The burial of the death
1) The Burial of the Dead is the 1st section of the poem. It introduces all the central images of The Waste Land and its main themes: death and rebirth.
2) The title of this section especially stresses the sense of all-enclosing death, prevalent in the first part.
3) The Burial of the Dead prepares the way for the development of the whole poem: it opens with the coming of spring as a “cruel thing”. The fundamental contrast of aridity and fertility, is thus established from the beginning, in a series of images and scenes which describe a fragmented and sterile world. These culminated in the London crowd crossing London Bridge in a foggy winter morning, looking like the souls of the damned in Dante’s Inferno.
1st Stanza: Lines 1-7
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
In the first 4 lines an unknown speaker say that "April is the cruelest month," even though we usually think of spring as a time of love. But if you're lonely, seeing flowers make you even more depressed. The spring rain normally bring new life, but for the inhabitants of the Waste Land there are only roots asleep.
You can see that in these first lines there are contrasted images of sterility and fertility.
Thus, April is the cruelest month because it engenders hopes that are bound to fail.
In the last 3 lines, the speaker says that instead, the best time of the year is the Winter. The inhabitants prefer winter to spring and these lines might show us that for the inhabitants its better to forget and not feeling anything.
For the inhabitants Winter is better than Spring because:
o Winter is connected to snow, and snow covers life. If snow covers life, the citizens forget life.
o Winter is also connected with the death and the inhabitants are “dead in life”.
2nd Stanza: Lines 8-13
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
In this 2nd stanza Eliot talk about the inhabitants who live in an hard world, that is as hard as a beating sun, but the trees are dead, and they can't comfort them or give them a shelter. They are dying from a spiritual thirst, and there is "no sound of water", and "the cricket not gives relief". There is No Water in the Waste Land.
This 2nd stanza thus expresses the hopeless state of a man in the spiritual dryness of modern life which appears to him as fragmented and meaningless.
3rd Stanza: Lines 14-30
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe.
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking around in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
In this 3rd stanza the speaker shifts and talk about a fortune-teller named Madame Sosostris, who "Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe". This woman had a "wicked pack of cards" that she uses to tell fortunes.
The woman pulls cards, and the first one shows "The drowned Phoenician Sailor". Madame Sostrois say that his eyes have turned into pearls. This card is important because the Phoenician Sailor died in water. This is a quotation from a famous passage of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act I, which suggests that the death by water is not an image of destruction, but a symbol of regeneration, transformation. This symbolism will appear again in the 4th section Death by Water.
The next card that Sosostris pulls are "Belladonna" (or "the lady of the rocks" or "the lady of situations", a prostitute) which refers to a flower or to a poison. Belladonna is “the lady of situations” bacuase she is able to adapt herself to every situations.
Then, she pulls another card, “The man with three staves” (aste). In his Notes, Eliot associates this card with the Fisher King, who, in the legend of Grail, is identified with the principle of life and fertility.
Then there's "the Wheel," which represents the wheel of fortune, a medieval symbol of how good and bad fortune often come to us for reasons we can't control. After this, Madame pulls "the one-eyed merchant".
There is also a card , that is blank (which means that is with nothing written), that shows someone carrying something on his back, but you can't see what it is.
Then, Sosostris says she does not find "The Hanged Man," (l’impiccato). In the Tarots, he is shown (è mostrato) hanging from a T-shaped cross (appeso ad una croce a forma di T). This card is a symbol of the god who sacrifices himself to bring salvation to his people and an obvious reference to Jesus Christ died in cross. It is important that he cannot be found: because the Waste Land is dead and infertility.
At the end of this stanza, the lady tells to fear death by water and she has a vision of people "walking around in a ring" , which could go back to the wheel of fortune image. After that she asks to give a message to one of her other clients (Mrs. Equitone), saying that she'll deliver a horoscope herself to make sure it doesn't get stolen.
4th Stanza: Lines 31-36
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
In this 4th stanza the speaker shifts again, this time to someone who is watching an "Unreal" or fake modern city whose "brown fog" suggests that it isn't so clean.
This 1st verse “Unreal City” is an allusion to the lines by the French poet Baudelaire.
The speaker talks about a crowd flowing over London Bridge like zombies, and says he "had not thought death had undone so many" (63). Here, there is a quotation of Dante's Inferno. In this quotation Eliot talk about the circles of hell in Dante's Inferno and compares modern life to living in hell where all the people are dead.
The people in this scene are sighing (sospirando) and staring at the ground in front of their feet. They seem unsatisfied with their undead lives.