T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land Wiki

Chapter Summary[]

“What the Thunder Said” is set in various places. The first three stanzas are set in a desolate and deserted place where it resembles a true waste land, emphasizing the dire need of society for salvation. “Falling towers” and “unreal cities” indicates the destruction and corruption within society. The title of this part has been derived from an Indian legend, which says that all beings, the men, devils and as well as gods, listen to what the thunder says in order to restore life to the “wasteland”.

This part starts off with a setting of a rocky place with no water. Water here symbolizes salvation and hope, thus the beginning of part V reflects on a society where civilization is corrupted, impure, given in temptations – in need of salvation. As the poem progresses, we reach another setting where civilization is engulf in fire which is both a purifying and destructive element and it therefore plays a significant role in the rebirth and regeneration of society. This resembles an apocalypse. Later on, hope is finally coming – re-emergence of water bringing with it the hope of rebirth by the thunder. Thunder plays an important role. When it speaks, Eliot describes it as God delivering three groups of followers -– men, demons, and the gods -– the sound “Da”: Datta for humans which means to give – to curb man’s greed, dayadhvam for devils which means to have compassion and empathy for others, and damyata for gods which means to control for they are wild and rebellious. Together, God gives these three orders which add up to a consistent moral perspective, composure, generosity, and empathy lying at the core, to reach inner peace.

After the torch-light red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying  325
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience  330
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  335
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  340
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 mud-cracked houses

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring  350
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock  355
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
When I count, there are only you and I together  360
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?  365
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  370
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London  375
A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings  380
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

(Interpretation of lines 379-384)


In this decayed hole among the mountains  385
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.  390
Only a cock stood on the roof-tree
Co co rico co co rico

In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust

Bringing rain      

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves


Waited for rain, while the black clouds


Gathered far distant, over Himavant.


The jungle crouched, humped in silence.


Then spoke the thunder




Datta: what have we given?


My friend, blood shaking my heart


The awful daring of a moment’s surrender


Which an age of prudence can never retract


By this, and this only, we have existed


Which is not to be found in our obituaries


Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider


Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor


In our empty rooms




Dayadhvam: I have heard the key


Turn in the door once and turn once only


We think of the key, each in his prison


Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison


Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours


Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus




Damyata: The boat responded


Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar


The sea was calm, your heart would have responded


Gaily, when invited, beating obedient


To controlling hands



I sat upon the shore


Fishing, with the arid plain behind me


Shall I at least set my lands in order?



London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down



Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina


Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow


Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie


These fragments I have shored against my ruins


Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.


Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.



      Shantih    shantih    shantih


Everlasting Peace