The theme of water in "The Waste Land" written by T.S. Eliot


The Waste Land is a long poem composed of 433 lines and divided into five parts: The Burial of the Dead, A game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, What the Thunder Said.
The main themes are death, rebirth, aridity, rest, huge sites and narrow modern places.
This work was written in 1921 when Eliot was in Losanna for care.
In this poem the themes of nature and water are very important; the main section in which we can see this aspect is called " What the Thunder Said". In this part the poet describes a land where he is walking on. There is no water, but only rocks; the landscape is desolate and there are only "mudcracked houses" and "red sullen faces" that show that there is a bit of life.
While the poet is walking he tells us how it could be important that in a land like this there should be some water: he, for example, would stop and drink, because he is terribly thirsty.
Proceeding with his walk, the poet needs always water and when he sees that his desire isn't satisfied he becomes angry with the nature and speaks with a strong voice ("Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit").
In this poem the water is seen as something that can bring rest and peace in the mind of the poet and it is the symbol of purification and rebirth for the whole mankind.
To describe this landscape the poet uses for many times words that generate a hard sound like "rock" and "dry"; the word "water" has a smoother sound and is used in contrast with the others.
With the description of a waste land the poet wants to convey feelings of fear and solitude.

The opposite problem is described in the fourth part when the poet narrates how Phlebas, the Phoenician died because of water: while he was in the sea a strong current pulled his body underwater and killed him; after that, the strength of the sea "picked his bones in whispers" and made his body entering in the whirlpool forever.
In this poem the water has a negative connotation, because it's seen as a manifestation of the strength of nature that brings death.