The Waste Land: Eliot’s Expiatory Pilgrimage from Church to Pagoda

John Kuriakose


Eliot’s poem The Waste Land is a pilgrimage in quest of an answer to the problem of desire—universal as well as personal—especially deviant sexuality, immoral behavior and their consequences. The traditional tags on the poem such as “a poem about Europe” and a poem about the “disillusionment of a generation” serve only to blinker the reader against its universal and spiritual dimensions. From the epigraph to the very concluding line of the poem, through numerous references and allusions to literary masterpieces and religious texts ranging over history, Eliot addresses the question of desire—craving-- in view of the essentials of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Thrashing out the problem in the light of  St. Augustine’s Confessions on burning and Buddha’s Fire Sermon on its remedy, Eliot preaches Datta, Dayadhvam and Damyata as the key virtues for the attainment of Shantih or “the peace that passeth understanding.” Thus the poem becomes a pilgrimage of Eliot across the spiritual landscape of the world.

Keywords: expiatory pilgrimage, desire, homoeroticism, confession, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Buddha’s Fire Sermon  

Full Text:



Anson, B. (2011). What is Buddhism. Buddhist Society of Western Australia. [Online] Available:

Augustine, S. (1999). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (Pusey, E. B., Trans.). New York: Modern Library.

Bloom, H. (1999). T. S. Eliot: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House.

Booth, A. (2015). Reading The Waste Land from the Bottom Up. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brooker, J. (1994). Mastery and Escape: T. S. Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1994.

Coyle, M. (2009). Fishing, with the arid plain behind me: Difficulty, Deferral, and Form in The Waste Land. In Chinitz, David E. (Ed.), A Companion to Eliot (pp 157-167). West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Cuda, A. (2009). The Poet and the Pressure Chamber: Eliot’s Life. In Chinitz, David E. (Ed.), A Companion to T. S. Eliot (pp 3-24). West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Hauck, Ch. (2009). Not One, Not Two: Eliot and Buddhism. In Chinitz, David E. (Ed.), A Companion to Eliot (pp. 40-52). West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Kenner, Hugh. (1949). Eliot’s Moral Dialectic. The Hudson Review, 2, 421-48.

Kirk, Russell. (2008). Eliot and His Age: T. S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century, Wilmington: Delaware.

Knickelbine, Mark. (2012). What is Burning in the Fire Sermon. Secular Buddhist Association: A Natural Pragmatic Approach to Early Buddhist and Practice. [Online] Available:

Lamos, Colleen. (2004). The love song of T. S. Eliot: Elegiac Homoeroticism in the Early Poetry. In Laity, Cassandra &, Gish, Nancy K. (Eds.), Gender, Desire and Sexuality in T.S. Eliot (pp 23-42). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacDiarmid, Laurie J. (2003). T.S. Eliot’s Civilized Savage: Religious Eroticism and Poetics. New York: Routledge.

Lehman, Robert S. (2008). Eliot’s Last Laugh: The Dissolution of Satire in The Waste Land. Journal of Modern Literature, 32(2), 65-79.

Peter, John. (1969). A New Interpretation of The Waste Land. Essays in Criticism, 21, 140-175

Query, P. (2009). The pleasures of higher vices: Sexuality. In Chinitz, David E. (Ed.), A Companion to Eliot (pp 350-362). West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Rabate, Jean-Michel. (1994). Tradition and T. S. Eliot. In Moody, Anthony (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot (pp. 210-222). UK: Cambridge UP, 1994.

Raine, C. (2006). T. S. Eliot. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ross, Andrew. (1984). The Waste Land and the Fantasy of Interpretation. Representations 8, 134-58.

Sayadeaw, M. (2016). The Theory of Karma. Buddhist Studies: Basic Buddhism, 1996- 2016. [Online] Available:

Smidt, Kristian. (1961). Poetry and Belief in the Work of T. S. Eliot. London: Rutledge & Kegan Paul.

Svarny, E. (1989). The Men of 1914: T. S. Eliot and Early Modernism. Philadelphia: Open UP.

Weston, J. L. (2011). From Ritual to Romance. New York: Dover Publications.

Wikipedia. “You! Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, -mon frère!” [Online] Available:


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2010-2020 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

Advances in Language and Literary Studies

You may require to add the '' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.