Hi,

Following is an excerpt from T. S. Eliot 's 1922 poem The Waste Land :

I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

==

The last line, underlined, is difficult to catch the exact meaning.

Is it to be understood to mean "fear of getting under the ground = death"?

Or does it mean "I will show you the fear when(=while) you and I are both in the dust"?

Or does it mean, "I will show you fear with the means of dust" = dust being the way or medium or weapon of attack?

What should be the average, poem reading native's understanding of this line?
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pructusWhat should be the average, poem reading native's understanding of this line?
None. No understanding whatsoever. Note the link below of thousands of Google hits, each representing an attempt to understand it. Making analyses of Eliot's poetry is a thriving cottage industry!

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1011&bih=567&q=i+will+show+you+fear+in+a+handful...

CJ
Thanks so much, Calif!!

I never would have imagined that line would be bringing up so much discussion.

What would be possible options of understanding, in purely grammatical point of view?

Here are some that I find as possible options. As a non-native of English, prior to literary understanding, grammatical understanding seems to be urgent. What among these three possible options, would you consider possible understanding, at least grammatically? Or, can there be other options?

1. You will be in a handful of dust as a consequence of the fact that I showed you fear. (in=into).

2. You and I will both be in a handful of dust, and in that state, I will show you fear.

3. I will show you something and that something is "fear of being in a handful of dust".
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I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

pructus1. You will be in a handful of dust as a consequence of the fact that I showed you fear. (in=into). No.
2. You and I will both be in a handful of dust, and in that state, I will show you fear. No.
3. I will show you something and that something is "fear of being in a handful of dust". No.
Grammatically, I think it's much simpler. I think this is the basic idea of the structure.

I will show you fear by showing you a handful of dust.

~ I can make you afraid by showing you a small amount of dust.

________________


Of course, the metaphoric content has to do with understanding the symbolism of dust. So it's like saying,


I can make you afraid by showing you a small amount of dust if you understand what I'm trying to illustrate to you by doing that.


Personally, I think it has to do with the fact that everything around us is eventually broken down into dust. The whole universe, including ourselves, will eventually be dust.


So maybe the poet is thinking how scary it is to think that all our efforts in life are futile. Everything will be dust some day anyway. Or maybe it's more personal, and we are each afraid that our own efforts are futile because we are going to die and turn into dust anyway.


Read the analyses I linked you to above if you want to pursue these ideas further.


CJ

Oh, I see....

The overall meaning seems clear, now......

With your explanation, I presume that the grammatical structure seems to be like, "fear in death".

These two examples are from Google. The structure is the same one as these two?

Do I understand correctly?

1. There is nothing to fear in death anymore than when we lie down to sleep for the night.

2. Rest assured, therefore, that we have nothing to fear in death.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

pructusI presume that the grammatical structure seems to be like, "fear in death".
... The structure is the same one as these two?
Do I understand correctly?
1. There is nothing to fear in death anymore than when we lie down to sleep for the night.
2. Rest assured, therefore, that we have nothing to fear in death.
No, no, no! Emotion: smile

In your Google examples, fear is a verb. In the underlined example from the poem, fear is a noun. So the grammar is different. The structure is different.

_____________________________

The Google examples are like this:

nothing to fear in death = nothing about death that we should fear = nothing associated with death that we should fear

Also with the same structure:

There's nothing to fear in mathematics. = There is nothing about mathematics that we should fear.

In these, "in" means "about", "concerning", more or less.

_______

The grammatical structure of the line of poetry is like these:

I will show you a rose in my garden.

I will show you some tea in my kitchen.

I will show you butter in the refrigerator.

Here "in" means "contained in", "physically located in"

CJ
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Oh!!!

I see....

I thought it was like, "I have no fear in death", if 'fear' is changed into a noun....

Then, grammatically it was so simple....

Thanks again!!!
I am sorry to suggest that none of the proposed answers are correct. The line refers back to the original Greek epigram that begins the poem. The Cumean sibyl wishes for a life as long as the number of grains of sand in her hand. She was thus

granted immortality but not youth, therefore life becomes a torment, therefore " fear in a handful of dust."
Thanks Mr Or Ms Anonymous!!

I will look more into this matter....
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