The Burial of The Dead || Summary and Analysis

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      Introduction : The title refers firstly to The Burial of the Dead fertility and secondly, the burial service of the Christian church. It is believed that both burials are followed by re-birth. However, the denizens (the citizens) of The Waste Land are spiritually dead. They do not like to be disturbed from their stupor or the furtile routine of the modern life. As such any idea of spiritual regeneration is uninviting and painful to them. Moreover, their value system is different from the traditional one. April is traditionally regarded as a symbol of spring and re-birth, while winter is a symbol of decay and death. However, for the wastelanders, April is a bad and cruel month because it reminds them of their spiritual decay and makes them think of re-generation - They are happy in winter because they can enjoy and make merry during that period.

Only the Christian church can offer a shelter to humanity. The shadow of the red rock (Christian church) is different from the shadow of man which is fleeting. The sheet-anchor or the pillar which can save modern man is spiritualism.
Burial of the Dead

Summary and Analysis

Summary :-

      Modern sterility and rootlessness. Through a protagonist named Tiresias, T. S. Eliot gives his impressions about the modern people. Tiresias has come across a German princess. She is fond of travel. She is an example of a rootless modern person. She has no connection with her family, community and nation. She is a kind of international globe-trotter, fond of the physical comforts of life. As they go through Munich they are overtaken by a shower of rain. They do not realise the purifying power of rain but rather seek shelter from it.

      Spiritual Wasteland : Tiresias has a close look at modern civilization and his assessment is that it is wholly futile and dead. The stone, the trees and the sun, the broken idols-all represent the spiritual waste land Nothing spiritual, heroic and idealistic can grow in this unproductive land. There is no shelter from the heat of the sun. Only the Christian church can offer a shelter to humanity. The shadow of the red rock (Christian church) is different from the shadow of man which is fleeting. The sheet-anchor or the pillar which can save modern man is spiritualism. Man is a handful of dust. He can be immortal if he follows the Christian way. The modern waste land is very much like the waste land mentioned in the Bible. If Christ was able to regenerate man in the past, he can do so in the present time also.

      Obstacles in Spiritualism - Sex : Sex occupies a very prominent place in modern life. At one time, sex was considered as a means of human development. Great men and spiritual leaders used sex as the stepping stone. From physical love to spiritual love is the way of many mystics. Unfortunately, sex today has become an animal urge without any moral or social commitment. Eliot gives two examples of guilty love-love which brings misery and death. The first example is from Wagner's Opera; it is the story of Tristan and Isolde. The second example is the recent one-to be extended more. The story of Hyacinth girl. Both the examples show the barrenness, boredom and frustration of mundane sex.

      Gambling : Madame Sosostris - the fortune-teller. Another hurdle in the way of spiritual progress is gambling. In any big city, one will come across this evil in different forms. Eliot mentions Madame Sosostris - a society fortune-teller who is afraid of the police. She has a pack of seventy-eight cards, through which she tells the fortune of her customers. The important cards in her Tarot-pack are the drowned Phoenician sailor, Belladona - the Lady of the Rocks (sex pimp), the man with the three staves, the wheel, one-eyed merchant and the crowds of the people. The different things mentioned in the cards are elaborated in the remaining section of the poem.

      London-the unreal city : Eliot calls London the unreal city because it has no vitality and substance. The people lack faith and character and they are the citizens of the spiritual waste land, Crowds of people go over London bridge at nine o' clock in the morning for work. This hour (nine o clock) has a reference to Christ's crucification. When commerce begins, Christianity goes out. Eliot laments the lot of Londoners because they are leading a kind of life, which may be called 'Life-in-death.' They are spiritually barren and dead.

      No hope of resurrection (Corpse cannot come back to life) : Tiresias who is the mouth-piece of the poet, recognises one man named Stetson who had fought with him in the war. He asks him whether the corpse which he had planted in his garden has bloomed. He further advises him to keep the dog away from the corpse as he may dig it up and thereby eliminate the chance of re-birth. The "dog" is a symbol of conscience, which is likely to awaken humanity to its spiritual decay. The idea behind the corpse and the dog is that without faith and conscience man cannot be reborn, he cannot fulfil his spiritual destiny.


      The Burial of the Dead (L. 1-7) : The Burial of the Dead means spiritual decadence and death of the waste landers. For the waste landers, April is the cruellest month which brings birth to flowers from the land. These flowers imply re-birth which requires some effort on their part. The waste-landers do not wish to put any spiritual effort and as such April is unwelcome to them. April mixes memory with desire, the memory of the death, of fertility god along with the desire of re-birth. April brings with it the life-giving rain which is disliked by the waste landers. They, however, like winter, which is a symbol of spiritual death. It keeps them warm and looking for excitement and joy of life. Though winter feeds life a little, it is the season for the joys of the flesh.

