Modern Critical Interpretations
The General Prologue to
The Canterbury Tales
The Pardoner's Tale
The Knight's Tale
The Divine Comedy
The Book of Job
The Revelation of St.
John the Divine
The Song of Songs
The Duchess of Malfi
Antony and Cleopatra
As Y o u Like It
Henry I V , Part I
Henry I V , Part [I
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
A Midsummer Night's
Much Ado About
Taming of the Shrew
The Winter's Tale
E m m a
Pride and Prejudice
The Life of Samuel
T o m Jones
The Beggar's Opera
The Rape of the Lock
The Marriage of Heaven
Songs of Innocence and
The Rime of the Ancient
A Talc of T w o Cities
The Mill on the Floss
Judc the Obscure
The Mayor of
The Return of the Native
Tess of the D'Urbcrvilles
The O d e of Keats
The Red Badge of
The Scarlet Letter
Daisy Miller, T h e T u r n
of the Screw, and
The Portrait of a Lady
Billy Budd, Benito C e r -
eno, Bartleby the S c r i v -
ener, and Other Talcs
T h e Tales of Poc
T h e Life of Frederick
Heart of Darkness
A Passage to India
A Portrait of the Artist as
a Y o u n g Man
K i m
T h e Rainbow
Sons and Lovers
Women in Love
Man and Superman
The Playboy o f the
The Importance of Being
T o the Lighthouse
M y Antonia
An American Tragedy
Murder in the Cathedral
The Waste Land
Light in August
The Sound and the Fury
The Great Gatsby
A Farewell to Arms
The Sun Also Rises
The Iceman Cometh
Long Day's Journey Into
The Grapes of Wrath
The Glass Menagerie
A Streetcar Named
Their Eyes Were
Watching G o d
Waiting for Godot
All M y Sons
Death of a Salesman
All the King's Men
The Left Hand of
The Brothers Karamazov
Crime and Punishment
The Interpretation of
The Magic Mountain
Remembrance of Things
The Red and the Black
War and Peace
These and other titles in preparation
Modern Critical Interpretations
T. S. Eliot's
The Waste Land
Edited and with an introduction by
Sterling Professor of the Humanities
Chelsea House Publishers
NEW YORK 0 PHILADELPHIA
10 / H U G H K E N N E R
This isn't a M i l t o n i c sentence, brilliantly contorted; it lacks nerve,
forgetting after ten words its confident opening ("The Chair she
sat i n " ) to dissipate itself among glowing and smouldering sensa-
tions, like a progression o f Wagner's. Cleopatra "o'erpicturing
that Venus where we see / The fancy o u t w o r k nature") sat o u t -
doors; this Venusberg interior partakes o f "an atmosphere o f J u -
liet's t o m b , " and the human inhabitant appears once, in a
perfunctory subordinate clause. Pope's Belinda conducted "the sa-
cred rites o f p r i d e " —
This casket India's glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.
The woman at the dressing table in The Waste Land, implied but
never named or attended to, is not like Belinda the moral centre o f
an innocent dislocation o f values but simply the implied sensibility
in which these multifarious effects dissolve and find congruence. ^All
things deny nature^the fruited vines are carved, the Cupidons golden,
the light not o f the sun, the perfumes synthetic, the candelabra (seven-
branched, as for an altar) devoted to no rite, the very colour o f the
firelight perverted by sodium and copper salts. The dolphin is carved,
and swims in a,"sad light," not, like Antony's delights, "showing
his back above the element he lives i n . "
N o will to exploit new sensations is present; the will has long
ago died; this opulent ambience is neither chosen nor questioned.
The "sylvan scene" is not Eden nor a w i n d o w but a painting, and
a painting o f an unnatural event:
The change o f Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert w i t h inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the w o r l d pursues,
"Jug Jug" to dirty ears.
Her voice alone, like the voice that modulates the thick fluid o f this
sentence, is "uxvicdabje"; like Tiresias in Thebes, she is prevented
from identifying the criminal w h o m only she can nameJohn L y l y
wrote d o w n her song more than t w o centuries before Keats (who
wasn't interested in what she was saying):
What bird so sings yet so dos wayle?
O 'Tis the ravishd Nightingale.
The Death of Europe / 11
Jug, Jug, Jug, tereu, shee cryes,
And still her woes at Midnight rise.
Brave prick song!
Lyly, not being committed to the idea that the bird was pouring
forth its soul abroad, noted that it stuck to its script ("prick song")
and himself attempted a transcription. Lyly o f course is perfectly
aware o f what she is trying to say: "tereu" comes very close to
"Tereus." It remained for the nineteenth century to dissolve her
plight into a symbol o f diffuse angst, indeed to impute "ecstasy"
amid human desolation, "here, where men sit and hear each other
groan"; and for the twentieth century to hang up a painting o f the
event on a dressing r o o m wall, as pungent sauce to appetites jaded
with the narrative clarity o f mythologies but responsive to the v i s -
ceral thrill and the pressures o f "significant f o r m . " The picture, a
"withered stump o f time," hangs there, one item in a collection that
manages to be not edifying but sinister:
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the r o o m enclosed.
Then the visitor, as always in Eliot, mounts a s t a i r w a y —
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
— a n d we get human conversation at last:
"What is that noise?"
The wind under the door.
"What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?"
Nothing again nothing.
You k n o w nothing? D o you see nothing? D o you
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
" M y experience falls within m y o w n circle, a circle closed o n the
outside; and, w i t h all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to
the other which surround i t . " What is there to say but "nothing"?
He remembers a quotation, faintly apposite; in this room the Eu-
12 / H U G H K E N N E R
ropean past, effects and objets d'art gathered from many centuries,
has suffered a sea-change, into something rich and strange, and s t i -
fling. Sensibility here is the very inhibition o f life; and activity is
reduced to the manic capering o f "that Shakespeherian Rag," the
past imposing no austerity, existing simply to be used.
"What shall we do tomorrow?
What shall we ever do?"
The hot water at ten.
A n d i f it rains, a closed car at four.
A n d we shall play a game o f chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the
I f we move from the queens to the pawns, we find lowlife no
more free or natural, equally obsessed w i t h the denial o f nature,
artificial teeth, chemically procured abortions, the speaker and her
interlocutor battening fascinated at secondhand on the life o f L i l and
her Albert, L i l and Albert interested only in spurious ideal images
of one another.
He'll want to k n o w what you done w i t h that money he
T o get yourself some teeth.
He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
A n d this point—nature everywhere denied, its ceremonies simplified
to the brutal abstractions o f a chess game
He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
A n d i f you don't give it h i m , there's others will, I said.
O h is there, she said. Something o'that, I said.
Then I'll k n o w w h o to thank, she said, and give me a
— t h i s point is made implicitly by a device carried over from Whispers
of Immortality, the juxtaposition without comment or copula o f t w o
levels o f sensibility: the world o f one who reads Webster w i t h the
world o f one w h o knows Grishkin, the world o f the inquiring w i n d
and the sense drowned in odours w i t h the w o r l d o f ivory teeth and
hot gammon. I n Lil and Albert's milieu there is fertility, in the milieu
where golden Cupidons peep out there is not; but L i l and Albert's
T h e Death of Europe / 13
breeding betokens not a harmony o f wills but only Albert's i m -
provident refusal to leave Lil alone. The chemist w i t h commercial
impartiality supplies one w o m a n w i t h "strange synthetic p e r -
fumes" and the other w i t h " t h e m pills I took, to bring it o f f , " a p h -
rodisiacs and abortifacients; he is the tutelary deity, uniting the
offices o f C u p i d and H y m e n , o f a w o r l d w h i c h is under a universal
From this vantage point we can survey the methods o f the first
section, which opens w i t h a denial o f Chaucer:
Whan that Aprille w i t h his shoures soote
The droughte o f March hath perced to the roote
A n d bathed every veyne in swich licour
O f which vertu engendred is the flour.
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
In the twentieth-century version we have a prayer book heading,
"The Burial o f the Dead," w i t h its implied ceremonial o f dust thrown
and o f souls reborn; and the poem begins,
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out o f the dead land, mixing
M e m o r y and desire, stirring
Dull roots w i t h spring rain.
N o " v e r t u " is engendered amid this apprehensive reaching forward
of participles, and instead o f pilgrimages we have European tours:
we stopped in the colonnade,
A n d went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
A n d drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
U p out o f the incantation breaks a woman's voice, giving tongue to
the ethnological confusions o f the new Europe, the subservience o f
partria to w h i m o f statesmen, the interplay o f immutable fact and
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
— a mixing o f memory and desire. Another voice evokes the vanished
Austro-Hungarian Empire, the inbred malaise o f Mayerling, r e -
gressive thrills, objectless travels:
1 4 / H U G H K E N N E R
A n d when wc were children, staying at the archduke's,
M y cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
A n d I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. A n d down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much o f the night, and go south in the winter.
