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11:55:21 AM Mar 13th 2010
I was planning on adding a summary to the entire poem, but I am not sure if I should. The planned summary is below. Tell me if I should add it to the page or not, and make any corrections any of you may find (if I missed important points, or even if this summary is completely wrong.)
This poem is broken down into five sections. Below is a brief summary, based on my (high school teacher’s) interpretations:

  • I. The Burial of the Dead
    • Split into four vignettes:
      • i. Guy in Germany, goes sledding and reads a lot.
      • ii. Earth is a deserty shit hole. Man remembers failed relationship caused by his shyness.
      • iii. Tarot card reader predicts future of poem.
      • iv. London is an empty shit hole, filled with ghosts of soldiers who died in World War I. Two men talk about corpse one of them buried.

  • II. A Game of Chess
    • Split into two parts:
      • i. Rich woman unhappy, despite being rich. Waiting for date to arrive. Becomes neurotic around the end of the section, and she starts an argument with her date when he arrives (or maybe just imagines it). The couple’s date involves playing chess.
      • ii. Poor lady relates time when she berated another poor lady in a bar who’s husband was coming home from World War I for not fulfilling the womanly social norms (looking pretty for him, having children, etc.)

  • III. The Fire Sermon
    • First Part: Earth is a shit hole
    • Second Part: Describes a homosexual tryst.
    • Third Part: Blind, old man named Tiresias sees the future in which a clerk enters a home and has sex with the typist living there. Guy leaves and typist plays music, which can be heard throughout the city.
    • Fourth Part: Queen Elizabeth and Leicester in a boat, having a secret relation despite royal disapproval. Despite Leicester professing his love for her, she turns him down.
    • End: Mix of allusions to St. Augustine, a Christian, and Buddha; mix of western and eastern religions.

  • IV. Death By Water
    • Phlebas drowns and is not reborn; people cannot be regenerated. Everyone equal in death.

  • V. What the Thunder Said
    • First Part: Jesus crucified, is not resurrected. Because he cannot be, neither can any humans.
    • Second Part: Earth is a shit hole that cannot be regenerated.
    • Third Part: Damned if I know what this part is about.
    • Fourth Part: World falls apart.
    • Fifth Part: Related human nature to Hindu fables.
      • i. Datta (give): Humans are selfish.
      • ii. Dayadhvam (sympathizes): Humans are unsympathetic, isolated from each other.
      • iii. Damyata (control): Humans resign themselves to be controlled.
    • End: Eliot resigns self to accept that the world is doomed. Makes last effort to regenerate culture by cramming in a bunch of allusions.

Vilui
11:48:56 AM Mar 5th 2011
I would actually give almost an opposite interpretation of Part V. To quote B. C. Southam's Student's Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot: "The theme of the poem is the salvation of the Waste Land, not as a certainty but as a possibility."

In the second section of Part V, the earth is barren but there is a note of hope in the line "If there were water". The third section alludes to the appearance of Christ after the resurrection. The fourth section alludes to "the horrors with which the Chapel Perilous was filled to test the Knight's courage" (Southam again, expanding on Eliot's own notes), and this section closes with Redemption in the Rain. The "Datta, dayadhvam, damyata" section does suggest that humans are isolated "each in his prison" but also advises on how this state of affairs can be averted; notably, "damyata" does not actually mean "control" as Eliot translates it, but more like "exert self-control".
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