      Rootlessness of the modern man (L. 8-18) : "These lines contain thoughts of Tiresias, he spokesman of the poem, who is a representative of the modern world." Tiresias and his girl friend were travelling in Germany, when they were overtaken by summer rain. They took shelter under the columns of the trees and thereafter walked in the sun-shine fo the Hof-garten, where they drank coffee and gossiped for an hour. Marie says: "I am not Russian at all; I come from Lithuania; Lama real German." When Marie was a child, she stayed with her cousin, the Arch-duke. He took her out on a sledge and she was much frightened. He asked her to hold the sledge tightly and they travelled down together. They felt quite free when they wandered into the mountains. Now, she spends her time reading till late in the night. During winter, she goes to the south to enjoy her holidays. 

      Chaos in the Wasteland ( L. 18-30) : What kind of trees and fruits grow out of barren and dead waste land ? The answer is in the negative. Nothing spiritual can grow in the barren land. Man can find only broken images which are the remains of old cultures and values, since abandoned by man. There is no shelter from the reat of the sun, under the shade of dead trees. The singing cricket gives no entertainment and there is no sound of water to provide relief or hope. There is only one refuge namely the red rock of the Christian faith. "Man can find a shelter in the message of Christ". The shadow of faith is immortal and much different from the shadow of man who is mortal. In youth, man's shadow is behind him. In old age, man's shadow comes in front of him, so to say, to meet him easily. Man is haunted by the fear of death and the anger of God. Essentially man is handful of dust who is in fear of death.

      Two episodes of guilty love (L. 31-42) : "This is the passage from Wagner's Opera entitled Tristan and Isolde, a story of guilty love". "The wind blows fresh to the home land. My Irish girl, where are you lingering?" (This is the song of the sailor about the sweet heart he has left behind).

      "The second story of guilty love is that of the hyacinth girl and her lover". The hyacinth girl says to her lover: You gave me hyacinth flowers, (these flowers are symbolic of sensuous love) a year ago. People therefore, call me the hyacinth girl. When we came back late from the hyacinth garden, I could not speak a word and I could not see anything. I was neither living nor dead. I was not conscious as I stood looking at the core of life, which is silent. (This is a feeling due to guilty love. The last line of he stanza is from Wagner's Opera mentioned above). It means: "desolate and empty the sea." This is the reply of the watchman from whom the lover inquires if there is any sign of a ship on the sea bringing his beloved. The reply is in the negative.

      A Modern Fortune-teller (L. 43-59) : Madame Sosostris, the famous fortune teller was suffering from a bad cold. She is known as the wisest Woman in Europe, because she tells the fortunes of people with her pack of cards. To one of her customers, she said: "Here is your card, the drowned Phoenician sailor. Look at his eyes. They are like pearls. Here is another card Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks, and the lady of sex situations. Here is yet another card of the man with three sticks. Here is another card representing the Wheel. Here is another card of one-eyed merchant. Here is yet another card, which is blank, which indicates something which the merchant carries on his back and which I cannot forecast. There is no card of the hanged man (Christ). Here is another card for those who should be careful of death by drowning. I see crowds of people walking mechanically in a circle. Thank you. If you meet, my friend, Mrs. Equitone, tell her I have prepared her horoscope and shall bring it myself. I must be very careful these days. (The fortune teller practised an ill-legal business, and therefore she is afraid of the police).

      Unreal City, London (L. 60-68) : Under the blanket of a brown fog on a winter morning, a crowd of people passes over the London bridge. There are so many people that they cannot be counted. I never thought that so many people were spiritually dead. As these people walk, they give forth short and occasional sighs. Each man walked mechanically with downcast eyes. The crowd moved up the hill and down the road to King William street, where it passed the church of St. Mary Woolnoth. The church clock chimed the hour of nine as the crowd proceeded along the road.

      Stetson, the representative of 'The Waste Land' (L. 69-79) : "Tiresias-the protagonist and the mouth-piece of T.S. Eliot appea the stage and addresses his friend Stetson. who is walking ina London street". In the street I saw an acquaintance of mine. I stopped him and called him by his name 'Stetson' and said: "You were with me in the ships at Mylae, what happened to that corpse which you planted last year in hyour garden? Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year? Or has this sudden frost disturbed its bed and blighted its growth. (The reference is to the resurrection after death which is the sign of spiritual re-birth). Oh! keep the dog away from the corpse-the dogis the friend of man-or with his nails he will dig up the earth again." (The last line is a quotation from Baudlaire's poem. It means as under): "You hypocrite reader, my fellow man, my brother." (This warning given to Stetson is applicable to all men of the modern world that there is no chance of spiritual re-birth and regeneration in the waste land).

      Conclusion: The first section is a statement about the modern man and his civilisation. He has lost faith in moral and spiritual values. He has taken to sex, gambling and violence, which have dried up sources of his vitality. Re-birth is possible only through the revival of spiritual values.

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