ONE GOOD reason is for verses like these three, which . . .
. . . anticipate The Waste Land:
Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.["] (Hosea 4:1-3 (NIV))
I mention The Waste Land because of the several references in these verses to "land" and the one to "wasting," and also because both T.S. Eliot's poem and these verses lament, in different voices and tones, and for different purposes of course, of the spiritual enervation, lawlessness, despair, and loss of faith associated with total war -- one for the coming Assyrian conquest of Israel in the 700s B.C. and the other for World War I.
Eliot's poem gave voice to a generation of artists and intellectuals. In time, however, he would move leave behind the emptiness of "Waste Land," join the Church of England, and turn his creativity to Christian themes, in "Murder in the Cathedral" and "Four Quartets."
"Murder in the Cathedral, " 1935, is about the assassination in 1170 of Archbishop Thomas Becket by soldiers loyal to Henry II. In the context of the rise of Hitler, the play says something about the duty of Christians to resist, the same message being preached by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany.
It was Becket's murder that created the "blissful martyr" the pilgrims traveled to worship two centuries later in "Canterbury Tales."
And it was "Canterbury Tales" -- solidly rooted in a Christian perspective -- that begins with this lovely image of natural hope and renewal (translated here into modern English):
When April's gentle rains have pierced the drought / Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout / Through every vein with liquid of such power / It brings forth the engendering of the flower . . . .
In turn, it was these opening lines from "Canterbury" that inspired Eliot's darker opening line about the meaning of April to the post-war generation that no longer possessed religious faith. To them,
April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land.
Hosea speaks for God, but prophesies a coming wasteland for the Israel that has lost its faith. "Because of this the land mourns and all who live in it waste away . . . ."
For me, American declinism is not solely or even primarily political or economic. It is spiritual. The Christian soul of America still lives, but it weakens. More and more young people grow up outside the church, without the common faith of Canterbury's pilgrims. The fashionably cycnical mock Christianity and, worse, ignore it. This loss of faith is the true fundamental transformation of America, and it makes possible the political fundamental transformation in which we are so busily engaged.
All this is a consequence, in part, of a century of celebratory teaching that the perspective of "The Waste Land" is both true and normative, what all good artists and intellectuals believe, and what the rest of us should believe too.
"Because of this . . . ."