T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) is renowned for his works in literature as a poet. His earliest work was Prufrock (1917). His poems reflected the views of a Christian writer, but he did not want to be labeled as a “religious poet.”
The Waste Land
One of Eliot’s famous pieces of work in The Waste Land, written in 1922. It was in 1950 that Eliot admitted that Dante’s work had played a significant role in his writing of The Waste Land. Dante’s Inferno, specifically, influenced the theme of the “quest for spiritual meaning.”
At the very beginning of The Wasteland (The Burial of the Dead) the narrator expresses his outlook on life as a very dark and meaningless existence. He is searching for a spiritual meaning in his life; a reason to suffer through the pain. This section is influenced by the first and second canto of Dante’s Inferno, where Dante is in the woods explaining his pain and sorrow, and attempting to commit suicide because he has no reason to live.
The narrator derives a sentence from Dante’s Inferno that explains how he is able to go on his spiritual quest into the supernatural: “I was neither living nor dead, and I knew nothing.” This references Dante’s experience in Hell (when he saw Satan) that he was neither living nor dead. This, in a sense, allows him to experience the event, but still be susceptible to a spiritual revelation by the events. The journey of both Dante and the narrator in The Wasteland undergo a spiritual quest of their own subconscious; they’re opened to the realization of how they live their lives, exposed to the consequences of the choices of others, and then given the chance afterward to make the decision of how to live their life. They are offered a rebirth, but can also choose to stray from it, if desired.