"In the mountains, there you feel free." We have only to delete
"there" to observe the collapse o f more than a rhythm: to observe
how the line's exact mimicry o f a fatigue which supposes it has
reached some ultimate perception can telescope spiritual bankruptcy,
^deracinated ardour, and an illusion o f liberty which is no more than
impatience with human society and relief at a temporary change. It
was a restless, pointless world that collapsed during the war, agitated
out o f habit but tired beyond coherence, on the move to avoid itself.
The memories in lines 8 and 18 seem spacious and precious now;
then, the events punctuated a terrible continuum o f boredom.
The plight o f the Sibyl in the epigraph rhymes w i t h that o f
Marie;jhe...terriblejthing is to be compelled to stay alive. "For I w i t h
these m y o w n eyes havel;rcn""the~Cu^ in a jar;
and when the boys said, 'What do you want, Sibyl?' she answered,
'I want to die.' " The sentence is in a macaronic Latin, posterior to
the best age, pungently sauced with Greek; Cato would have c o n -
templated with unblinking severity Pctronius' readers'jazz-age c r a v -
ing for the cosmopolitan. The Sibyl in her better days answered
questions by flinging from her cave handfuls o f leaves bearing letters
which the postulant was required to arrange" in a suitable order; the
wind commonly blew half o f them away.^Like Tiresias, like P h i l -
omel, like the modern poet, she divulged forbidden knowledge only
in riddles, fitfully. (Tiresias wouldn't answer Oedipus at all; and he
put o f f Odysseus with a puzzle about an oar mistaken for a w i n -
nowing fan.) The Waste Land is suffused with a functional obscurity,
sibylline fragments so disposed as to yield the utmost in connotative
power, embracing the fragmented present and reaching back to "that
vanished mind o f which our mind is a continuation. 'f~As for the
Sibyl's present exhaustion, she had foolishly asked Xpbllo for as
many years as the grains o f sand in her hand; which is one layer in
the multilayered line, " I w i l l show you fear in a handful o f dust."^
She is the prophetic power, no longer consulted by heroes but t o r -
mented by curious boys, still answering because she must; she is
The Death of Europe / 15
Ma^dajrne^Sospstris, consulted by dear Mrs. Eguitone and harried by
police ("One must be so careful these days")^she is the image o f the
late phase_ofRoman civilization,, n o w vanished; she is also "the mind
of Europe," a mind more important than one's o w n private mind,
a mind which changes but abandons nothing _en_ route, not super-
annuating either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing o f the
Magdalenian draughtsmen; but now very nearly exhausted by the
effort to stay interested in its o w n contents.
Which brings us to the "heap o f broken images": not only desert
ruins o f some past from which life was withdrawn with the failure
of the water supply, like the Roman cities in N o r t h Africa, or A u -
gustine's Carthage, but also the manner in which Shakespeare, H o -
mer, and the drawings o f Michelangelo, Raphael, and the
Magdalenian draughtsmen coexist in the contemporary cultivated
consciousness: fragments, familiar quotations: poluphloisboio thalasse,
to be or not to be, undo this button, one touch o f nature, etc., God
creating the Sun and M o o n , those are pearls that were his eyes. For
one man w h o knows The Tempest intimately there are a thousand
who can identify the lines about the cloud-capp'd towers; painting
is a miscellany o f reproductions, literature a potpourri o f quotations,
history a chaos o f theories and postures (Nelson's telescope, W a s h -
ington crossing the Delaware, government of, for and by the people,
the Colosseum, the guillotine). A desert wind has blown half the
leaves away; disuse and vandals have broken the m o n u m e n t s —
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out o f this stony rubbish? Son o f man,
Y o u cannot say, or guess, for you k n o w only
A heap o f broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound o f water.
Cities are built out o f the ruins o f previous cities, as The Waste Land
is built out o f the remains o f older poems. But at this stage no building
is yet in question; the "Son o f man" (a portentously generalizing
phrase) is moving tirelessly eastward, when the speaker accosts h i m
w i t h a sinister "Come in under the shadow o f this red rock," and
offers to show h i m not merely horror and desolation but something
older and deeper: fear.
Hence the hyacinth girl, w h o speaks w i t h urgent hurt simplicity,
like the mad Ophelia:
1 6 / H U G H K E N N E R
" Y o u gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth g i r l . "
They are childlike words, self-pitying, spoken perhaps in memory,
perhaps by a ghost, perhaps by a wistful woman n o w out o f her
mind. The response exposes many contradictory layers o f feeling:
— Y e t when we come back, late, from the Hyacinth
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and m y eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart o f light, the silence.
The context is erotic, the language that o f mystical experience: plainly
a tainted mysticism. "The Hyacinth garden" sounds queerly like a
lost cult's sacred grove, and her arms were no doubt full o f flowers;
what rite was there enacted or evaded we can have no means o f
But another level o f meaning is less ambiguous: perhaps in f a n -
tasy, the girl has been drowned. Five pages later " A Game o f Chess"
ends w i t h Ophelia's words before her death; Ophelia gathered flow-
ers before she tumbled into the stream, then lay and chanted snatches
o f old t u n e s —
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
while her clothes and hair spread out on the waters. "The Burial o f
the Dead" ends w i t h a sinister dialogue about a corpse in the g a r d e n —
Has it begun to sprout? W i l l it bloom this year?
O r has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
— t w o Englishmen discussing their tulips, w i t h a note o f the terrible
intimacy w i t h which murderers imagine themselves being taunted.
The traditional British murderer—unlike his American counterpart,
w h o in a vast land instinctively puts distance between himself and
the corpse—prefers to keep it near at hand; in the garden, or behind
the wainscoting, or
bones cast i n a little l o w dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.
The Death of Europe / 17
"The Fire Sermon" opens w i t h despairing fingers clutching and s i n k -
ing into a wet bank; it closes w i t h Thames-daughters singing from
beneath the oily waves. The drowned Phlebas in Section I V varies
this theme; and at the close o f the poem the response to the last c h a l -
lenge o f the thunder alludes to something that happened in a boat:
your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
T o controlling hands
— b u t what in fact did happen we are not told; perhaps nothing, or
perhaps the hands assumed another sort o f control.
In The Waste Land as in The Family Reunion, the guilt o f the
protagonist seems coupled w i t h his perhaps imagined responsibility
for the fate o f a perhaps ideally drowned woman.
One thinks to escape
By violence, but one is still alone
In an over-crowded desert, jostled by ghosts.
(Ghosts that beckon us under the shadow o f some red rock)
It was only reversing the senseless direction
For a momentary rest on the burning wheel
That cloudless night in the mid-Atlantic
When I pushed her over
It must give this man an unusual turn when Madame Sosostris
spreads her pack and selects a card as close to his secret as the Tarot
symbolism can come:
Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. L o o k ! ) —
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see.
(In what posture did they come back, late, from the Hyacinth Garden,
her hair wet, before the planting o f the corpse?) It is not clear whether
he is comforted to learn that the clairvoyante does not find the
1 8 / H U G H K E N N E R
Hence, then, his inability to speak, his failed eyes, his stunned
movement, neither living nor dead and knowing nothing: as Sweeney
later puts it,
He didn't k n o w i f he was alive
and the girl was dead
He didn't k n o w i f the girl was alive
and he was dead
He didn't k n o w i f they both were alive
or both were dead.
The heart o f light, the silence, seems to be identified w i t h a waste
and empty sea, Oed' und leer das Meer; so Harry, Lord Monchensey
gazed, or thought he remembered gazing, over the rail o f the liner:
Y o u would never imagine anyone could sink so
quickly. . . .
That night I slept heavily, alone. . . .
I lay t w o days in contented drowsiness;
Then I recovered.
He recovered into an awareness o f the Eumenides.
A t the end o f "The Burial o f the Dead" it is the speaker's ac-
quaintance Stetson w h o has planted a corpse in his garden and awaits
its fantastic blooming "out o f the dead land": whether a hyacinth
bulb or a dead mistress there is, in this phantasmagoric cosmos, no
knowing. A n y man, as Sweeney is to put it,
has to, needs to, wants to
Once in a lifetime, do a girl in.
Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N ' o n t pas encore brode de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C'est que notre ame, helas! n'est pas assez hardie.
This is from the poem which ends with the line Eliot has appropriated
to climax the first section o f The Waste Land:
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frere!
Part T w o , " A Game o f Chess" revolves around perverted n a -
ture, denied or murdered offspring; Part Three, "The Fire Sermon,"
The Death of Europe / 19
the most explicit of the five sections, surveys w i t h grave denunciatory
candour a world o f automatic lust, in which those barriers between
person and person which so troubled Prufrock are dissolved by the
suppression o f the person and the transposition o f all human needs
and desires to a plane o f genital gratification.
