Allusion of Indian Religion in - The Waste Land

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      Introduction: The Waste Land has been deemed an obscure poem by some critics, precisely because it contains several allusions-literary, religious, mythical. The poem within the space of four hundred odd lines has quotations, imitations and allusions to more than thirty writers from Virgil, Ovid, Dante to Shakespeare, Milton, spenser, the Buddha and St. Augustine. Early critics reached adversely to this medley, feeling that the poem appeared to be an excuse to incorporate Eliot's sense of the literary past. Indeed, the extremely erudite style was considered to be 'cold' and 'anti-life'. It was regarded as a vulgar and ostentatious display of learning. However, we have to examine whether the allusions have been brought together into a unified whole giving a coherent expression of the theme.

Mythical allusion controls the poem: The Waste Land is organized round the mythical material drawn from Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance and Frazer's The Golden Bough. The story of the loss of virility of the Fisher King and the resultant drought in his land and the fertility rituals of olden times are woven with the story of the Grail. The aridity of the Fisher King's land would be removed only by a young knight undertaking the quest for the Grail. Eliot applies this myth to the contemporary situation which he calls a 'waste land' because of its spiritual barrenness.
Allusion in The Wasteland

      Mythical allusion controls the poem: The Waste Land is organized round the mythical material drawn from Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance and Frazer's The Golden Bough. The story of the loss of virility of the Fisher King and the resultant drought in his land and the fertility rituals of olden times are woven with the story of the Grail. The aridity of the Fisher King's land would be removed only by a young knight undertaking the quest for the Grail. Eliot applies this myth to the contemporary situation which he calls a 'waste land' because of its spiritual barrenness.

      Several allusions in the poem reinforce the symbolic purpose of the poem - Firstly to emphasise the desolation and sterility of the modern world and secondly to hint, although very slightly, at the possibility of rejuvenation. We have several allusions to various fertility rites and symbols, such as the Tarot cards, the Phoenician Sailor, the Hanged Man (the hanged God) the ceremony of foot washing (which preceded the recovery of the Fisher King.) In the mythical sources, these ceremonies and rites had desired effect of restoring life to the dead land; in the modern context the aridity is so deeply entrenched, for it is spiritual aridity born of loss of faith, that the mythical allusions emphasise the sense of contrast between then and now.

      Allusions were not intended to glorify the past, even though they serve to emphasize the contrast between the past and present. But even while Eliot seems to be setting the romantic glory of Elizabeth and Leicester against the sordid present of Sweeney and Mrs. Porter, the clerk and the typist, we are also made aware of the basic hollowness of the relationship of Elizabeth and Leicester: for theirs too was a fruitless love. If Eliot compares the crowd on London Bridge, to the lost souls in Dante's inferno and the crowd of Baudelaire's Paris, the past is not glorified bythe allusion; the parallels merely serve to demonstrate the soullessness and state of damnation or 'living death,' the ghostlike unreality of the city crowd.

      Allusions to earlier writers: Allusions to The Tempest by Shakespeare form part of the atmospheric and thematic design in The Waste Land. The line from Ariel's song follows Madame Sosotris's discovery of one of the Tarot cards - that of the Phoenician Sailor. Ariel's song describes the sea's change. The image of the drowned man in the poem is basic to the section 'Death by Water'. References to The Tempest recur through the poem - in 'A Game of Chess', in The Fire Sermon' (where Ferdinand appears in person identified with the figure fishing on the banks of the dull canal. Only, he muses on the decay and death and relation of the two to sexuality). The recall of The Tempest serves to highlight the loss undergone by those existing in Eliot's waste land.

      References and quotations from writers such as Dante, Baudelaire and Webster are meant to reinforce Eliot's theme through the power of associations, Eliot calls his city of London 'unreal city', and echoes Baudelaire's description of Paris in which dream and reality seem to mix. Cut off from both natural and spiritual sources of life, Eliot's city is unreal. This spiritual 'death in life' and life in death reflects Dante's Limbo. In Dante's Limbo the people lived a neutral life devoid of praise or blame like Mrs. Equitone, When Eliot uses a direct quotation from Baudelaire - You, hypocrite reader, my fellow men, my brother - the intention in clear enough: he wants to complete the universalizaton of stelson, Stelson thus becomes everyman in the modern contezt. The reference to Webster's The White Devil reinforces the sense of horror in the vision of the soulless crowd flowing over London Bridge.The quotation from dante towards the end of the poem about the 'fire which refines' clearly links up with the theme, with a slight suggestion of how the protagonist may set his lands in order.

      Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (an opera) offers two quotations in 'The Burial of the Dead'. It forms a lyrical framework for the hyacinth garden episode. The Thames - maidens of 'The Fire Sermon' are echoes of the Rhine-maidens in another of Wagner's operas. These allusions, besides strengthening the theme of the poem, give it a lyrical tone.

      Complex allusive method: the multiple imitation effect. There are at times so many allusions woven by Eliot into a single description that there emerges an effect of multiple imitation. Belladonna is one example. In the description of Belladonna one may tind echoes ranging from Plutarch to Walter Pater. She represents a composite woman, the siren and temptress delaying the knight in his quest as well as a victim of loneliness and betrayal in love. Besides the echoes of the mythical Philomela and the Biblical whore of Babylon (the latter suggested by the reference to the 'waters of Leman'), there are allusions to Shakespeare's Cleopatra and Ophelia (good-night sweet ladies), Virgil's Dido welcoming Aeneas, Pope's Belinda (The Rape of the Lock), and also echoes of Keats's Lamia.

      Biblical allusions also are woven into the poem. The theme of The Waste Land has been called religious, and specifically Christian. Thee Biblical allusions are, furthermore, most relevant of Eliot's analysis of the modern waste land with its degeneration and desolation which seems to be the vindication of the Biblical prophecies. It is easy to discern the voices of Ezekiel and the preacher of the Ecclesiastes in lines and words such as 'What are the roots that clutch'. 'I will show you fear in a handful of dust' and 'rattle of bones'. The wanderings in the desert ("What the Thunder Said") echo the exodus from the Sinai. Eliot's words and phrases have the sound of Jeremiah's words when he denounces and laments the degeneration of Judah. There is the suggestion that the absence ot God signifies a time of burning - both for purgatorial purification and destructive judgement. There is also the promise of a deliverer in the Prophets. The deliverer may be the equivalent to the quester in the Grail legend used also in The Waste Land. The Hooded Figure and the Hanged Man obviously stand for Christ. There are also allusions to the Crucifixion and the journey to Emmaus. These allusions give a wider time dimensions to the poem.

      Use of the Indian religion: Eliot does not confine himself to Western influences, but also draws on Indian religion to reinforce his theme in The Waste Land. 'The Fire Sermon' is a direct reference to Buddha's preaching against the fires of lust, anger, envy, and other consuming passions. Closely linked with this allusion is a quotation from St. Augustine. The third section has various scenes showing the sterile burning of lust. The references to Buddha (and St. Augustine) speak for the need of restraint and asceticism to check the pressures of lust and desire. The use of St. Augustine's words in consonance with references to Buddha is part of Eliot's device to give a universal significance to the dilemma as well as the possible solution.

      In 'What the Thunder Said', we have another allusion to Indian religion, indeed to the very beginning of the Aryan civilization. The source is a hymn from the Upanishad in which Thunder the Lord of Creation tells His children to 'Give, Sympathise, Control. The protagonist accepts these words. (Datta; Dayadhvam, Damyata) as the active way to bring rejuvenation to the waste land. The additional word 'Shantih' adds to the allusions to Indian religion. But these allusions are linked with the Christian doctrine in the last section.

      Justification of the allusions: The main reason for Eliot's allusive technique is to establish a parallel between the past and the present and also to gives coherence to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. Eliot saw the technique as part of the complexity of modern art. F.R. Leavis feels that the allusions, references, and quotations usually carry their own power with them, as well as being justified in the appeal they make to special knowledge. By means of such quotations Eliot attains a compression approaching simultaneity he co-presnece in the mind of a number of different orientations, fundamental attitudes, orders of experience. In a way, Eliot was bringing the whole of literature to bear upon the situation described, thus giving it a historically and geographically extended dimension. It is part of his contention that a poet should write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with the sense of the literature of the whole world being in simultaneous existence. Ultimately the question whether Eliot's use of the allusive technique is successful or not depends on the individual reader. It is true that an ordinary reader would find the poem somewhat 'overburdened' even if the allusions are relevant. It does seem that the profusion of allusions hinder the achievement of a coherent effect, whatever F.R. Leavis may say.

      Conclusion: The Waste Land is certainly overflowing with allusions. To the extent that Eliot wanted to enlarge the scope and dimensions of his poem, the incorporation of the allusions to Indian religion was necessary. Furthermore, it contributes the spirituality which Eliot felt was the answer to the Western dilemma. However, it is arguable that Christianity too has sufficient of spirituality to provide the answers as, indeed, Eliot showed in his Four Quartets. All said and done, the allusions in The Waste Land are too many to allow a smooth and coherent understanding.

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