The Waste Land: Eliot’s Expiatory Pilgrimage from Church to Pagoda

John Kuriakose

Abstract


Eliot’s poem The Waste Land is a pilgrimage in quest of an answer to the problem of desire—universal as well as personal—especially deviant sexuality, immoral behavior and their consequences. The traditional tags on the poem such as “a poem about Europe” and a poem about the “disillusionment of a generation” serve only to blinker the reader against its universal and spiritual dimensions. From the epigraph to the very concluding line of the poem, through numerous references and allusions to literary masterpieces and religious texts ranging over history, Eliot addresses the question of desire—craving-- in view of the essentials of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Thrashing out the problem in the light of  St. Augustine’s Confessions on burning and Buddha’s Fire Sermon on its remedy, Eliot preaches Datta, Dayadhvam and Damyata as the key virtues for the attainment of Shantih or “the peace that passeth understanding.” Thus the poem becomes a pilgrimage of Eliot across the spiritual landscape of the world.

Keywords: expiatory pilgrimage, desire, homoeroticism, confession, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Buddha’s Fire Sermon  


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