‘The Great War’ (World War One) had exhausted both the actual population of Europe as well as cultural and spiritual vitality – and Eliot’s Waste Land captured this listlessness of life and loss of meaning. The first of five sections of the poem, ‘The Burial of the Dead,’ thus opens with the imagery of a grave site, though ironically yet suggesting signs of life, however dreary:
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull rooms with spring rain.
Eliot brings to light the tired spirit following such massive amounts of death which, ironically enough, were often made possible by such human inventions as machine guns and gas warfare. In his own way, Eliot follows Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge from a full century before who sought to rehabilitate the imagination in the face of a dehumanizing urbanization and industrialization. But Eliot’s poetry spoke to the monumental collapse of confidence in the progress of civilization brought about by WWI. The steady march of progress and attendant optimism of the Victorian nineteenth century found poetic expression in the 1902 Coronation Ode for King Edward VII of England:
Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet
Everyone has a friend, a piece or two of iconic memorabilia, or a moment that takes them back to a time earlier in life – for me, the poetry of T.S. Eliot is one such old friend. Haunting images evoked by such phrases as ‘We are the Hollow Men’ and ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper,’ as well as more playful ones like ‘in the room where women come and go, speaking of Michelangelo’ – all added to the prophetic but chic mystique of one of the twentieth century’s premiere poets as well as Christian intellectuals, T.S. Eliot. While I had not much more than a passing familiarity with just some works of TS Eliot, they resonated in my young soul as I sought to reconcile the Christian world in which I had been raised with the philosophical perspective of the modern university, as well as with the late twentieth century world in general. I found a resonance in the sense of meaninglessness which Eliot found in his early twentieth century world, as I prepared for the demands of my own, a world which William Wordsworth (a century before Eliot) would despair of as “too much with us” (William Wordsworth, The World Is Too Much With Us, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174833 )
The despair Eliot encountered in his own post-apocalyptic, post World War I era can be found in ours today, as a loss of deep, spiritual meaning can rival the casualties of any war. But Eliot’s recognition of this, and the voice he develops in response, can aid us in understanding our own culture.
As the root of European culture could no longer sustain hopeful life, the fruit withered. Yeats captured the condition with “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Eliot’s Waste Land, among other of his poems, capture this result – the loss of certainty and direction in the human psyche, or soul. But following Yeats just a bit further spells this out quite clearly: “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” The modern human condition is adrift in uncertainty, alienated from a sense of a deeper purpose. Eliot introduced this view of modern man earlier, in his 1915 poem, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock . Prufrock, an unsettled and unsure in love and all his ways, has “time yet for a hundred indecisions / and for a hundred visions and revisions,” but could not find “strength to force the moment to its crisis.” Eliot’s Prufrock thus came “to epitomize frustration and impotence of the modern individual” and “represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment.” But it is in The Waste Land of 1922 that Eliot addresses the wandering sense of anomie and lostness, and develops a voice to carry him, and us, through to the other side.
Life does go on, but the question is begged ‘to what end?’ to which ‘culture’ is beckoned to answer. In the very first lines, Eliot places ‘breeding Lilacs,’ and that the ‘dull roots’ get their ‘spring rain,’ but the question ‘to what end?’ has only an ambiguous answer at this point.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you only know
a heap of broken images
Eliot continues, highlighting this ambiguity. As the understanding of the old world is shattered, the search for a deep sense of belonging and purpose must begin afresh. The Catholic and German Philosopher Josef Pieper considered this question in writing “Leisure the Basis of Culture” in 1952, in the aftermath of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust. A culture consists of more than just an economy, or a set of useful activities, Pieper argues – culture goes beyond the mundane facts of a nation’s existence, to supply something greater and deeper, a sense of meaning and purpose. ‘Leisure’ is where these values can be found, Pieper continues: Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.” We will return to Pieper’s discussion of culture later, but the important point to remember is how culture is tasked with presenting some kind of value beyond the basics of existence. The struggle of Western culture since the time of the Greeks to find such value is demonstrated in Nancy Pearcey’s Saving Leonardo, as she traces the culture’s answer to the ever-present question of the fact/value divide. The ‘fact’ of simple material existence is obvious, but the type of answer provided in the realm of ‘values’ is what makes a culture. Culture can in fact come to be seen to largely resemble the definition of a ‘worldview:’ the set of coherent answers to life’s fundamental questions of origins, destiny, morality and meaning. It is how Eliot gropes his way towards re-finding these values that defines the rest of his Waste Land.
