Thomas Stearns Eliot

(1888-1965 / Missouri / United States)

The Waste Land - Poem by Thomas Stearns Eliot


The text of this poem could not be published because of Copyright laws.


Poet's Notes about The Poem

NOTES ON 'THE WASTE LAND'
Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism
of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend:
From Ritual to Romance (Macmillan) .<1> Indeed, so deeply am I indebted,
Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than
my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book
itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To
another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced
our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the
two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with
these works will immediately recognise in the poem certain references to
vegetation ceremonies.
<1> Macmillan Cambridge.

I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
Line 20. Cf. Ezekiel 2:1.
23. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5.
31. V. Tristan und Isolde, i, verses 5-8.
42. Id. iii, verse 24.
46. I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot
pack
of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience.
The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose
in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God
of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in
the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor
and the Merchant appear later; also the 'crowds of people,' and
Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves
(an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily,
with the Fisher King himself.
60. Cf. Baudelaire:
'Fourmillante cite; , cite; pleine de
reves,
Ou le spectre en plein jour raccroche le
passant.'
63. Cf. Inferno, iii. 55-7.

'si lunga tratta
di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta.'
64. Cf. Inferno, iv. 25-7:
'Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
'non avea pianto, ma' che di sospiri,
'che l'aura eterna facevan tremare.'
68. A phenomenon which I have often noticed.
74. Cf. the Dirge in Webster's White Devil.
76. V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.
II. A GAME OF CHESS
77. Cf. Antony and Cleopatra, II. ii., l. 190.
92. Laquearia. V. Aeneid, I. 726:
dependent lychni laquearibus aureis incensi, et
noctem flammis
funalia
vincunt.
98. Sylvan scene. V. Milton, Paradise Lost, iv. 140.
99. V. Ovid, Metamorphoses, vi, Philomela.
100. Cf. Part III, l. 204.
115. Cf. Part III, l. 195.
118. Cf. Webster: 'Is the wind in that
door still? '
126. Cf. Part I, l. 37, 48.
138. Cf. the game of chess in Middleton's Women beware
Women.
III. THE FIRE SERMON
176. V. Spenser, Prothalamion.
192. Cf. The Tempest, I. ii.
196. Cf. Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.
197. Cf. Day, Parliament of Bees:
'When of the sudden, listening, you shall
hear,
'A noise of horns and hunting, which shall
bring
'Actaeon to Diana in the spring,
'Where all shall see her naked skin..
.'
199. I do not know the origin of the ballad from which these lines
are taken: it was reported to me from Sydney, Australia.
202. V. Verlaine, Parsifal.
210. The currants were quoted at a price 'carriage and
insurance
free to London'; and the Bill of Lading etc. were to be handed
to the buyer upon payment of the sight draft.
Notes 196 and 197 were transposed in this and the Hogarth Press edition,
but have been corrected here.
210. 'Carriage and insurance free'] 'cost,
insurance and freight'-Editor.
218. Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a
'character,'
is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest.
Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into
the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct
from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman,
and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact,
is the substance of the poem. The whole passage from Ovid is
of great anthropological interest:
'... Cum Iunone iocos et maior vestra
profecto est
Quam, quae contingit maribus,' dixisse,
'voluptas.'
Illa negat; placuit quae sit sententia docti
Quaerere Tiresiae: venus huic erat utraque nota.
Nam duo magnorum viridi coeuntia silva
Corpora serpentum baculi violaverat ictu
Deque viro factus, mirabile, femina septem
Egerat autumnos; octavo rursus eosdem
Vidit et 'est vestrae si tanta potentia plagae,'
Dixit 'ut auctoris sortem in contraria mutet,
Nunc quoque vos feriam! ' percussis anguibus isdem
Forma prior rediit genetivaque venit imago.
Arbiter hic igitur sumptus de lite iocosa
Dicta Iovis firmat; gravius Saturnia iusto
Nec pro materia fertur doluisse suique
Iudicis aeterna damnavit lumina nocte,
At pater omnipotens (neque enim licet inrita
cuiquam
Facta dei fecisse deo) pro lumine adempto
Scire futura dedit poenamque levavit honore.
221. This may not appear as exact as Sappho's lines, but I had in
mind
the 'longshore' or 'dory' fisherman, who returns at
nightfall.
253. V. Goldsmith, the song in The Vicar of Wakefield.
257. V. The Tempest, as above.
264. The interior of St. Magnus Martyr is to my mind one of
