I was put off at first by The Waste Land because I was unfamiliar with all the references that Eliot makes in the poem. Originally, I read the poem in order to work on a section of my honors thesis about the literary allusions in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It seems that King, in a less talented way, was following Eliot’s example. Possibly it is a hindrance to the poems, but I can’t disassociate the two works. As I read it this time for class, I was a bit more (surprisingly to me) enthusiastic.
In reference to the Hero’s journey, I cannot help but think about the poem as being the hero returning to master the two worlds and share what he or she has learned about on the journey. Since the speaker is the one experiencing the journey, it is the poem that is message to others what he has learned on his journey. Headings says that in the last line of “The Burial of the Dead,” “You! hypocrite lecteur!--mon semblable,--mon frère!,'” Eliot is directly addressing the reader, which important (Eliot l. 76; Headings 1). Brooks says that this quotation “from Baudelaire completes the universalization of Stetson begun by the reference to Mylae. Stetson is every man including the reader and Mr. Eliot himself” (Brooks 192). Also in the second stanza of “The Burial of the Dead,” the speaker speaks directly to the reader about what he is going to show the reader in the poem.
(come in under the shadow of this red Rock)
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. (Eliot l. 26-30)
When the speaker addresses the reader, he is asking him or her to relate to the story and trying to tell the reader what he has learned from his journey through death and rebirth. Campbell’s hero’s journey consists of death and rebirth. The Hero must cast aside his life go down, sometimes to hell, reemerge and begin living life again. Eliot has images of death and rebirth, according to Headings, throughout the poem. Headings says, only when the life of temporal involvement is transcended, only when the towers and cities crumble as central psychic foci, only when the emptiness of the material . . . can one approach the grail chapel, hear the crow of the cock in a flash of lightning on the rooftree, and feel the damp gust that brings the rain so long awaited” (Headings 3)
I am fascinated with the water, or lack there of, references. The lack of water is most prevalent in “The Burial of the Dead” and “What the Thunder Said.” In the first stanza, it seems the speaker is remembering a time when there was water. Eliot says, “Memory and desire, stirring/ dull roots with spring rain” and “Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee/ with a shower of rain” (Eliot l. 3-4, 8-9). The use of the word memory and of the past tense with surprised show that the rain is something the speaker remembers. In the second stanza, Eliot says, “the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/And the dry stone no sound of water” (l.23-24). This lack of water is a lack of basic nourishment for the people in the waste land. Again at the beginning of “What the Thunder Said,” the speaker talks about rocks with no water, rain or sound of water. It seems that all the people of modern times are lacking the knowledge that Eliot is giving them in the poem, through his knowledge because at the end of the poem it finally does rain. The structures of society fall apart and the cock crows, a symbol of enlightenment and then it rains; there is a stripping away of the modern society and then the people are provided with the nourishment of life, water (Brooks). “In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust/ bringing rain” (l. 394-395).