The river's tent is broken: the last fingers o f leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end m y song.
The "tent," now broken w o u l d have been composed o f the o v e r -
arching trees that transformed a reach o f the river into a tunnel o f
love; the phrase beckons to mind the broken maidenhead; and a line
later the gone harmonious order, by a half-realizable metamorphosis,
struggles exhausted an instant against drowning. "The nymphs are
departed" both because summer is past, and because the w o r l d o f
Spenser's Prothalamion (when nymphs scattered flowers on the water)
is gone, i f it ever existed except as an ideal fancy o f Spenser's.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
O r other testimony o f summer nights. The
nymphs are departed.
From the " b r o w n land," amorists have fled indoors, but the river is
not restored to a sixteenth-century purity because the debris o f which
it is n o w freed was not a sixteenth-century strewing o f petals but a
discarding o f twentieth-century impedimenta. The nymphs w h o
have this year departed are not the same nymphs w h o departed in
autumns k n o w n to Spenser; their friends are "the loitering heirs o f
city directors," who, unwilling to assume responsibility for any u n -
Departed, have left no addresses.
Spring will return and bring Sweeney to Mrs. Porter; Mrs. Porter,
introduced by the sound o f horns and caressed by the moonlight
while she laves her feet, is a latter-day Diana bathing; her daughter
perhaps, or any o f the vanished nymphs, a latter-day Philomel
So rudely forc'd.
20 / H U G H K E N N E R
Next M r . Eugenides proposes what appears to be a pederastic assig-
nation; and next the typist expects a visitor to her flat.
The typist passage is the great tour de force o f the poem; its
gentle lyric melancholy, its repeatedly disrupted rhythms, the automa-
tism o f its cadences, in alternate lines aspiring and falling n e r v e l e s s l y —
The time is n o w propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her i n caresses
Which still are unreproved, i f undesired.
—constitute Eliot's most perfect liaison between the self-sustaining
gesture o f the verse and the presented fact. Some twenty-five lines
in flawlessly traditional iambic pentameter, alternately rhymed, sus-
tain w i t h their cadenced gravity a moral context in which the dreary
business is played out; the texture is lyric rather than dramatic because
there is neither doing nor suffering here but rather the mutual c o m -
pliance of a ritual scene. The section initiates its flow w i t h a sure and per-
fect line composed according to the best eighteenth-century models:
A t the violet hour, when the eyes and back
which, if the last w o r d were, for instance, "heart," we might suppose
to be by a precursor o f Wordsworth's. But the harsh sound and
incongruous specification o f "back" shift us instead to a plane o f
when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
The upturned eyes and b a c k — n o t h i n g else, no face, no torso—recall
a Picasso distortion; the "human engine" throws pathos d o w n into
mechanism. In the next line the speaker for the first time in the poem
identifies himself as Tiresias:
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between t w o lives,
O l d man w i t h wrinkled female breasts, can see
There are three principal stories about Tiresias, all o f them relevant.
In Oedipus Rex, sitting " b y Thebes below the w a l l " he knew w h y ,
and as a consequence o f what violent death and what illicit amour,
the pestilence had fallen on the unreal city, but declined to tell. In
The Death of Europe / 21
the Odyssey he "walked among the lowest o f the dead" and evaded
predicting Odysseus' death by water; the encounter was somehow
necessary to Odysseus' homecoming, and Odysseus was somehow
satisfied with it, and did get home, for a while. In the Metamorphoses
^ he underwent a change o f sex for watching the coupling o f snakes:
presumably the occasion on which he "foresuffered" what is tonight
"enacted on this same divan or b e d j ^ H e is often the prophet w h o
knows but withholds his knowledge, just as Hieronymo, w h o is
mentioned at the close o f the poem, knew h o w the tree he had planted
in his garden came to bear his dead son, but was compelled to w i t h -
hold that knowldge until he could write a play which, like The Waste
Land, employs several languages and a framework o f allusions i m -
penetrable to anyone but the "hypocrite lecteur." It is an inescapable
shared guilt that makes us so intimate w i t h the contents o f this strange
deathly poem; it is also, in an age that has eaten o f the tree o f the
knowledge o f psychology and anthropology ("After such k n o w l -
edge, what forgiveness?"), an inescapable morbid sympathy w i t h
everyone else, very destructive to the coherent personality, that (like
Tiresias' years as a woman) enables us to j o i n w i t h h i m in "fore-
suffering a l l . " These sciences afford us an illusion o f understanding
other people, on which we build sympathies that in an ideal era
would have gone out w i t h a less pathological generosity, and that
are as likely as not projections o f our self-pity and self-absorption,
vices for which Freud and Frazer afford dangerous nourishment.
Tiresias is he w h o has lost the sense o f other people as inviolably
other, and w h o is capable neither o f pity nor terror but only o f a
fascination spuriously related to compassion, which is merely the
twentieth century's special mutation ofjnjdiffexeqce. Tiresias can see
A t the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Syntax, like his sensibility and her routine, undergoes total collapse.
A fine throbbing line intervenes:
Out o f the w i n d o w perilously spread
and bathos does not wholly overtopple the completing Alexandrine:
Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays.
22 / H U G H K E N N E R
"Combinations" sounds a little finer than the thing it denotes; so
O n the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles and stays.
Some transfiguring w o r d touches with glory line after line:
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
If he existed, and i f he read those words, h o w must he have m a r -
velled at the alchemical power o f language over his inflamed skin!
As their weary ritual commences, the diction alters; it moves to a
plane o f Johnsonian dignity without losing touch w i t h them; they
are never "formulated, sprawling on a p i n . "
"Endeavours to engage her in caresses" is out o f touch w i t h the
small house agent's clerk's speech, but it is such a sentence as he
might write; Eliot has noted elsewhere h o w "an artisan w h o can talk
the English language beautifully while about his work or i n a public
bar, may compose a letter painfully written in a dead language bear-
ing some resemblance to a newspaper leader and decorated w i t h
words like 'maelstrom' and 'pandemonium.' " So it is w i t h the d i c -
tion o f this passage: it reflects the words w i t h which the participants
might clothe, during recollection in tranquillity, their o w n notion
of what they have been about, presuming them capable o f such self-
analysis; and it maintains simultaneously Tiresias' fastidious i m p e r -
sonality. The rhymes come w i t h a weary inevitability that parodies
the formal elegance o f Gray; and the episode modulates at its close
into a key to which Goldsmith can be transposed:
When lovely w o m a n stoops to folly and
Paces about her r o o m again, alone,
She smoothes her hair w i t h automatic hand,
A n d puts a record on the gramophone.
With her music and her lures "perilously spread" she is a London
siren; the next line, "This music crept by me upon the water," i f it
is lifted from the Tempest, might as well be adapted from the twelfth
book o f the Odyssey.
After the Siren, the violated Thames-daughters, borrowed from
Wagner, the "universal artist" w h o m the French Symbolists d e -
lighted to honour. The opulent Wagnerian pathos, with its harmonic
rather than linear development and its trick o f entrancing the atten-
The Death of Europe / 23
tion w i t h leitmotifs, is never unrelated to the methods o f The Waste
Land. One o f the characters in " A Dialogue on Dramatic Poetry,"
though he has railed at Wagner as "pernicious," yet would not w i l l -
ingly resign his experience o f Wagner; for Wagner had more than a
bag o f orchestral tricks and a corrupt taste for mythologies, he had
also an indispensable sense o f his o w n age, something that partly
sustains and justifies his methods. " A sense o f his o w n age"—the
ability to "recognize its pattern while the pattern was yet i n c o m -
plete"—was a quality Eliot i n 1930 was to ascribe to Baudelaire. One
who has possessed it cannot simply be ignored, though he is exposed
to the follies o f his age as well as sensitive to its inventions. A t the
very least he comes to symbolize a phase in "the mind o f Europe"
otherwise difficult to locate or name; at best, his methods, whether
or not they merited his o w n fanaticism, are o f permanent value to
later artists for elucidating those phases o f human sensibility to the
existence o f which they originally contributed. This principle is quite
different from the academic or counteracademic notion that art must
be deliberately adulterated because its preoccupations are.
Wagner, more than Frazer or Miss Weston, presides over the
introduction into The Waste Land o f the Grail motif. In Wagner's
opera, the Sangreal quest is embedded in an opulent and depraved
religiosity, as in Tennyson's Holy Grail the cup, "rose-red, w i t h
beatings in it, as i f alive, till all the white walls o f m y cell were dyed
with rosy colours leaping on the w a l l , " never succeeds in being more
than the reward o f a refined and sublimated erotic impulse. Again
Eliot notes o f Baudelaire that " i n much romantic poetry the sadness
is due to the exploitation o f the fact that no human relations are
adequate to human desires, but also to the disbelief in any further
object for human desires than that which, being human, fails to satisfy
them." The Grail was in mid-nineteenth-century art an attempt to
postulate such an object; and the quest for that vision unites the
poetry o f baffled sadness to "the poetry o f flight," a genre which
Eliot distinguishes in quoting Baudelaire's "Quand partons-nous vers
le bonheur?" and characterizes as "a d i m recognition o f the direction
So in Part V o f The Waste Land the journey eastward among
the red rocks and heaps o f broken images is fused w i t h the journey
to Emmaus ("He who was living is n o w dead. We who were living
are n o w dying") and the approach to the Chapel Perilous.