As a Christian, Eliot has in mind a transcendental basis for culture. The response to the question, ‘What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?’ begins with ‘Son of man, you cannot say,’ thus alluding to the book of Ezekiel in which God addresses Ezekiel in this way over ninety times. Ezekiel was in a dry and forsaken land, (‘God-forsaken’ one might well say) so Eliot’s drawing the parallel here implies a transcendental solution – God – exactly as Pieper was shown to say, ‘ Culture, … leisure … is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.’ As the patchwork of imagery Eliot throws at the problem involves Christian scripture, it is also interesting to note that the definition ‘Son of man’ could also allude to the messianic title of Christ;  and the use of ‘branch’ and ‘roots’ here at least stand in some contrast, if not allusion, to a similar description of Christ.
But Eliot is just getting started in moving towards transcendence when he uses Scriptural imagery – he has the whole canon of thousands of years of Christian culture on which draw in searching for the roots of culture. Just as he did with his later poem The Hollow Men, Eliot makes use of imagery from Dante in framing the situation. Dante’s “never-ending rut of souls in pain. / I had not thought death had undone so many / passed by me in that mournful train” is applied to crowds in London: “Unreal City, / Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, / a crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/ I had not thought death had undone so many.” That Eliot capitalized ‘City’ even seems to bring in Augustine’s City of God and its contrast with Rome, ‘The City of Man;’ Eliot does bring in Augustine later in the poem, but it may strain credulity to press this point much further than to merely mention the possibility. Nevertheless, Eliot’s summoning of imagery from two thousand years of Christian culture and literature helps contrast its absence in modern culture, breeding a lostness for modern man.
Eliot furthers alludes to a transcendental path forward by using’ mythological imagery. The imagery of re-emergent (vegetative) growth from the dead land Eliot himself claimed to have drawn from the ancient mythology of a dying then reborn God. No less an apologist than C.S. Lewis drew inspiration from this, realizing in his own process of salvation that
as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history.
But this Christian truth, wrapped in twenty centuries of Christian culture which were quickly fading, could only be alluded to in the imagination of Eliot’s day. Eliot also uses several images from the deck of Tarot cards to illustrate his predicament. For instance, in his notes to the poem, Eliot mentions that the card of “The Hanged Man” which he “did not find” referred to a hanged God from Frazier’s The Golden Bough (one of the texts supporting the mythology of the dying and reborn God). The “man with three staves” similarly referred to the idea of a Fisher King who bides his time, waiting for some form of healing in himself, and thus to the land as well.
The dramatic, even cataclysmic, break from the confidence and optimism of a Christian past is a momentous shift in worldview, which Eliot prods the apologist to ponder. The momentous nature of this pivotal shift for Christian, European culture is reinforced by further images from the cards: the Wheel is likely an allusion to Fortuna’s wheel, the Greek symbol for fortune, luck or the capricious nature of existence, while Belladonna, “the lady of situations” would seem to similarly hint at the turn fate has taken. Culture, tradition, in short our history, is important in the way we choose our values and how to act. Eliot understood perhaps better than anyone: a person’s creative efforts go beyond simply writing individual personality large upon their world – instead, they must fully take in the world first, then make their statement. Otherwise, behavior is of the shallowest and most meaningless sort. Eliot expressed this insight in terms of how a poet produces a meaningful work, but the overriding point of historical and cultural appreciation and mooring is relevant for how we view our own history and culture. Eliot described the importance of one’s sense of history, the appreciation and internalization of the past, in his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent in these prosaic terms:
The historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order… No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. Eliot summarizes his point even more poetically with the following:
Someone said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.
and concludes his famous essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent, with
the poet … is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.
