© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.


Quote #1

—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Yours arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing
Looking into the heart of light, the silence. (37-41)

A female speaker recalls a time when someone sent her hyacinth flowers, which seems like it was a pretty great time in her life. But at one moment, for reasons she doesn't seem to understand, she lost her sense of excitement, and just went numb. She completely lost her ability to communicate and felt like a zombie, "neither / Living nor dead" (39-40). This scene could be a symbol for the fall of modern minds, which were once connected to each other with a sense of love, but then lost their ability to communicate or think straight, and this led them spiraling into an isolated silence. "The Waste Land" as a whole could be seen as Eliot's attempt to make sense of where this isolation has historically come from.

Quote #2

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. (64-65)

The speaker describes a crowd of people flowing over London Bridge like zombies. None of them seem to pay attention to each other, since "each man fixe[s] his eyes before his feet" (65). This image of staring at the ground in front of one's feet is a perfect symbol for how our daily routines tend to dull our attention until we no longer even realize that we're just moving in a giant herd of people (ever texted in a crowd? Same deal). For Eliot, there is a certain emotional deadness or numbness that has made people stop paying attention to one another, and this is something society will have to overcome if it's ever going to get out of the waste land.

Quote #3

So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
"Jug Jug" to dirty ears. (100-104)

After mentioning the myth of Philomela, the speaker implies that modern people are like Philomela, insofar as they've had their "tongues cut out" by the collapse of meaningful communication in the modern era. Like Philomela, these people might try very hard to express themselves in a beautiful way, but all other people can hear with their "dirty ears" is nonsense. Everything meaningful just sounds the same, like "Jug Jug." This inability to properly communicate is a main cause for the loneliness of modernity.

back to top