Study Guide

The Waste Land Thunder

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Thunder pops up mostly in the fifth and final section of the poem, aptly titled "What the Thunder Said." It takes its meaning from the fact that thunder usually symbolizes the coming of rain, but is also draws on Hinduism. The three thunder claps that sound in lines 400-423 basically retell the story of how thunder, the father of gods, men, and demons, told them that in order to live well, they'd have to practice the three DA-s (which apparently is what thunder sounds like). These words are Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata, which mean giving, compassion, and self-control. Eliot feels that if we can learn these three things, we'll at least be much better off than we've been for the last while. It's while talking about "What the Thunder Said" that Eliot most directly tells us to get over ourselves and start thinking about others.

  • "What the Thunder Said": Yep, the final section of the poem has thunder in its title, so you now it's gonna be big. Going back to the image of water, we can think of thunder as something that promises that rain will soon come. But we can also think of thunder as something that's about to bring destruction. It's the perfect image to show how Eliot's not really sure if society is going to get better or keep getting worse.
  • Line 327: Eliot connects thunder to the season of spring, which might mean that Eliot's connecting thunder to the possibility of cultural rebirth. But then again, we need to remember that Eliot starts "The Waste Land" by talking about what an awful season spring is; so the image might not be so promising.
  • Lines 341-342: At this point in the poem, Eliot is trying to undercut any potentially redeeming things about "The Waste Land." On the one hand, he says it's barren, but not so barren that it's silent and peaceful. No, there's always thunder booming to ruin your sense of calm. But does the thunder bring rain? Naw, it's totally this special kind of thunder that just keeps making noise: "dry sterile thunder without rain" (342). Sheesh, Eliot, we get it already. Ain't nothin' good comin' down the pike.
  • Lines 400-423: This closing section of the poem brings out even more meaning in Eliot's thunder image, which he connects deeply to a story from the Hindu religion. According to this story, thunder makes the sound "DA," which we're supposed to hear as three different da- words in Sanskrit: Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata. These words mean to give, to have compassion, and to have self-control. For Eliot, these are the three things we should think of when we hear thunder, because it is if we follow these commands that the thunder will give us the spiritual "rainwater" we need to rejuvenate our world.

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