Exploring The Waste Land
A commentary page linked from The Waste Land, Part I, line 38

Part I
Lines 38-41

Here is part an essay by P.K. Saha:

Lines 38-41 [of The Waste Land] are a conflation of lines or images from the last cantos of Dante's Inferno and Paradiso. In his essay on Dante, too, Eliot focused on these two cantos simultaneoulsy by suggesting that the ending of Paradiso "repairs the failure" of the end of Inferno. He also claimed that the last canto of Paradiso is "the highest point that poetry has ever reached." Some of the specific links between Eliot's and Dante's lines follow: "I was neither / Living nor dead" is the exact equivalent of "Io non moro, e non rimasi vivo" (Inferno, XXXIII, 83-4). The Italian line represents Dante's sense of fear and paralysis when he sees Lucifer, and this terrifying vision at the end of Inferno needs to be related to the luminous vision at the end of Paradiso: ". . . ficcar lo viso per la Luce eterna, / tanto la veduta vi consunisi!" (Paradiso, XXXIII, 83-4) [I fixed my gaze on the eternal light so deeply that my entire vision was consumed in it"]. "I knew nothing, / Looking into the heart of light" is the equivalent of Dante's vision being consumed in the eternal light, and the overall notion of suspended being in "I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed" is the counterpart of "Cosi la mente mia tutta sospesa, / mirave fissa, immobile ed attenta . . ." (Paradiso XXXIII, 97-8) [Thus with wholly suspended mind, I stared fixedly, motionless and intent . . .]. The notion of subdued speech and vision is also present in the same canto (ll. 56, 61-2).

Paradiso ends with the famous last line "l'Amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle" [the love that moves the sun and the other stars]. In the overall scheme of The Divine Comedy, the vision at the end of Inferno, representing the ultimate failure of love as personfied by Lucifer, and the vision at the end of Paradiso, focusing on the redemptive power of love, jointly indicate the polarities of love, and its transcendent potential.

By conflating Dante's concluding visions in the opening section of his own poem, Eliot may be suggesting that the hallmark of the modern waste land in indeed the paralysis of love. ...


Saha, P.K., "Eliotís The Waste Land," The Explicator, vol. 46, no. 3, (Spring 1988) pp. 31-2

Exploring The Waste Land
File name: cq038.html
File date: Sunday, September 29, 2002
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