifth section, “What the Thunder Said,” returns to a stark and desiccated landscape. Two figures walk through a rocky and waterless waste land that stretches to a ragged line of mountains along a distant horizon. It is a post-apocalyptic world expanding to include all the capitals of more than a millennium of European civilization—Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, London—a ruined world now deathly quiet save for the occasional dry rumbles of thunder. Focus particularly rests on a chapel in ruins: From its shattered roof, a single rooster crows an ironic salute to the break of dawn. With a flash of lightning, rain begins to fall, absurdly and pointlessly.

The poem shuttles across two continents to the Ganges River, sacred to the Hindi in India. Drawing on the Upanishads—a book of fables and parables sacred to the Hindu faith—the thunder appears now to echo a Hindu chant: “Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata” (translated as Give, Sympathize, Control) (Line 432). The incantation offers a last-ditch strategy for maintaining inner tranquility—spiritual calm despite living in the waste land world that lacks generosity, spirit, or kindness; a world where no one gives, no one sympathizes, and a world where no one controls anything. That sense of dubious hope is underscored by the image of a king sitting upon the shore of a river, returning at last to a kingdom in ruins who is only beginning to grasp the enormous task of restoring it to order and is content, rather, to while away his time fishing in the dead waters of the river. The distinctly Eastern sense of inner peace, then, may be the only way of moving toward the promise of spiritual invigoration in a shattered Western world, suggested—perhaps ironically, perhaps not—by the repeated chant “Shantih” (Line 433) which translates as “peace that surpasses understanding.” 

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T. S. Eliot

Study Guide


The Song of the Jellicles

T. S. Eliot

The Song of the Jellicles

T. S. Eliot

Study Guide


Tradition and the Individual Talent

T. S. Eliot

Tradition and the Individual Talent

T. S. Eliot