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T.S. Eliot 's "The Fire Sermon" - A Poem Analysis Focusing On The Elements Of Nature

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T.S. Eliot

"The Fire Sermon"

An analysis of the poem focusing on the elements of nature

Joachim TRAUN



"It is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling"

(T.S. Eliot on "The Waste Land")

Table of contents


1. Introduction 4

2. T.S. Eliot- a brief biography 4

3. The fire sermon 5

3.1 Structure 6

3.2 Intertextuality 6

3.3 Interpretation 8

3.3.1 Water 8

3.3.2 City 11

3.3.3 Fusion 13

4. Conclusion 14


1. Introduction

There are not many poems which offer such a wide range of possible perspectives for an interpretation as T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", a cycle consisting of five parts. A deep and thorough knowledge of his whole work, life and influences is necessary to provide a somewhat reasonable interpretation of all elements of the poem. Additionally he uses the feature of intertextuality very often, which means that one must know all the sources he uses and alludes to.

In this paper I will just briefly describe Eliot's life, and the main sources of intertextuality of "The Fire Sermon", which is the third part of "The Waste Land". Then I will try to analyze "The Fire Sermon" focusing on the role of nature in the poem.

I have divided the poem into the three parts Water, City and Fusion. This labeling is reflecting the elements, which I consider as most important for each of the three parts of the poem. I will look at each part separately. Water and City are quite clear distinct main elements, which I will examine. Fusion means all important elements of the poem fusing together.

Finally, I will try to answer the question if there is a clear ecological concern transmitted through the poem.

2. T.S Eliot- a brief biography

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. His parents were Henry Ware Eliot, a brick manufacturer, and Charlotte Stearns Eliot, who was a poet in her own right.

Having finished primary school, Eliot attended Smith Academy in St. Louis. There his first poems appeared in the Smith Academy Record in 1905, the year of his graduation. Afterwards he spent one year at Milton Academy, a private prep- school in Massachusetts, and then entered Harvard University in 1906 where he earned a master's degree in English literature in 1910.

Awarded a traveling fellowship for the academic year 1914/1915, he intended to study in Germany, but the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 forced him to leave the country after only several weeks. He went to London, England, which would become his home for the remaining fifty years of his life.

There he met Ezra Pound, who would have a great influence on the development of his work and his literary career and Vivienne Haigh-Wood, whom he married two months later. In 1917 Eliot's first collection of twelve poems, Prufrock and Other Observations was published.

Between 1917 and 1925, Eliot earned his living as a teacher, a bank clerk and as a writer of literary reviews. In 1925 he joined the publishing house of Faber & Gwyer (later Faber & Faber) to have a financially secure job. Exhaustion because of over-working and matrimonial stress led to a nervous breakdown in 1921.

During his recovery at a sanatorium in Lausanne, he finished writing The Waste Land. It was published in 1922, after Eliot had adopted Pound's recommendations. It immediately became the most famous example of new poetry. But there was not only applause: Conservative critics denounced it as impenetrable and incoherent, because of its rapid shifts of settings and speakers and its allusions and quotations.

In his last two decades changes occurred in his private life. In 1933 Eliot divorced. His wife was brought to a mental institution and died in a nursing home in 1947. In 1956 he married his secretary at Faber& Faber, who was more than thirty years younger than him. He became a controversial figure because of his outbreaks of undisguised anti-Semitism.

His last major work Four Quartets (1943) consolidated his reputation, so that in 1948 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. After several years of declining health, he died of emphysema at his home in London on January 4, 1965.

3. The Fire Sermon

"The Fire Sermon" is the third part of "The Waste Land". The title is derived from a similar named work by Buddha, which T.S. Eliot himself considered corresponding

" importance to the sermon of the mount..." (Eliot 1971: 148).

In addition to the title, at the end of the poem Eliot also refers to this work.

3.1 Structure

The structure of the Fire Sermon is not easy to analyze. The poem does not have a straight rhyme scheme or rhythm. Its main structural element is variation. Therefore I would suggest seeing the whole poem reflecting the image of a river. This is done on various levels: the actions and places described in the poem merge into one


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