But the characters in The Waste Land show themselves to be alienated from any such tradition of meaning, and are thus alienated from even themselves. At the end of section I. Burial of the Dead, we have already seen how Eliot described the crowd of London of which ‘death had undone so many.’ But the anatomy of this deadening of the senses is portrayed even further in section II. A Game of Chess. The woman Lil sits amidst “her strange synthetic perfumes, / Unguent, powdered, or liquid – troubled, confused / And drowned the sense in odours” – synthetic (though just as alien to nature as to her person), with her natural senses thus drowned. Her indecision and uncertainty are captured as she asks “What shall I do now? What shall I do? … What ever shall we do?” though her looking “antique (And her only thirty one)” due to “them pills I took, to pull it off” further establishes her loss of natural vitality. But Lil’s separation from even her senses is most forcefully on display in her disinterested entertaining of Albert’s romantic advances, as “his vanity requires no response, / and makes a welcome of indifference.” Her continued indifference and superficial behavior afterwards, as “Hardly aware of her departed lover; / her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass: ‘Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over’ / When lovely woman stoops to folly …” Lil’s alienation from purposive action is apparent, but the dissociation reaches to her very senses, being ‘hardly aware,’ entertaining but ‘half-formed thoughts’ and ‘stooping to folly.’ A similar appearance of a catatonic soul appears in what seems to be yet another amorous encounter in a canoe drifting along a fouled river, as in response to “He wept. He promised a new start,” the woman responds with “I made no comment. What should I resent?” As William Lynch says of these scenes in Christ and Apollo, “sensibility is dead in the upper reaches of her soul; the once deeper fact is not there to delight or torture her with its echoes in other levels of her self.”
Lil’s alienation is the very reverse of the integration faith offers to the individual. In contrast to Lil’s own dim senses, Malcolm Guite shows how the water pipe from Seamus Heaney’s Rain Stick poem allows the reader to “stand there like a pipe / being played by the water,” and thus be “like a rich man entering heaven / Through the ear of a raindrop.” Our senses become more attuned, not less, when we we allow faith, often working through nature, to restore our soul. The imagination is quickened – as has been described by the likes of Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Coleridge.
It is in nature that our imagination grasps a sense of transcendent meaning. Coleridge spelled this out in his poem, Frost at Midnight, as it is in lakes and mountain crags that “the lovely shapes and sounds intelligible / of that eternal language, which thy God / Utters, who from eternity doth teach / Himself in all, all things in Himself.” It is in fact remarkable just how intelligible nature is to us – an observation that Guite cites as “one of Coleridge’s most important insights.” Not only can we intuit or understand the language of nature but, Coleridge argued, we are equipped with with the same internal vocabulary. To put it another way, nature is equipped to answer the questions we are designed to ask. And this fact points to an even greater resource against alienation: creation in the image of God, designer of both nature and ourselves.
But Coleridge goes even further than this – our ability to understand the language of nature – in finding a deep level of unity in our souls: we are in fact created imago dei, in the image of God Himself. Our deepest alienation is thus when we betray that nature. But when we live and move and breathe within that nature, in God Himself, we are true to our very nature. With one part of our imagination (Coleridge would call it the ‘Primary Imagination’), we can see the world with all meaning God put into it; with another part of our imagination (our ‘Secondary Imagination’), we are free to be creative, with our minds and senses, our understanding, language and skills, in the world in a manner similar to that of God. Instead of being beset by corrupted and malfunctioning senses, our imagination helps us to renew and embolden our senses!
But when our senses are not renewed through imagination and, ultimately, faith, we become the most unimaginative and mechanical of beings. Guite shows how Coleridge, in the poem Comus, contrasts the heavens, “the starry threshold of Jove’s court” with our more mundane, earthly existence of “the smoke and stir of this dim spot … (where men) strive to keep up a frail and feverish being …” This ‘dim pot,’ Wordsworth’s ‘world (that) is too much with us’ – these are what ‘culture,’ properly conceived, elevates us above. As Pieper argued in Leisure the Basis of Culture, it is that world beyond simply making a living where we find our meaning.a It is in the ‘Artes liberales’ rather than ‘servile arts,’ the realm of cosmic contemplation (intellectus) rather than of utilitarian calculation (ratio), where we find both freedom and meaning. Our souls are freed from ‘mundane, earthly existence,’ and thus able to contemplate and find meaning, and ultimately enjoyment, in creation and its Creator. Pieper thus finds in culture, or leisure, this capacity:
Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality … it more nearly means that the soul’s power to ‘answer’ to the reality of the world is left undisturbed. For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but the also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.
