A reading of the third part of The Waste Land
‘The Fire Sermon’ is the third section of T. S. Eliot’s ground-breaking 1922 poem The Waste Land. Its title is chiefly a reference to the Buddhist Fire Sermon, which encourages the individual to liberate himself (or herself) from suffering through detachment from the five senses and the conscious mind. You can read ‘The Fire Sermon’ here; below we offer a short summary of this section of Eliot’s poem, along with an analysis of its meaning.
‘The Fire Sermon’ opens with the River Thames, and a description of the litter that was strewn across its surface until recently: during the summer, the Thames was full of empty bottles, cigarette ends, and even, it is hinted, contraceptives (that ‘other testimony of summer nights’). The ‘nymphs’, we are told, ‘are departed’. The meaning of this is ambiguous: on the one hand…
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