The quester arrived at the Chapel Perilous had only to ask the
2 4 / H U G H K E N N E R
meaning o f the things that were shown h i m . U n t i l he has asked their
meaning, they have none; after he has asked, the king's w o u n d is
healed and the waters commence again to flow. So in a civilization
reduced to "a heap o f broken images" all that is requisite is sufficient
curiosity; the man w h o asks what one or another o f these fragments
means—seeking, for instance, "a first-hand opinion about Shake-
speare"—may be the agent o f regeneration. The past exists in frag-
ments precisely because nobody cares what it meant; it w i l l unite
itself and come alive i n the mind o f anyone w h o succeeds in caring,
who is unwilling that Shakespeare shall remain the name attached
only to a few tags everyone half-remembers, in a w o r l d where "we
know too much, and are convinced o f too little."
Eliot develops the nightmare journey w i t h consummate skill,
and then manoeuvres the reader into the position o f the quester,
presented w i t h a terminal heap o f fragments which it is his business
to inquire about. The protagonist in the poem perhaps does not
inquire; they are fragments he has shored against his ruins. O r per-
haps he does inquire; he has at least begun to put them to use, and
the "arid plain" is at length behind h i m .
The journey is prepared for by t w o images o f asceticism: the
brand plucked from the burning, and the annihilation o f Phlebas the
Phoenician. "The Fire Sermon," which opens by Thames water,
closes w i t h a burning, a burning that images the restless lusts o f the
nymphs, the heirs o f city directors, M r . Eugenides, the typist and
the young man carbuncular, the Thames-daughters. They are u n -
aware that they burn. " I made no comment. What should I resent?"
They burn nevertheless, as the protagonist cannot help noticing when
he shifts his attention from commercial London to commercial C a r -
thage (which stood o n the N o r t h African shore, and is n o w utterly
destroyed). There human sacrifices were dropped into the furnaces
of Moloch, in a frantic gesture o f appeasement. There Augustine
burned w i t h sensual fires: "a cauldron o f unholy loves sang all about
mine ears"; and he cried, " O Lord, Thou pluckest me out." The
Buddhist ascetic on the other hand does not ask to be plucked out;
he simply turns away from the senses because (as the Buddhist Fire
Sermon states) they are each o f them on fire. As for Phlebas the
Phoenician, a trader sailing perhaps to Britain, his asceticism is e n -
forced: " A current under sea picked his bones in whispers," he forgets
the benisons o f sense, "the cry o f gulls and the deep sea swell" as
well as "the profit and loss," and he spirals d o w n , like Dante's
The Death of Europe / 25
Ulysses, through circling memories o f his age and youth, "as A n -
other chose." (An account o f a shipwreck, imitated from the Ulysses
episode in Dante, was one o f the long sections deleted from the
original Waste Land.) Ulysses in hell was encased in a tongue o f flame,
death by water having in one instance secured not the baptismal
renunciation o f the O l d Adam, but an eternity o f fire. Were there
some simple negative formula for dealing w i t h the senses, suicide
would be the sure way to regeneration.
Part V opens, then, in Gethsemane, carries us rapidly to G o l -
gotha, and then leaves us to pursue a nightmare journey in a w o r l d
now apparently deprived o f meaning.
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains o f rock without water
I f there were water we should stop and drink.
The whirling, obsessive reduplication o f single words carries the
travellers through a desert, through the phases o f hallucination in
which they number phantom companions, and closes w i t h a synoptic
vision o f the destruction o f Jerusalem ( " M u r m u r o f maternal l a m -
entation" obviously recalling "daughters o f Jerusalem, weep not for
me, but for yourselves and your children") which becomes sub specie
aeternitatis the destruction by fire o f civilization after civilization.
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
The w o m a n at the dressing table recurs:
A w o m a n drew her long black hair out tight
A n d fiddled whisper music on those strings;
her "golden Cupidons" are transmogrified:
A n d bats w i t h baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
A n d crawled head downward d o w n a blackened wall
and where towers hang "upside d o w n in air" stability is imaged by
a deserted chapel among the mountains, another place from which
the life has gone but in which the meaning is latent, awaiting only
26 / H U G H K E N N E R
pilgrim's advent. The cock crows as it did when Peter wept tears
'-of penitence; as in Hamlet, it disperses the night spirits.
Then a damp gust
There the activity o f the protagonist ends. Some forty remaining lines
in the past tense recapitulate the poem in terms o f the oldest w i s d o m
accessible to the West. The thunder's D A is one o f those primordial
Indo-European roots that recur in the Oxford Dictionary, a random
leaf o f the Sibyl's to which a thousand derivative words, n o w a u t o -
matic currency, were in their origins so many explicit glosses. I f the
race's most permanent wisdom is its oldest, then D A , the voice o f the
thunder and of^he-44iad4isag£s^_is the cosmic voice not yet dissociated
into echoes. It underlies the Latin infinitive "dare," and all its R o -
mance derivatives; by a sound change, the Germanic "geben," the
English "give." It is the root o f "datta," "dayadh-vam," "damyata":
give, sympathize^contmhjhree sorts o f givingJTo sympathize is to
give oneself; to control is to give governance^
( Then spoke the thunder
I D A
Datta: what have we given?
I M y friend, blood shaking my heart
l The awful daring o f a moment's surrender
Which an age o f prudence can never retract
^ B y this, and this only, we have existed.
The first surrender was our parents' sexual consent; and when we
are born again it is by a new surrender, inconceivable to the essentially
satiric sensibility w i t h which a Gerontion contemplates
De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit o f the shuddering Bear,
and requiring a radical modification o f even a Tiresias' negative
The awful daring o f a moment's surrender
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
O r in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms.
The Death of Europe / 27
The lean solicitor, like the inquiring w o r m , breaks seals that in life-
time were held prissily inviolate; the w i l l hp is about to read registers
not things given but things abandoned.The thunder is telling us
what Tiresias did not dare tell Oedipus, the reason for the universal
curse: "What have we given?" As for "Dayadhvam," "sympathize":
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think o f the key, each in his prison
Thinking o f the key, each confirms a prison
— a prison o f inviolate honour, self-sufficiency, like that in which
Coriolanus locked himself away. Coriolanus' city was also under a
curse, in which he participated. His energies sufficed in wartime
(Eliot's poem was written three years after the close o f the Great
War), but in peacetime it becomes clear that "he did it to please his
mother, and to be partly proud." He is advised to go through the
forms o f giving and sympathy, but
[Not] by the matter which your heart prompts you,
But w i t h such words that are but rooted in
After his banishment he goes out "like to a lonely dragon," and plots
the destruction o f Rome. His final threat is to stand
As i f a man were author o f himself
A n d knew no other kin.
He is an energetic and purposeful Prufrock, concerned with the figure
he cuts and readily humiliated; Prufrock's radical fault is not his lack
of energy and purpose. Coriolanus is finally shattered like a statue;
and i f
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus,
it may be only as the H o l l o w M e n in Death's dream kingdom hear
voices " i n the wind's singing," and discern sunlight on a broken
column. D o the rumours at nightfall restore h i m to momentary life,
or restore his memory to the minds o f other self-sufficient unsym-
28 / H U G H K E N N E R
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert w i t h sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
T o controlling hands.
Unlike the rider, w h o may dominate his horse, the sailor survives
and moves by cooperation w i t h a nature that cannot be forced; and
this directing, sensitive hand, feeling on the sheet the pulsation o f
the wind and on the rudder the momentary thrust o f waves, becomes
the imagined instrument o f a comparably sensitive human relation-
ship. I f dominance compels response, control invites it; and the r e -
sponse comes "gaily." B u t — " w o u l d have": the right relationship
was never attempted.
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, w i t h the arid plain behind me.
The journey eastward across the desert is finished; though the king's
lands are waste, he has arrived at the sea.
Shall I at least set m y lands in order?
Isaiah bade King Hezekiah set his lands in order because he was
destined not to live; but Candide resolved to cultivate his o w n garden
as a way o f living. We cannot set the whole w o r l d in order; we can
rectify ourselves. A n d we are destined to die, but such order as lies
in our power is nevertheless desirable.
London Bridge is falling d o w n falling d o w n falling
d o w n
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli ajfina
Quando jiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against m y ruins.