Alienation not just from the contemplated order results, but alienation from our very selves. Pieper notes how our typical construal of leisure as mere, empty idleness is the antithesis of such leisure; instead leisure is the “mental and spiritual attitude” in which we can most fully be ourselves. As Pieper puts it“leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces in his own being, whereas acedia is the refusal to acquiesce in one’s own being.”
But in Eliot’s The Waste Land, neither culture nor nature appear in such restorative roles, though the poet’s perspective itself provides clues to the transcendental means of escape. Near the end of section III, The Fire Sermon, Augustine is brought into the kaleidoscope of images for which the poem was considered so novel, and for which it was celebrated as a key work for modernist poetry. Augustine’s asceticism – a denial of the senses had been so abused and deadened thus far in the poem – “To Carthage then I came” (“where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears”) is juxtaposed with Buddha’s Fire Sermon (“burning, burning, burning,burning” in addition to the entire section being so named), itself a classic text of denial of the senses. What is Eliot doing with this? At this point in his life (1922), Eliot would not convert for five years yet from Unitarianism (in which the deity of Christ does not seem to have been held) to an orthodox Christian faith (Anglicanism), so he may have been yet searching for an ultimate, specific faith. The degradation of the senses, or morality and purpose, on display thus far in the poem, are now contrasted with both Western and Eastern asceticism. While it is natural to suspect that the Unitarian Eliot would likely side with Augustine, as indeed the Christian tradition was the one in which Europe had been historically steeped, perhaps the most apologetic mileage that can be made from this particular comparison is Eliot’s casting the newly culturally adrift Europe as somewhere between its Augustinian and Christian heritage and a Buddhism in which life is an illusion. Eliot would thus appear to very neatly tie together both the Buddhist and the Augustine traditions with the phrase ‘Unreal City,’ if the capitalized ‘City’ might indeed refer to Augustine’s City of God as discussed previously; otherwise, the title ‘Surreal City’ might have been just as appropriate.
As the poem reaches its conclusion in sections IV. Death by Water and V. What the Thunder Said, Eliot offers Christian resurrection imagery and prophetic judgment The brevity of life is preached in the ten-line IV. Death by Water, a message offered to those “who turn the wheel”of Fortuna, as noted previously, and “look to windward.” But it is in V. What the Thunder Said that Eliot brings in Christ’s death and resurrection, after which the dryness of the land begins to turn. The image of Gethsemane is invoked with the opening lines of section V., and the dying King / Fisher King storylines are advanced with “He who was living is now dead / We who are living are now dying.” The Dying King (Christ)’s resurrection and his appearance on the Emmaus Road, as well as decay of Europe, appear. But the lifeless dryness, even dry thunder, dominate the passage; an empty chapel is included, though is set against a flash of lightning, after which rain appears. This rainy breaking of the dryness would seem to indicate the fruits of the resurrected King on a yet dry and lonesome land, thus reaching the conclusion of the dying and reborn King of the myth with which Eliot began the poem.
As the scene shifts to a dry, Indian land, Eliot preaches virtues which will lead to peace and restoration. A threefold declaration is given: Da (Datta – give), Da (Dayadhvam – be merciful or compassionate) and Da (Damyata – restrain yourself). As these are held out as advice given by the thunder, the voice of nature, Eliot pronounces “Shantih Shantih Shantih” to end The Waste Land, the Upanishad’s equivalent of “The Peace which passeth understanding.” Whether or not Europe will heed this prophetic advice or not is undetermined, as the Fisher King figure “sat upon the shore / Fishing, with the arid plain behind me/ (asking) Shall I at least set my lands in order?” – meanwhile,”London Bridge is falling down” as he ponders.
Eliot in The Waste Land thus offers the solution of the dying and resurrected King as the key to its continued fertility, or life. Europe was shown as having culturally lost that message, and grousing about dazed and insensate until it might find that truth once again. One does well to heed the ways in which that message might be found in a culture, how the imagination and vitality can be reignited through the voice of faith awakened by nature, by drawing on a proper and contemplative sense of culture, or ultimately, on direct faith itself.
 T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922), I.1-4. ‘(1922)’ doesn’t seem to be Turabian-kosher,however. (?)