the finest among Wren's interiors. See The Proposed Demolition
of Nineteen City Churches (P. S. King & Son, Ltd.) .
266. The Song of the (three) Thames-daughters begins here.
From line 292 to 306 inclusive they speak in turn.
V. Gutterdsammerung, III. i: the
Rhine-daughters.
279. V. Froude, Elizabeth, Vol. I, ch. iv,
letter of De Quadra
to Philip of Spain:
'In the afternoon we were in a barge, watching the games on the river.
(The queen) was alone with Lord Robert and myself on the poop,
when they began to talk nonsense, and went so far that Lord Robert
at last said, as I was on the spot there was no reason why they
should not be married if the queen pleased.'
293. Cf. Purgatorio, v. 133:
'Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
Siena mi fe', disfecemi Maremma.'
307. V. St. Augustine's Confessions: 'to Carthage
then I came,
where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears.'
308. The complete text of the Buddha's Fire Sermon (which
corresponds
in importance to the Sermon on the Mount) from which these words are taken,
will be found translated in the late Henry Clarke Warren's Buddhism
in Translation (Harvard Oriental Series) . Mr. Warren was one
of the great pioneers of Buddhist studies in the Occident.
309. From St. Augustine's Confessions again. The
collocation
of these two representatives of eastern and western asceticism,
as the culmination of this part of the poem, is not an accident.
V. WHAT THE THUNDER SAID
In the first part of Part V three themes are employed:
the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous
(see Miss Weston's book) and the present decay of eastern Europe.
357. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush
which I have heard in Quebec County. Chapman says (Handbook of
Birds of Eastern North America) 'it is most at home in secluded
woodland and thickety retreats.... Its notes are not remarkable
for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and
exquisite modulation they are unequalled.' Its
'water-dripping song'
is justly celebrated.
360. The following lines were stimulated by the account of one
of the Antarctic expeditions (I forget which, but I think one
of Shackleton's) : it was related that the party of explorers,
at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion
that there was one more member than could actually be counted.
367-77. Cf. Hermann Hesse, Blick ins Chaos:
'Schon ist halb Europa, schon ist zumindest der halbe Osten Europas auf
dem
Wege zum Chaos, fährt betrunken im heiligem Wahn am Abgrund entlang
und singt dazu, singt betrunken und hymnisch wie Dmitri Karamasoff sang.
Ueber diese Lieder lacht der Bürger beleidigt, der Heilige
und Seher hört sie mit Tränen.'
402. 'Datta, dayadhvam, damyata' (Give, sympathize,
control) . The fable of the meaning of the Thunder is found
in the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad, 5, 1. A translation is found
in Deussen's Sechzig Upanishads des Veda, p. 489.
408. Cf. Webster, The White Devil, v. vi:
'.
.. they'll remarry
Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs.'
412. Cf. Inferno, xxxiii. 46:
'ed io sentii
chiavar l'uscio di sotto
all'orribile torre.'
Also F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 346:
'My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my
thoughts or my feelings. In either case my experience falls within
my own circle, a circle closed on the outside; and, with all its
elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround
it.... In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul,
the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul.'
425. V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher
King.
428. V. Purgatorio, xxvi. 148.
''Ara vos prec
per aquella valor
'que vos guida
al som de l'escalina,
'sovegna vos a
temps de ma dolor.'
Poi
s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.'
429. V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela
in Parts II and III.

430. V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.
432. V. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.
434. Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an
Upanishad.
'The Peace which passeth understanding' is a feeble translation
of the content of this word.

Comments about The Waste Land by Thomas Stearns Eliot

  • Rookie Shane Johnson (10/20/2007 3:33:00 PM)

    Indicative of modern society's need to purge themselves to live true lives. (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Rookie Dimitris(Jimmy) Psachos (6/16/2007 8:54:00 AM)

    Sublime indeed! ! ! It must be added to the'one of a kind'. Undeniably hard to analyze its whole structure but what a fine piece of building that is...And I wonder: why do people seem to ignore it? (in my country as far as I'm aware) (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Sean Godley (4/23/2007 11:42:00 AM)

    A tour de force; truly powerful poetry. (Report) Reply

Read all 3 comments »



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Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

Poem Edited: Friday, April 24, 2015


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