A n English nursery rhyme, a line o f Dante's, a scrap o f the late Latin
Pervigilium Veneris, a phrase o f Tennyson's ("O swallow, swallow,
could I but follow") linked to the fate o f Philomel, an image from
a pioneer nineteenth-century French visionary w h o hanged himself
on a freezing January morning: "a heap o f broken images," and a
fragmentary conspectus o f the mind o f Europe. Like the Knight in
The Death of Europe / 29
the Chapel Perilous, we are to ask what these relics mean; and the
answers will lead us into far recesses o f tradition.
The history o f London Bridge (which was disintegrating in the
eighteenth century, and which had symbolized, with its impractical
houses, a communal life n o w sacrificed to abstract t r a n s p o r t a t i o n —
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.)
is linked by the nursery rhyme w i t h feudal rituals ("gold and silver,
m y fair lady") and festivals older still. Dante's line focuses the t r a -
dition o f Christian asceticism, in which "burning" is voluntarily
undergone. Dante's speaker was a poet:
leu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
Consiros vei la passada folor,
E vei jausen lo j o r n , que'esper, denan.
"Consiros vei la passada folor": compare " W i t h the arid plain behind
me." "Vau cantan": he goes singing in the fire, like the children in
the Babylonian furnace, not quite like Philomel whose song is pressed
out o f her by the memory o f pain. The Pervigilium Veneris is another
rite, popular, postpagan, pre-Christian, welcoming in the spring and
inciting to love: "Cras amet qui numquam amavit"; he w h o has
never loved, let h i m love tomorrow; secular love, but its trajectory
leads, via the swallow, aloft. Tennyson's swallow nearly t w o t h o u -
sand years later ("Could I but follow") flies away from an earthbound
poet, grounded in an iron time, and meditating "la poesie des d e -
parts." That poem is a solo, not a folk ritual. As for the Prince o f
Aquitaine with the ruined tower, he is one o f the numerous personae
Gerard de Nerval assumes in El Desdichado: "Suis-je A m o u r ou Phe-
bus, Lusignan ou Biron?" as the speaker o f The Waste Land is Tiresias,
the Phoenician Sailor, and Ferdinand Prince o f Naples. He has l i n -
gered in the chambers o f the sea
J'ai reve dans la grotte ou nage la sirene
and like Orpheus he has called up his love from the shades:
Et j ' a i deux fois vainqueur traverse 1'Acheron
Modulant tour a tour sur la lyre d'Orphee
Les soupirs de la sainte et les cris de la fee.
3 0 / H U G H K E N N E R
So The Waste Land contains Augustine's cries and the song o f the
Thames-daughters; but de Nerval, the pioneer Symbolist, is enclosed
in a mood, in a poetic state, surrounded by his o w n symbols ("Je
suis le tenebreux,—le veuf,—1'inconsole"), offering to a remembered
order, where the vine and the rose were one, only the supplication
of a dead man's hand, "Dans la nuit du tombeau," where "ma seule
etoile est morte": under the twinkle o f a fading star. It is some such
state as his, these images suggest, that is to be explored in "The
H o l l o w M e n " ; he inhabits death's dream kingdom. The mind o f
Europe, some time in the nineteenth century, entered an uneasy phase
o f sheer dream.
These fragments I have shored against m y ruins
Why then He fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Here Eliot provides us w i t h a final image for all that he has done:
his poem is like Hieronymo's revenge play. Hieronymo's e n e m i e s —
the public for the poet in our time—commission an entertainment:
It pleased you,
At the entertainment o f the ambassador,
To grace the king so much as with a show.
N o w , were your study so well furnished,
As for the passing o f the first night's sport
To entertain m y father with the like
Or any such-like pleasing motion,
Assure yourself, it would content them well.
H t E R : Is this all?
B A L . : A y , this is all.
HIER: W h y then, I ' l l fit you. Say no more.
When I was young, I gave my mind
And plied myself to fruitless poetry;
Which though it profit the professor naught,
Yet is it passing pleasing to the world.
It profits the professor naught, like Philomel's gift o f song; and
pleases those w h o have no notion o f what it has cost, or what it will
ultimately cost them. Hieronymo goes on to specify:
Each one o f us
Must act his part in unknown languages,
That it may breed the more variety:
The Death of Europe / 31
As you, m y Lord, in Latin, I in Greek,
You in Italian, and for because I k n o w
That Bellimperia hath practised the French,
In courtly French shall all her phrases be.
Each o f these languages occurs in The Waste Land; all but Greek, in
the list o f shored fragments. Balthasar responds, like a critic in The
But this will be a mere confusion,
And hardly shall we all be understood.
Hieronymo, however, is master o f his method:
It must be so: for the conclusion
Shall prove the invention and all was good.
Hieronymo's madness, in the context provided by Eliot, is that o f
the Platonic bard. I f we are to take the last t w o lines o f The Waste
Land as the substance o f what the bard in his sibylline trance has to
say, then the old man's macaronic tragedy appears transmuted into
the thunder's three injunctions, Give, Sympathize, Control, and a
triple "Peace," "repeated as here," says the note, "a formal ending
to an Upanishad."
68 / B E R N A R D F . D I C K
twofold function: it will clarify the hero's fate and at the same time
will determine events occuring later in the epic, in much the same
way as the witches' prophecies in Macbeth, by their gradual fulfil-
ment, create a microcosmic unity within the tragic macrocosm.
In the Odyssey, it is Circe who tells Odysseus he must sail across
Ocean to meet Teircsias in the land o f the dead (x, 505-40). As the
daughter o f Helios, Circe naturally possesses the foreknowledge
Odysseus lacks. Therefore, she can speak to him in the language o f
the epic command (lis ere K C A S W ) . It is also clear that Odysseus must
make his voyage to gain information: xpeto) fie Kcxrqyayev els
'Aidao/iffvx'Q XPVar°fJLevov &y)f3aiov Tecpeaiao- [ " I came here, driven
to the land of death/in want o f prophecy from Teiresias' shade," tr.
Fitzgerald] (xi, 164-65).
In the Aeneid, Anchises' shade appears to Aeneas, demanding a
meeting in the underworld where his son will acquire knowledge o f
the nation he will found: "turn genus omnc tuum et quae dentur
moenia disces" ["Then you will hear o f your whole race to come/and
what walled t o w n is given y o u , " tr. Fitzgerald] (v, 737). His mys-
tagogue will be the Cumaean Sibyl, who proposes three ritual i m -
peratives (vi, 145—53)—plucking the golden bough ("carpc manu"),
burying Miscnus ("conde sepulchro"), and sacrificing black cattle
("due nigras pecudes")—before the descent can begin.
The knowledge the initiate acquires foreshadows subsequent
events in the epic. In the Odyssey, Elpenor's shade predicted that
Odysseus would return to Acaca (xi, 69-70): the prediction was
fulfilled at the beginning o f Book xn. The return to Circe's island
was dramatically necessary, since Odysseus required further i n f o r -
mation about his nostos. This Circe provided by synopsizing his last
three adventures—the Sirens, Scylla, and Charybdis, and the Oxen
of the S u n — w h i c h occurred exactly in the order in which she foretold
them. Teiresias prophesied Odysseus' return to Ithaca without his
comrades and his vengeance on the suitors (xi, 110—18), both o f
which came to pass in Books xin and x x n respectively.
Prior to Aeneas' descent, the Sibyl delivered an extended p r o p h -
ecy which was fulfilled in the later books o f the Aeneid:
bclla, horrida bella
et T h y b r i m multo spumantem sanguine cerno.
non Simois tibi ncc Xanthus nec Dorica castra
defucrint; alius Latio iam partus Achilles,
The Waste Land and the Descensus ad Inferos I 69
natus et ipse dca; ncc Tcucris addita Iuno
usquam abcrit, cum tu supplex in rebus egenis
quas gentes Italum aut quas non oravcris urbes!
causa mali tanti coniunx iterum hospita Teucris
externiquc iterum thalami.
tu ne cede malis, scd contra audentior ito,
quam tua te Fortuna sinet. via prima salutis,
quod minime reris, Graia pandetur ab urbe.
[Wars, vicious wars
I see ahead, and Tiber foaming blood.
Simois, Xanthus, Dorians e n c a m p e d —
You'll have them all again, with an Achilles,
Child of Latium, he, too, goddess-born.
And nowhere from pursuit o f Teucrians
Will Juno stray, while you do destitute,
Begging so many tribes and towns for aid.
The cause o f suffering here again will be
A bride foreign to Teucrians, a marriage
Made with a stranger.
Never shrink from blows.
Boldly, more boldly where your luck allows,
Go forward, face them. A first way to safety
Will open where you reckon on it least,
From a Greek city. (tr. Fitzgerald)]
The wars are those that will be waged in Latium, whose rivers, the
Numicius and the Tiber, parallel the Xanthus and the Simois of Troy.
