Shantih, Shantih, Shantih – Peace that passes all understanding

Thomas Stearns Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948 for his outstanding contribution to the world of contemporary poetry. One of his pioneering works is The Wasteland. For Eliot, the moor symbolizes that area of ​​human life where men exist without guiding faith, where men have turned their backs on spiritual enlightenment, and the title points to this dilemma.

The poem, divided into five parts, is thus fragmented, lacking logical continuity and temporal sequence, and is a projection of the psychological oscillations and conflicts that raged in the human soul at the beginning of the 20th century (the situation is no different today). . Eliot felt that Western civilization had become mechanical, boring, and dehumanized. Corruption, degeneracy, and stark materialism were rampant. In this broken and fragmented world, nothing could be integrated.

Although the poem is a jagged kaleidoscopic entity, it holds together only in the all-encompassing prophetic vision of Tiresias, the bisexual blind seer of ancient Greek tragedy, and what Tiresias sees is the substance of the entire poem. Psychologically speaking, it is the conscience of humanity. As a symbol of the past that still survives in the present, old Tiresias, “with his wrinkled feminine breast”, has suffered from all that is being enacted on the ugly stage of the contemporary world.

She transcends the barrier of time and place with quick flashes embracing with her vacant gaze, now a scene in the present: the images of “the ruins of the collapsing London bridge”, a “pulsing and waiting taxi”, to personify the life of an immoral and lascivious typist of the 20th century, as well as of the past – Dante’s hell, Cleopatra’s love game, Elizabeth – and highlights in our mental image the enormity of the sin committed by the mythical king Oedipus of Thebes – the drought- and -land ravaged by sin- in his rape of his mother Jocasta, and the need to purify the sinner’s soul through suffering.

In The Wasteland, images and symbols fall broadly into two categories: images taken from the mundane aspects of urban life but raised to great intensity (the throbbing image of the taxi), and symbols of myth, nature and religion, which focus on the theme of death and rebirth. Thus, drought symbolizes spiritual dryness and rain spiritual fertility. However, certain objects can symbolize two opposing ideas depending on their functions. Thus, water is, on the one hand, a symbol of creation – of life and growth, of purification and transformation, in the form of a river or sea, and, on the other hand, it is also destructive of life and property. Similarly, fire as a destructive agent is symbolic of lust that consumes a person to a state of “living death”; but fire, as the sacred flame of the altar, is also a symbol of inspiration, illumination and spiritual exaltation. Eliot constantly plays with ambivalent images.

From post-war European society, its spiritual sterility is conveyed by the symbol of a stony, barren soil. The idea of ​​a dead end, of life reaching a dead end, is conveyed by the symbol of the “chess game”. The idea of ​​u200bu200blife as meaningless, boring and languid movement in a narrow circle is conveyed by the image “we are living in a rat alley where the dead lost their bones.” The idea is reinforced by the images of misery and vulgarity, such as the river sweating oil and tar and dragging in its current the dirty cargo of empty bottles, cigarette butts, silk scarves and other testimonies of summer parties and sexual encounters. between city nymphs and their casual lovers.

The theme of sterility, decay, and death is interwoven with the quest for life and resurrection that Eliot found in the legend of the Holy Grail and other anthropological myths, with a sprinkling of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu religious analogies, and the The sense of liberation from this state and of freedom is conveyed by the image of a boat that glides smoothly under the expert hand, God, who balances all the setbacks that man has made in the stupid belief of his superiority and, therefore, of his own aggrandizement.

The Wasteland is Eliot’s spiritual autobiography, his search through the junk heap of modern culture for an integrating principle just as you would with Pilgrim’s Progress (From this world to that is to come, by John Bunyan). Eliot’s vision moves back and forth in a relentless movement back and forth over legend, belief, and symbol. And, at the end, the pilgrim, now apparently a solitary figure, continues walking. The grass is “singing” and a moist flavor comes, it brings rain”, a symbol of rejuvenation, of resurrection. Three claps of thunder are heard, and the voice of thunder, in Sanskrit, offers three words of advice: “Give, pity. and control” – “Shantih, Shantih, Shantih”, the peace that passes all understanding. Eliot sees the solution to the human situation in Hindu religious terms.

Eliot imposes the problem of the wasteland on us because we, whether we know it or not, are the citizens of the “unreal city” and must find our Grail: the plate used by Jesus at the Last Supper and on which one of his followers received His blood at the Crucifixion.

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