 Holly Ordway, course lecture.
 Arthur C. Benson, Land of Hope and Glory, 1902. Accessed April, 2016, http://www.know-britain.com/songs/land_of_hope_and_glory.html.
 William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919, 1-4.
 Ibid., 5-8.
 Eliot, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, 32-33.
 Ibid., 80.
 McCoy, Kathleen, and Harlan, Judith. English Literature From 1785 (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), 265–66.
 Eliot, The Waste Land, 29-32.
 Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture (New York: Random House, 1963), 15.
 Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals and Meaning (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 26. Throughout the book, this split is understood in a variety of ways, such as between the scientism of modernism and concern with values of postmodernism, enlightenment/romanticism, naturalism/idealism in art, among others.
 Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Nashville: Word, 1997), 219–220
 The Phrase ‘son of man’ is used 93 times in Ezekiel, which describes a land of dry bones and the ultimate inspiration of a culture by turning to God. It is used to refer to the Messiah in Daniel 7:13,14; in the gospels, the term is used to refer to Christ 81 times, though in the form ‘the son of man,’ New Advent Online Repository, accessed April 1, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14144a.htm.
 Jesus, in the lineage of David, and his father Jesse, was foretold with “A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit.” in Isaiah 11:1, while Jesus declares in Revelations 22:16 “I am the root and the offspring of David; the Bright and Morning Star.”
 T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men, 1925. In IV.1, Eliot is understood to allude to the eyes of Dante’s guide Beatrice, in stating “The eyes are not here,” and the journey of the dead across the river in Dante’s Hades is alluded to with lines IV.6-9 “In this last of meeting places / We grope together / And avoid speech / Gathered on this beach of the tumid river.”
 Dante Alighieri, Inferno, 3.52-54.
 Eliot, The Waste Land, 60-63.
 T.S. Eliot, “Notes on the Waste Land” in The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909 – 1950 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1973), 50-55, also online, accessed April 1, 2016, http://genius.com/Ts-eliot-notes-on-the-waste-land-annotated.
 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Glasgow: Collins, 1986), 178-179. Lewis notes that “Early in 1926, the hardest boiled of all atheists I ever knew sat in my room … ‘Rum thing,’ he went on. ‘All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum ting. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.’ ” Tolkien also spoke to Lewis of how the several ‘Corn King’ myths of ancient religions point towards the universal human hunger for such deities; the presence in Egyptian (Osiris), Greek (Adonis or Bacchus), Babylonian (Tammuz), Persian (Mithras) and Norse (Balder) mthologes actually reinforces the ultimate truth of the Christian myth (‘which became fact’), as “in all (above noted, mythological) cases, his dying and rising bring new life and fecundity to those who orship him and an expiation of taboo guilt to those who celebrate his rites” from Louis Markos, Apologetics for the the 21st Century (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 66. Jessie Weston’s Ritual to Romance (1920) as discussed by Eliot in his notes can be accessed online at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/4090/pg4090-images.html .
 C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 66.
 Ibid., 43-59 contains all the references to characters and figures from the tarot cards.
 T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2015), 44. Also available from The Poetry Foundation, accessed April 1, 2016, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/poetics-essay/237868.
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 53.
 Eliot, The Waste Land, II.86-89.
 Ibid., II.131-134.
 Ibid., III.241-242.
 Ibid., II.250-253.
 Ibid., III.292-299.
 William Lynch, Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of Literary Imagination (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2004), 224-5.
 Malcolm Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry (Burlington: Ashgate, 2014), 19-20.
 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frost at Midnight, 59-62. Reprinted in Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, 153.
 Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, 153.
 Ibid., 152.
 Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture, 46-7.
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 46.
 Eliot, The Waste Land, 307.
 Eliot, “Notes on ‘The Waste Land,’ ” in T.S. Eliot Complete Poems and Plays, 53.
 Eliot, The Waste Land, III.308.
 Ibid., IV.320.
 Eliot, Notes to the Waste Land. The Original context, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad V.1, can be found at Swami Krishnanda’s Divine Life Society, http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/brdup/brhad_V-01.html.
 Eliot, The Waste Land, V.434.
 Eliot, Notes to the Waste Land.
 Eliot, The Waste Land, V.424-7.