The second Achilles is Tumus, and the foreign bride Lavinia. The
urbs Graia that will come to Aeneas' aid is Pallanteum, which Evander
founded on the Palatine Hill.
(2) The foreknowledge o f the woman who prepares the hero
for the descent is limited to the immediate future. Circe can instruct
Odysseus only in the general details o f his voyage and in the ritual
sacrifices he must make, but it is Teiresias w h o holds the key to the
hero's future. It is Teiresias, not Circe, who prophesies Odysseus'
return (Book xm), his revenge (Book x x u ) , and his death, which
docs not occur in the Odyssey but in the Telegony, the last poem o f
the Epic Cycle, o f which the Iliad and the Odyssey are part. Likewise
7 0 / B E R N A R D F . D I C K
the Sibyl knows o f events that will happen in Latium, but she is
unaware o f the role Aeneas will play in the history o f Rome; it is
Anchises w h o informs Aeneas o f his cosmic destiny. Within the
mantic hierarchy, the prophetess (Circe, the Sibyl) yields to the
prophet (Teiresias, Anchises); female yields to male.
(3) In Hades, the hero sees, encounters, or learns about (a) a
close friend seeking burial (Elpenor in the Odyssey, Palinurus in the
Aeneid); (b) war heroes; (c) mythological heroines ill-fated in love;
(d) the damned.
(4) In both the Homeric and Vergilian underworlds there is an
indifference to topography that would not be remedied until Dante.
Strictly speaking, Odysseus does not make a katabasis; he merely digs
a trench from which the dead arise at the smell o f the blood from
the sacrificed animals. But through Homer's subtle narrative art, one
feels Odysseus is travelling through certain regions o f the underworld
while, in effect, the underworld has come to him. In the interpolated
ending o f Book x i , Odysseus beholds the house of Hades, Orion in
the field o f asphodel, Tityus lying on the ground, and Tantalus
standing in a pool; yet he has not moved from the trench. O f course,
no katabasis can withstand logical analysis, and one must conclude
that Homer and his interpolator were not overly concerned about
Vergil's hell is somewhat more specific; first o f all, it is a place
("domus"), with threshold ("limen") and doors ("fores") leading to
an interior: "Vergil seems to conceive of Hades as an extensive region
w i t h a spacious courtyard; leading to the court is a narrow entrance
way; beyond the court are doors leading into the main quarters, and
ultimately to the palace o f Pluto." [Henry W. Prcscott, The Devel-
opment of Virgil's Art (1927; rpt N e w York: Russell & Russell 1963).]
However, Vergil does not provide a one-to-one ratio between a
Roman house and the underworld. Hades consists o f "inania regna,"
and while these "unsubstantial realms" comprise certain parts o f
regions, they can have only the barest suggestion o f shape.
"Hinc via, Tartarci quae fert Acherontis ad undas" ["Hence a
road leads to the waters o f Tartarean Acheron," tr. Fairclough] (vi,
295). But from where does the road lead to Acheron? Presumably
from the entrance court. Vergil's Hades, then, is a shell o f a house
irrigated by subterranean rivers; it is a house which one enters
through a volcanic cave and leaves through the gate o f false dreams.
The Vergilian lacrimae rerum extend even to hell, enshrouding it with
The Waste Land and the Descensus ad Inferos I 71
an oceanic sadness that makes its divisions as tenuous as human life
/(5) Time in the descensus is a fiction; the poet wishes to dispel
human notions o f chronology, a characteristic o f a contingent u n i -
verse, by having the hero see and experience what can never be seen
and experienced in terms o f measured motion. Yet at the same time
the mimetic tradition requires that the descent be narrated within
some kind of continuum to which the poet can adhere when he wishes
to achieve verisimilitude or from which he can depart when he
chooses to depict infinity. Thus Odysseus travels from Aeaea across
Ocean to the Land o f the Cimmerians and back again in literally epic
time, which has no parallel in the real world. In the Aeneid (vi, 539),
the Sibyl interrupts Aeneas' conversation with Deiphobus by r e -
minding h i m that night is approaching and that they are wasting
time ("ducimus horas"), although he is in a realm where the eternal
has subsumed the temporal. However, he is also in the realm o f
literature where a descent, although set sub specie aeternitatis, must be
accomplished "on time."
A l l o f these characteristics o f the descensus appear in The Waste
Land. There is not, nor will there by, any one approach to Eliot's
poem that is completely satisfying, and only the most humanistic
scholars have studied it without growing to hate it. Its dualism (clas-
sical past vs sullied present, West vs East, orchestration vs structure)
grows into a pluralism, its fragments into contexts, and their inter-
pretations into rebuttals. The Waste Land is a theorem w i t h an infinity
o f corollaries. However, i f the poem is regarded as a descent to the
underworld, many o f its problems, particularly the unstable t o p o g -
raphy and the shifting chronology, can be resolved as conventions
of the descensus where time and place are structural devices that make
the spiritual intelligible in human terms. Some have claimed that The
Waste Land is one day in a living h e l l — f r o m morning to evening,
from the " b r o w n f o g " to the "violet hour." This is as true as saying
that Aeneid V I covers a period from dawn to shortly before midnight
or that The Divine Comedy covers a period o f seven days. It is equally
true to say, as Eliot did later:
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
["Burnt Norton," II]
7 2 / B E R N A R D F . D I C K
It is a critical commonplace to regard Teiresias the androgyne
as the poem's many-voiced speaker who, in remembering the past,
becomes the past and those who formed it. Certainly one o f Teiresias'
clearest voices is that o f a quester recalling his journey through hell
in search o f knowledge both personal and cosmic. In the earlier drafts
o f The Waste Land, there was a stage before Teiresias awoke from
the lassitude o f winter to the cruelty o f spring; a stage before he was
a suffering initiate making the rounds o f hell w i t h his Tarot card in
lieu o f a golden bough. Before Teiresias was a quester, he was a
picaro, as one learns from the original manuscript, which opened
with a surrealistic night on the town, reminiscent o f the phantas-
magoric wanderings o f the young trio in Petronius' Satyricon.
In " H e D o the Police in Different Voices" (i), we see Teiresias
before he discovered April was the cruellest month; we also see w h y
winter kept h i m warm. The Waste Land originally began w i t h T e i r -
esias remembering a winter evening in Boston when he was a dapper
and carefree bachelor: some drinks, dinner, a show, an after-theatre
gin at the Opera Exchange, an evening stroll where a friend gets lost
and ends up in a brothel, a near-arrest, a Chaplinesque cab drive,
and a walk home in the glow o f sunrise.
Teiresias' first incarnation as a rogue was not terribly m e m o -
rable, nor was the chatty vernacular o f his first voice:
First we had a couple o f feelers at Tom's place,
There was old T o m , boiled to the eyes, blind,
(Don't you remember that time after a dance,
Top hats and all, we and Silk Hat Harry,
A n d old T o m took us behind, brought out a
bottle o f fizz,
W i t h old Jane, Tom's wife; and we got Joe to sing
" I ' m pround o f all the Irish blood that's in me,
"There's not a man can say a word agin me").
("He D o the Police in Different Voices," I, 1-8)
Teiresias is not yet a poet. However, between the time he walked
home in the sunrise and the time he discovered that April was the
cruellest month, he was transformed from an irresponsible gadabout
to an introspective initiate and transferred from Boston to London.
The logic o f the transition is the logic o f the dream, the same logic
one finds in the Satyricon where the young men move like figures in
an animated cartoon from a rhetoric class to a brothel, from an orgy
The Waste Land and the Descensus ad Inferos I 73
to a banquet. One finds a similar logic in the cinema where a director
can cut from one state o f mind to another and can manipulate g e o -
graphy as i f time and space had no objective significance. One will
never k n o w what happened to Teiresias en route, except that he
underwent a change o f voice from garrulous undergraduate to r e -
flective litterateur and a change o f personality from picaro to quester.
He is now ready to play a role performed earlier by Gilgamesh,
Odysseus, Aeneas, and Dante the pilgrim; but he requires guidance
and thus visits Madame Sosostris, the archetypal female mystagogue;
who, like Circe and the Sibyl, speaks to h i m in demonstrative and
Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady o f the Rocks,
The lady o f situations.
Here is the man w i t h three staves, and here the
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds o f people, walking around in a ring.
Madame Sosostris' reading o f the Tarot forms the microcosm
of the poem. She gives Teiresias the card o f the drowned Phoenician
sailor whose fate is recorded in Part iv. Next comes Belladonna, the
negative o f the Tarot Empress w h o rules the barren and synthetic
kingdom depicted in " A Game o f Chess." In his notes, Eliot "quite
arbitrarily" associates "the man w i t h three staves" w i t h the Fisher
King into w h o m Teiresias merges in Part ill. The "one-eyed m e r -
chant" is a variant o f the Tarot fool who appears as M r Eugenides,
the Smyrna merchant, in Part ill. There is no blank card in the Tarot;
perhaps the clairvoyant does not k n o w her trade as well as she should.
