I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
The poem begins by the reverie of the protagonist: people thought April is the sweet month of rebirth, but it’s actually not because it tortures the inhabitants of the waste land with unstoppable recollections, so it’s the cruelest. April stirs new life in the world of nature. This stirring of life and return of fertility is painful and repugnant to the dead because it reminds them of the need for renewing their own lives. This creates a disturbance of the dead. As for the people, those who do not wish a new life think April is the cruelest month because in another sense it suggests April brings changes or resurrections to those who do not wish for them.
Winter “kept” people warm because in winter they go south in search of pleasure and thus remain warm. Moreover, in winter, the whole earth is covered with snow; consequently, there are no stirrings of life around, and so the need of the action of resurrection is forgotten. The German quote “Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch”, means “I am not Russian at all, I come from Lithuania, I am a real German”, which evokes a sense of separatism of nationalistic identity. Marie’s act of recounting her experience has its own significance. Her cousin was an archduke and she had much fun in his company. Once they went out riding in a sledge, Marie was frightened and her cousin told her to hold on to him tightly. This is some evidence that might prove the two of them experienced a moment of intense sexual excitement. This shows Marie is active, adventurous, enthusiastic, she likes being free, connected to a real life, meaning she loves changes unlike others who aren’t willing to change. Marie supports rebirth, resurrection, and recollection.
Ezekiel was a Hebrew prophet and author of the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and was faced with much opposition. In 587, his prophecy was fulfilled when Babylonians troops attacked and destroyed the Holy Land.
The Call of Ezekiel is described as Ezekiel’s call to become a prophet. The phrase “Son of man” was what God had used to address Ezekiel. God was ordering Ezekiel to be his messenger, to go to Israel and to speak to the people there of God’s divine words. God asked Ezekiel not to fear of this arduous task, but also warned him not to betray his duty and “rebel like that rebellious people”.
Perhaps Eliot is suggesting that despite the advance in science and the belief that humans are one step closer in unlocking the mystery of the universe, we may in fact know nothing at all.
Eliot himself has noted the line 23 “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats” is an allusion to Ecclesiastes 12
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil”
A heap of broken images is an indication that man’s perception of life is distorted, that we do not see things the same way and for the way it really is. In fact we cannot see the world for what it really is but we can only interpret it. It is because of this that man needs to be guided, and it is the prophets who shall make them see.
The German song in the middle and at the end of the stanza comes from Tristan and Isolde and Le Galliene translates the quoted lines:
Fresh blows the wind
My Irish child,
Where do you tarry?
Madame Sosostris is a gypsy who tells fortunes at a fair. The phrase “had a bad cold” was meant for Madame Sosostris, and it’s in an ironic way. She actually doesn’t know much about fortune telling because even though she is reading the fortune of the protagonist, she doesn’t know the protagonist’s real fortune. She finds that his card is the Phoenician Sailor, and she warns him against death by water, not realizing that the other inhabitants of the modern waste land is that the way into life may be by death itself. The drowned Phoenician sailor is a type of fertility god whose image was thrown into the sea annually as a symbol of the death of summer.
The Phoenician Sailor – Phlebas, the Smyrna Merchant – Mr. Eugenides, have the same symbolic character, and are related to Shakespeaere’s play The Tempest. In The Tempest, Ariel’s song to the shipwrecked Ferdinand, is about the drowning of Ferdinand’s father, Alonso. The Waste Land has many references about The Tempest: the drowning of Alonso and Ferdinand is seen as their purification by water, so Eliot was impressed by the perspective or the view that the suffering is changed into art. Ferdinand is related to Phlebas, and Mr. Eugenides. Since drowning is done by water, which this leads to purification, water plays diverse roles in the poem and is the symbol of purification, baptism, refreshment, and growth.
Mr. Eugenides is the “one-eyed merchant” because the figure is in profile on the card. “One-eyed” also carries a suggestion of crookedness. The mysterious burden on his back may be the mysteries of the fertility cult (a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies).