Elements of Interreligious Dialogue in The Waste Land
“The House Of His Protection The Land Gave To Him That Sought Her Out And Unto Him That Delved Gave Return Of Her Fruits”
-Engraved above the Western-most door of Joslyn Art Museum
Beyond all doubt, T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is one of the most excruciating works a reader may ever attempt. The reading is painful to the point of exhaustion for the poetry-lover as he scrutinizes the poem pericope by pericope. However, all this suffering (self-inflicted or otherwise) suggests that the author has likewise labored over the poem, emptying himself into his work--pericope by pericope. Suddenly, the reader understands that the poet intends to deliver a specific message, luring his audience to delve into the poem in search of it.
Half of Eliot’s message is indeed clear with his title: we are living in the waste land now. The bulk of the poem he spends showing his audience how we have established for ourselves this waste of a land and the manners in which we continue to waste it- and consequently humanity- primarily with our ennui. Everything builds to the dramatic, and highly ambiguous, conclusion presented in meditation V, “What the Thunder Said”. This conclusion is the other half of Eliot’s message; in which the poet expresses man’s only hope for salvation, leading ultimately to life in a land restored to its natural state, and not the atrophied world we now inhabit.
In order to allow his audience to understand the key to restoring humanity, Eliot provides important clues (because of course he cannot outrightly give it away). He ever so graciously leaves these clues behind mostly in meditations III and V and they emphasize two things: religion and nature. I propose, with this essay, that Eliot employs a dialogue of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, stressing that all three possess a sacred truth. Furthermore, I intend to demonstrate that the poet understands this truth to be explicit in nature, and thus these religions derive their common truth from it.
To begin with, the religious symbols and imagery that Eliot depicts ought to be observed. Religious language is so prevalent in the poem that the reader can hardly escape it; however, there are specific allusions to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity which are intended to catch the reader’s attention, and those are the images this essay is concerned with, found as I have mentioned in meditations III and V. The title of the third meditation is “The Fire Sermon”; Buddhists will recognize this title from a sermon given by Buddha himself; Eliot notes for his Christian readers that it measures in importance as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Buddha describes everything as being on fire, and he explains ‘everything’ as the eye and all it sees, the ear and all it hears, the nose and all it smells, the tongue and all it tastes, the body and all it feels, and the mind including all of which it is...