The "Wheel" is the wheel o f fortune on which the crowd revolves.
"The Hanged M a n " is missing from the deck; he is Christ w h o
cannot inhabit a terre gaste and w h o appears in disguise as the hooded
figure of Part v. "Fear death by water" is understandable advice from
one w h o is ignorant o f its salvific power; it will not be until Part i v
74 / B E K N A K D F . DIC:K
that one realizes death by water can mean rebirth. "Crowds of people,
walking round in a r i n g " are the crowds Teiresias sees crossing
London Bridge. By her reading, Madame Sosostris has introduced
the leading characters and major themes o f The Waste Land, just as
by her prophecy the Cumacan Sibyl provided a context for the last
six books o f the Aeneid. "*
After Teiresias receives his card, he begins his descensus into the
hell o f the living dead w h o make up in density what they lack in
spiritual depth. Like Odysseus and Aeneas, he first sees the anony-
mous dead, not any specific shade:
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Eliot's shades throng London Bridge like the umbrae o f the Aeneid
pressing against the banks o f the infernal river. Interestingly, both
poets use the same image o f the shades "flowing": Eliot's crowd
over London Bridge, Vergil's crowd (vi, 305) to the banks o f the
Styx ("hue omnis turba ad ripas effusa ruebat" ["Here a whole crowd
came flowing to the banks"]).
Next Teiresias encounters an individual umbra and addresses him
with mock-heroic solemnity:
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: "Stetson!
You who were w i t h me in the ships at Mylae!
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?"
Stetson served with Teiresias, however anachronistically, at Mylae;
their meeting recalls the confrontation in the classical underworld
between the initiate and a warrior shade—Odysseus w i t h A g a m e m -
non and Achilles, Aeneas with Deiphobus.
The classical underworld, like classical rhetoric, is founded on
the principle afgradatio: a continuous movement from the less specific
toward the more specific to the climactically specific. Thus Aeneas
moves from a formless entrance court into a realm that grows more
defined as he advances toward Elysium, the climax o f his descensus
ad inferos. So, too, does Teiresias move from the general " c r o w d "
to those who compose it: Stetson, an old comrade-in-arms, and n o w
The Waste Land and the Descensus ad Inferos I 75
Belladonna, an old amour, whose rococo boudoir is a hell o f history
ignored and art misused.
Belladonna's r o o m is a peculiar kind o f hell: a hell o f unheeded
evocations o f the past. One should recall the beginning o f Aeneid V I
which furnishes the necessary analogue. When Aeneas landed at C u -
mae, his fancy was struck by the sculptured doors o f the temple o f
Apollo which Daedalus adorned w i t h scenes from his bondage in
Crete: the yearly tribute to the Minotaur, Pasiphae and the bull, and
the fall o f Icarus which the artist's grief prevented his completing.
In Vergil, art produces the lacrimae rerum; yet art can only produce
this surge o f cosmic sadness when the beholder understands the l a -
bour involved in forging fragments o f personal experience into panels
of history. Belladonna's room is haunted by the past; actually, the
room is a classical iconograph complete w i t h Dido's laquearia, a
mural depicting the metamorphosis o f Philomela, and "other w i t h -
ered stumps o f t i m e . . . told upon the walls" (lines 104—5).
Belladonna does not realize she is surrounded by antiquity; u n -
like Aeneas, she cannot view the past within a historical context since
its meaning has evanesced like the smoke from her candles. The
vision o f art that was the prelude to Aeneas' descent has become a
meaningless trapping o f Belladonna's hell.
Throughout most o f The Waste Land, hell is a city and thus
allows for more diversity than either the trench Odysseus digs or
the "inania regna" Aeneas traverses. Teiresias n o w finds himself in
a new setting, a pub where Bill, Lou, and Mae listen to an anonymous
woman (the speaker o f the poem in a feminine mode) relate the story
o f Lil who spent her husband's army pay for an abortion instead o f
The narrator speaks like an umbra, someone totally oblivious to
time ( " H U R R Y U P PLEASE ITS T I M E " ) . A S a shade, she k n o w s only
the past (the abortion, the false teeth, the Sunday dinner to which
she was asked) and the future (Albert's reaction to Lil's physical
decline) but not the present. Significantly, the narrator and her story
dissipate amid ghostly goodbyes.
In "The Fire Sermon," where time and geography intermingle
like memory and desire, we find Teiresias in a different part o f the
city. N o w a Fisher King, he sits on the banks o f the Thames, antic-
ipating a gathering o f the shades. Like Odysseus, he does not move;
instead, the dead come to h i m :
7 6 / B E R N A R D F . D I C K
But at m y back from time to time I hear
The sound o f horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to M r s Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix d'enjants, chantant dans la coupole!
T w i t t w i t twit
J " g j u g j u g j u g j u g j u g
So rudely fore'd.
The entire sequence is a phantasmagoria. The horns and motors
orchestrate a cacophonous prelude to the reunion o f Sweeney and
Mrs Porter, whose penchant for hygiene evokes the infamous ballad
about her and her daughter. Teiresias' subconscious associates the
ballad w i t h the singing o f the children in Vcrlainc's Parsifal, where
their youthful voices arouse pedcrastic desires in the knight. The
song o f the children evokes the cry o f the nightingale and the m y t h
of Philomela's metamorphosis after her rape by Tereus, n o w a mere
vocative ("Tereu") whose terminal -u, almost a ululation, propels
the protagonist to the unreal city where M r Eugenides is waiting
with a pocket full o f currants and an ambiguous invitation to l u n c h -
eon and a weekend in Brighton.
As the wheel turns in accordance with Madame Sosostris' p r e -
diction, next to revolve on it are a typist and a pimply clerk. After
witnessing their automated intercourse, Teiresias is transported from
the typist's dingy flat to the Church o f St Magnus the Martyr at the
foot o f London Bridge. Here one o f the most familiar features o f the
descensus appears: the infernal river. In an extended lyrical passage
that is almost a Lied, the Thames is described in t w o different periods
of history: the modern age when it "sweats oil and tar" and the Age
of Elizabeth when "the brisk swell / rippled both shores" (lines 284-
85). The Thames that runs through the waste land is a river o f woe,
an Acheron, a Rhine plundered o f its gold. The cry o f the Rhine
Maidens from Die Gbtterdammerung ("Weialala leia") becomes the cry
of the Thames Maidens w h o yearn for a past when the "gilded shell"
The Waste Land and the Descensus ad Inferos I 77
of Elizabeth's barge graced their waters.
The Thames Maidens constitute another element o f the descensus:
the catalogue o f women. In the classical underworld, the hero sees
women from mythology w h o suffered for love. Odysseus beheld
T y r o , Alcmena, Megara, Jocasta, Chloris, Leda, Phaedra, Procris,
and Ariadne among others. In the Lugentes Campi, Aeneas saw Phae-
dra, Procris, Eriphyle, Evadne, Pasiphae, Laodamia, and last o f all,
Dido. The Thames Maidens were also badly used in the game o f
love; one was seduced in the borough o f Richmond, another in
Moorgate, the third at Margate. However, none o f them has the
grandeur o f a Phaedra, a Dido, or even a Procris. They are little
more than prostitutes lamenting their betrayal and lost virginity.
The Thames Maidens' cry for their lost purity produces in T e i -
resias an aversion to the flesh and the desire to transcend it. While
Dante swooned at the realization that earthly passion could engender
such boredom in eternity, Teiresias, a more cerebral figure, turned
to contemplating the t w o ways o f Augustine and the Buddha, West
and East; from his contemplation arises the complicated geography
of Part V .
Part iv ("Death by Water") bridges the two ways and their a t -
tempted resolution in Part v ("What the Thunder Said"). Part iv o r i g -
inally contained eighty-two lines describing a shipwreck off the N e w
England coast. Pound excised the entire section, leaving intact the r e -
maining ten lines—the epitaphion o f Phlebas the Phoenician, k n o w n
today as "Death by Water," the shortest and least discussed part o f
the poem. It is virtually impossible to read these ten verses without
recalling t w o similar deaths: Palinurus and Miscnus in the Aeneid.
When Palinurus fell into the sea, carrying the tiller with h i m ,
his folly occasioned a brief homily from Aeneas: " 'o nimium caelo
et pelago confise sereno./nudus in ignota, Palinure, iacebis harena'
[" 'For counting/over much on a calm world, Palinurus, / Y o u must
lie naked on some unknown shore,' " tr. Fitzgerald] (v, 870—71).
"Death by Water" ends on a similarly didactic note: " O you w h o
turn the wheel and look to windward,/Consider Phlebas, who was
once handsome and tall as y o u " (lines 320—21).
