Wandering Through “The Wasteland”: Part IV

To my mind at least, Part IV of the poem, “Death by Water”, is the most beautiful. It is composed of only ten lines, divided into three stanzas. As is so common in Eliot’s poetry, there is a huge amount of allusion, primarily to Phlebas, the Phoenician Sailor. As a mythological character, he seems to have influenced authors across the ages, including Shakespeare in his writing of The Tempest; Phlebas as a character is comparable to Alonso.

The most meaningful element of Phlebas’s character however is the way in which he died; he dies as a result of drowning. T.S Eliot uses water as a subliminal metaphor throughout the poem, representing fertility and the ability to resurrect; the dry nature of the waste land as described represents the importance of water. Phlebas’s death therefore is representative of a deeply spiritual death; something that is lacking throughout the poem. There are numerous references to meaningful, spiritual deaths throughout literature; again here, we can consider Shakespeare. Hamlet’s Ophelia drowns herself, her final words having already been mentioned at the end of Part II.

Phlebas- the drowned sailor (1)

Eliot makes reference in this passage to the idea of wealth, and material happiness, the very idea of which he attacked in Part III. “Forgot the profit and loss” is very striking, and contains a kind of ethereal quality; this feeling of floating continues in the second stanza of this section; “he rose and fell”, for example. The idea of a spiritual death adds a feeling of gracefulness to the passage, instead of the previously decadent and yet acerbic tone that precedes this section. This passage really compounds the feeling of change that has been, slowly, creeping into the poem; the change of descriptions occurs very slowly,  creating something comparable to a phoenix rising from the ashes.

The final line of this part is perhaps the most important however, almost serving as a warning for how people are living; how they are neglecting their spiritual lives, and how they are no longer as human as they once were. They are being degraded and being eroded.

“Consider Phlebas, who was once as handsome and tall as you.”

Eliot’s warning reverberates in the air here, it is perfectly clear, and unlike Eliot’s usual style, it is not a riddle; it seems clear that Phlebas is the example; an example of a lack of spirituality, and what becomes of those who waste themselves. Eliot tended to feel as though society was, as a whole, neglecting it’s duty to a God.

And so it seems that we are coming to the end of our little exploration through The Wasteland; the final part, Part V, “What the Thunder Said” compromises the last piece of the puzzle.


(1) http://www.tendreams.org/gleeson/Phlebas%20the%20Phoenician,%201951%201ac.jpg



On Exploring Budapest

Eastern Europe holds a certain allure, because it is essentially on the same continent as France, or Germany. However Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia are rather alien in terms of culture and social convention, although less so in terms of religion. We, who call ourselves European, are in fact rather sheltered from the essence of Europe, and so this summer I’m hoping to rectify the situation by visiting Budapest with a friend. I’ve always been curious about the history of Hungary, and the history of the Hungarian Jews, ever since looking at the impact of World War Two on the country.

I rarely go on holiday to cities; as a family tradition, we tend to sit by swimming pools or on the beach; anything to avoid the appearance of money belts and explorer shorts, and the taboo socks and sandals combination. We sit by the pool and complain that we are hot; we are typical British people on holiday when it comes to discussions on the weather. We don’t often visit cities; we’ve seen New York and Boston, and had a day in Pisa; but on average, city breaks are not a family venture, especially when you have younger children; pulling them through blistering heat with a plethora of other tourists is an organisational mission, as well as requiring the patience of  a saint.

File:Saint Stephen's Basilica Budapest.jpg

St. Stephen's Basilica (1)

However, cities have a vast number of opportunities for cultural exploration; museums and access to authentic cuisine is one of the highlights for me in exploring cities. I have found that eating at the same restaurants as the locals improve’s one’s understanding of the local food and local traditions, especially further afield. However, if you’ve been touched by the cruel hand of food poisoning, there’s really nothing wrong with a McDonald’s. Our Western digestive system isn’t always trained for layered cabbage dishes, or in more extreme cases, stuffed lamb heads, or stewed insects. You do become accustomed to things assuming you are prepared to try them however.

I’m thoroughly looking forwards to having a look round the Hungarian National Museum, and visiting the shopping centres and markets. The Saint Basilica has a certain appeal too, venturing into the Roman Catholicism world and the history thereof. The architecture of the building also has roots in Greek architecture and Roman history and therefore we’ll be exposed to neo-classical elements of Budapest too. I’m hoping to look around the city and night, eat some Hungarian food and go to the Hungarian opera.

The only challenge is to make the trip as cost-effective as possible; stay in a hotel in the centre of the city so that we save money on transport costs, and hopefully, somewhere where breakfast is included. As Michael McIntyre says, on holiday, we convince ourselves that we won’t need lunch, because we never want to eat when we’re hot. I’m rather hoping that we’ll be sufficiently busy that we won’t need to be thinking about food all the time; four days isn’t very long to look around such a beautiful city, but I think if we fill all moments of consciousness with interesting activities, we should be able to maximise the time we’re there for.


(1) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Saint_Stephen%27s_Basilica_Budapest.jpg/800px-Saint_Stephen%27s_Basilica_Budapest.jpg