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THE WASTE LAND - a Christian perspectiveIn the modern-day secular scenario, the opening voice in 'The Waste Land,' a deeply Christian one, agonizes over the abysmal absence of the Christian sense of spring, of Easter and all the sacrosanct memories associated with it. What meets the eye is a world asleep to, and oblivious of, all that constitutes the discipline, the joy, and the glory of Easter.April is the cruellest month, breedingLilacs out of the dead land, mixingMemory and desire, stirringDull roots with spring rain.Winter kept us warm, coveringEarth in forgetful snow, feedingA little life with dried tubers.Summer surprised us, coming over the StarnbergerseeWith 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.
Implicitly, the contemporary secular scenario evokes a strong contrast with Chaucer's April with its "showers sweet" that engender a strong spiritual urge in the inhabitants of a Christian land.The passage which follows (Eliot's notes direct us to Ezekiel 2:7 and Ecclesiastes 12:5) makes a befitting Christian response to the secular scenario depicted in the opening passage.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches growOut of this stony rubbish? Son of man,You cannot say, or guess, for you know onlyA 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. OnlyThere is shadow under this red rock,(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),And I will show you something different from eitherYour shadow at morning striding behind youOr your shadow at evening rising to meet you;I will show you fear in a handful of dust.Remarkably the opening lines, "April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire" have their counterpart in 'Gerontion,' a poem intended by Eliot to preface The Waste Land:In the juvescence of the yearCame Christ the tigerIn depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunkAmong whispersSections II and III, A Game of Chess and The Fire Sermon are wholly given to the inferno that inflicts the domestic and social fronts.Even though the title of section III, The Fire Sermon is derived from Buddha, its elaboration is in terms of a Western society viewed by a Christian who can draw upon his erudition of diverse lores:Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!A Christian longing is at the heart of The Waste Land:O City city, I can sometimes hearBeside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,The pleasant whining of a mandolineAnd a clatter and a chatter from withinWhere fishmen lounge at noon: where the wallsOf Magnus Martyr holdInexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.It is not a coincidence that The Fire Sermon culminates in a vision of St Augustine engulfed by the fires of lust:To Carthage then I cameBurning burning burning burningO Lord Thou pluckest me outO Lord Thou pluckestburningRemarkably the admonition with which Death by Water closes is administered to Gentiles and Jews, denizens of a Christian world:Gentile or JewO you who turn the wheel and look to windward,Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.The "memory and desire" associated with Easter at the outset of the poem find expression in What the Thunder Said in terms of the passion of Christ:After the torchlight red on sweaty facesAfter the frosty silence in the gardensAfter the agony in stony placesThe shouting and the cryingPrison and palace and reverberationOf thunder of spring over distant mountainsHe who was living is now deadWe who were living are now dyingWith a little patienceIt is followed by a yearning for the waters, both literal and metaphoric, that would redeem the land:Here is no water but only rockRock and no water and the sandy roadThe road winding above among the mountainsWhich are mountains of rock without waterIf there were water we should stop and drinkAmongst the rock one cannot stop or thinkSweat is dry and feet are in the sandIf there were only water amongst the rockDead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spitHere one can neither stand nor lie nor sitThere is not even silence in the mountainsBut dry sterile thunder without rainThere is not even solitude in the mountainsBut red sullen faces sneer and snarlFrom doors of mudcracked housesIf there were waterAnd no rockIf there were rockAnd also waterAnd waterA springA pool among the rockIf there were the sound of water onlyNot the cicadaAnd dry grass singingBut sound of water over a rockWhere the hermit-thrush sings in the pine treesDrip drop drip drop drop drop dropBut there is no waterThere is the "memory" too of Christ's resurrection:Who is the third who walks always beside you?When I count, there are only you and I togetherBut when I look ahead up the white roadThere is always another one walking beside youGliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hoodedI do not know whether a man or a woman—But who is that on the other side of you?There is the grim and frightening scenario of Europe in the grip of a war with a secular civilization breaking apart.The Christian quest ends with the arrival at a chapel, neglected in a secular world, only the wind's home. A highly symbolic crowing of the cock brings a damp gust that brings rain.The Christian quest theme is then reinforced by drawing upon the wisdom of the East in terms of what the Thunder said.The protagonist of the poem who took on different voices in the course of the poem resolves to redeem his lands in the light of the wisdom drawn from various lores.With a final recapitulation of the fragments he has shored against his ruins he prepares to put them together to restore fertility to the land.Not without a reaffirmation of the wisdom and a prayer for peace.CR