What the thunder said
What the Thunder Said is the 5thand final section of The Waste Land. In this section, all the themes and motifs of the poem are united.
At the beginning of the passage, you can see the thunder that clap without bringing rain, which the land and the men of the Waste Land are waiting for.
References and quotations all point to the breakdown of civilization: London Bridge is falling down, and so are the towers of Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria and Vienna.
In his notes Eliot gives some clues(indicazioni) to reading of this section. He said that in this section are employed 3 themes:
1) The journey to Emmaus according to Luke’s Gospel, when the Apostles walk to Emmaus after Christ’s death.
2) The approach to the Chapel Perilous according to the legend of the Holy Grail.
3) The present decay of Eastern Europe.
1st Stanza: Lines 1-28
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A pool among the rockIf there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
The 1st stanza describes a land without any water: only rocks, sand, “Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth.” In these first lines, there is a person, the narrator, who is speaking for all the inhabitants, who are walking on the sand, the narrator says that “if there were water, they could have been stopped and drink”. But, there is no water.
The narrator tells that there is not even silence in the mountains, but there is also a thunder.
The thunder brings no rain and, for this, it is “sterile.” This image of the thunder can give us a sense of useless hopes, in fact normally you can anticipate the rain because you hear the thunder, but in the Waste Land, the rain does not come.
Then, the narrator tells that there is not even solitude in the mountains, in fact, there are some people, the inhabitants of the Waste Land.
These people have sullen red faces and they sneer and snarl. They look like animals.
The poet inserts in this stanza the word "cicada" and onomatopoeic sound "drip drop drip drop drop drop drop".
The word "cicada" is a Spanish word which means "balm cricket" and the onomatopoeic sound remembers a bird, the hermit thrush.
2nd Stanza: Lines 29-39
What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Concerning this stanza, Eliot in his notes, refers the reader to a passage in a work of the German writer Hesse, in which it said that half of Europe is on the way to Chaos and sings in a mad way like a drunkard along the edge of a precipice.
In this 2nd stanza the poet suggests that the world is breaking down with all its civilizations: London bridge is falling, but also Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria and Vienna these names bring together in this picture of decadence and infertility some of the greatest of the ancient and the modern world.
Eliot uses the same term of The Burial of the Dead, the term “Unreal”.
The poet can only support himself on the ruins of the past, and this he can do by using the tradition of the past to try to give some order to the hopeless regeneration of modern civilization.