It can be said that The Waste Land is a poem about memory and the lack thereof in our modern lives. Eliot uses The Tenth Book of the Confessions, which is the book about memory, in the part of his poem that is heavily reliant upon sensory experience. But, as we know from Buddha’s sermon, our sensory experience is on fire with passions. Augustine mentioned that memory—that is, collective memory—can salvage us from depravity. Accordant as he may be with this idea, Eliot presents a challenge to Augustine’s emphasis on memory. Our modern society’s “collective” memory is neglected, and Eliot uses the parts of The Waste Land that precede “The Fire Sermon” to convey a lost sense of memory that has inhibited man from looking beyond his worldly pleasures: Solemn and nostalgic, Part I. “The Burial of the Dead” tells us that we only know “a heap of broken images,” (23); patient but ticking, “Part II. A Game of Chess” tells the reader how Philomel’s call to us is in vain because we are no longer able to make out her song—“‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears” (103)—and another speaker grows increasingly restless with the poet’s indifference—“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” (141, 152, 165, 168, 169).
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