April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
Part I of The Waste Land, “The Burial of the Dead,” begins with an image of spring rain soaking down into the dried roots of a lilac bush. The speaker remains unknown to readers. The pronoun us suggests the multiple characters in the five parts of the poem, however. The setting of these opening lines, and of the whole poem, reflects a dead land. The opening lines raise the central question of the poem: whether regeneration will, or even can, take place in the wasteland of the modern world.
A rat crept softly through the vegetation Dragging its slimy belly on the bank While I was fishing in the dull canal On a winter evening round behind the gashouse Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck And on the king my father’s death before him.
In Part III of The Waste Land, titled “The Fire Sermon,” the speaker observes a rat while fishing. The image of the scavenging rat, though unpleasant, represents ongoing life. The vegetation, still alive enough in winter to attract a rat, contains the possibility of regeneration. At this point in the poem, the speaker remains unidentified. He or she will soon be revealed as Tiresias, a blind prophet who is both male and female. The character also suggests the Fisher King, a mythical figure whose sexual potency or impotency determined the fertility or infertility of the land.
And right action is freedom From past and future also. For most of us, this is the aim Never here to be realised; Who are only undefeated Because we have gone on trying; We, content at the last If our temporal reversion nourish (Not too far from the yew-tree) The life of significant soil.
In “The Dry Salvages,” the poet stands upon a group of offshore rocks and looks out to the ocean. The sea represents the poem’s themes of time, memory, and death, and most of the poem’s stanzas discuss the sea. Here at the end of the poem, however, the poet turns his attention back to the land. The rhythms of the sea have led him to a moment of enlightenment. In the last four lines, he declares himself to be content with being only soil in the future, even if the soil nourishes the poisonous and deadly yew tree.