A Christian writer often feels the need to reply to his pagan
sources. Dante replied to the vague eschatology o f Aeneid v i w i t h
an underworld that tempered scholasticism w i t h fancy; Milton a n -
swered the nihilism o f the Lament for Bion with Lycidas. Eliot is
replying to the epic convention o f the burial o f a comrade. The
7 8 / B E R N A R D F . D I C K
drowned Misenus will experience no rebirth, and the murdered P a l -
inurus will be held by the waves and tossed by the w i n d (vi, 362).
They w i l l give their names to promontories, and their immortality,
such as it is, w i l l be the knowledge that Punta di Miseno and Punta
di Palinuro bear their names. Eliot is offering an alternative to death
by water in ancient epic; water can destroy, but it can also revivify.
Phlebas, like Misenus and Palinurus, dies, but he was only the
pseudo-Tarot counterpart o f Teiresias. In "Death by Water," Eliot
kills o f f Phlebas, almost in the fashion o f melodrama, and produces
in his place a new Teiresias whose Tarot veneer has been peeled
N o w the full implications o f Madame Sosostris' warning, "Fear
death by water," can be seen. The "famous clairvoyante," a waste-
lander herself, would issue such an admonition, for she regarded
death by water, or death by any means, as the ultimate reality, the
total cessation o f life. Teiresias, w h o has come to the crossroads o f
belief where not only t w o forms o f time (horizontal and vertical,
man's and God's) intersect but t w o traditions as well (West and East),
knows that death by water is merely death to the world.
Teiresias is now ready to confront a higher power, just as Aeneas
was prepared to meet his father in Elysium by his journey o f p u r -
gation through Hades. "What the Thunder Said" is to The Waste
Land what the hero's meeting with Anchises is to the Aeneid: the
poetic as well as the historical climax where suffering becomes des-
tiny and the odyssey o f an individual becomes the history o f a c i v -
ilization. It is also in the last part o f the poem that Teiresias triumphs
over space, a victory he shares w i t h Aeneas. A t the close o f Aeneid
VI, the hero has been transported from Hades near Cumae to the
Elysian Fields which the Romans identified w i t h the Canary Islands
or the unexplored Atlantic. The geography o f the descensus is the
geography o f the dream, and Teiresias now finds himself in another
continent. The geographical transformation occurs in a series of p o w -
A w o m a n drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats w i t h baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
The Waste Land and the Descensus ad Inferos I 79
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out o f empty cisterns and
(lines 378-85, italics mine)
"What the Thunder Said" also fulfils one o f the essentials o f the
descensus: the displacement o f the female (Madame Sosostris who
speaks through cards) by the male (Prajapati w h o speaks through
thunder). A similar situation occurred in the Aeneid where Anchises
took over the prophetic function o f the Sibyl and unrolled for his
son the pageant o f Roman history. Prajapati offers no historical r e -
view to Teiresias, but only the tripartite command, "Give, S y m -
pathize, Control." There are, o f course, literary alternatives to the
waste land: a return to purgatory ("Poi s' ascose nel foco chegli affina'),
metamorphosis ("Quando fiam ttti chelidon — O swallow swallow"),
or the acceptance o f a ruined tradition ("Le Prince d'Aquitaine a la tour
abolle''). But alternatives, as the verses from K y d suggest, may be
little more than escapism through papyrology.
The ambivalent ending o f The Waste Land where scraps of West-
ern literature are blessed by the Upanishads is highly Vergilian. After
his meeting with Anchises, Aeneas and the Sibyl left for the upper
w o r l d through the gate o f ivory from which false dreams come to
men. Generations o f readers have wondered w h y Vergil chose this
gate and not the gate o f true dreams, the gate o f horn. Like Portia's
gold casket in The Merchant of Venice, the gate o f ivory is deceptive:
Vergil has Aeneas leave through the porta eburna to suggest that
Roman history as yet has only the semblance o f greatness. Only in
the underworld where memory and desire, past and future are m i n -
gled can the true nature o f the Roman Empire be seen.
Vergil's twin gates (geminaeportae) become Eliot's West and East.
Eliot has again answered the Classics, but he does not ascribe truth
to the East and illusion to the West; the way up and the way d o w n
are the same.
9 8 / G R O V E R S M I T H
garded, w i t h various shades o f implication, as a set o f diversities, is
that it sidesteps the evidence. A l l art is in some measure heteroge-
neously composed, and certainly it is possible for a w o r k to fall short
o f unifying itself. But, though the structure o f The Waste Land p r e -
sents the difficulty o f the unconventional, and is not obvious, it is
certainly visible in the poem and is moreover explicit in the prose
part o f the poem, the "Notes."
The chief o f the critics to doubt the structural order o f The Waste
Land was Eliot himself; but it is necessary to understand that the
Eliot w h o repudiated it was the Eliot o f the 1950s, severing himself
from his o w n past and yet not going so far as to amend the poetic
text belonging to the past. Self-criticism which would substitute
hindsight for past vision is like historical revisionism. In both cases
a new historian appears, but the things that happened in the past
happened nevertheless. In his Paris Review interview (1959) Eliot was
asked whether The Waste Land was changed in "intellectual structure"
by Pound's "excisions," and to this he replied: " N o , I think it was
just as structureless, only in a more futile way, in the longer version."
The answer did not do justice to the question; but it is not the
questioner's dissociation o f "intellectual" from other structure that
proves m y point but Eliot's dismissal o f all structure even in the
original poem, which he had not seen in more than a third o f a
century and would never see again. Neither "version," that is, had
more or less or any kind o f structure. His refusal to compare cut
discussion off. This may not have happened on purpose, but even
so it served as a defence; and Eliot never liked to answer in depth
for his poetic intentions. Also the question, as asked, could have
involved on the one side, or its answer could have involved on the
other, some criticism o f Pound's intervention. He would have wished
to defend Pound. But it is possible to detect hyperbole in what he
said. There certainly had been structure to The Waste Land, call it
intellectual or not; but Eliot could no longer feel the structural idea
in satisfactory terms. Once he would have defended in private the
structure he had conceived, just as he would have defended his
"Notes," which a few years earlier (1956) he derogated in "The
Frontiers o f Criticism" as "bogus scholarship" (On Poetry and Poets).
That structure, indeed, he modified insignificantly as he composed,
but it endures. T o dismiss the structure was, in the interview, to
evade it—because an alternative reply might have necessitated j u s -
tifications o f what Eliot had come to think unjustifiable, a structure
The Structure and Mythical Method of The Waste Land I 99
he could no longer sec. M y point, finally, is that his answer is e v i -
dence, but that its strict inaccuracy makes it evidence for something
contrary to what it says. Eliot had concluded that the structure o f
The Waste Land was a failure. Whether he thought it a failure o f
conception or o f execution is not clear and is not crucial.
The nature o f the structure was explained in Eliot's "Notes" to
The Waste Land, in the description o f Tiresias:
Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a "char-
acter," is yet the most important personage in the poem,
uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller
o f currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter
is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince o f Naples, so
all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in
Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance o f the
(Note to line 218)
The structural order envisaged through the spectator—unifier func-
tion, far from being vague, has a visible logic, and it is at least as
cogent as most innovations o f modern art. This order is reinforced
somewhat more in cancelled passages than in the shorter version o f
The Waste Land, by an autobiographical parallel; the cancelled e p i -
graph from Conrad's Heart of Darkness also hints at this. (See Preface,
above.) The spectator function, but not the unifier effect, recalls what
years ago I referred to as a Proustian element in The Waste Land,
meaning the presence o f a consciousness engaged in sifting over the
past, as in A la recherche du temps perdu. In strcam-of-consciousness
writing, time in one or another way undergoes dislocation. Some-
times different time segments are abruptly brought together, as in
Ford Madox Ford's time-shift novels; sometimes they are c o m m i n -
gled indiscriminately, as in M o l l y Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses.
When, by some convention o f temporal transcendence, the c o n -
sciousness is made to dislocate or rearrange historical events, or es-
pecially to blend together scenes or incidents from different ages, it
becomes a literary Absolute, a cosmic consciousness. In The Waste
Land Tiresias is the spectator o f his private past and also o f the
universal past. The poem depicts a palimpsest or layered mixture o f
historical times. It does this partly by means o f literary juxtapositions
and sometimes by tricking out the present in a literary style imitated
from the past. The time mixture fits neatly with the unifier function
100 / G R O V E R S M I T H
of Tiresias; for as he contemplates (and, being the poet, stylistically
renders) various times he enters into the personages w h o populate
them. Though a point o f resemblance between the Phoenician Sailor
and Ferdinand Prince o f Naples is not immediately apparent (they
both sail on ships?), one may accept such mergers o f identity on the
principle that in a dreamlike vision people equal to the same people
are equal to each other.
N o w these several strategies w i t h time, literary style and p e r -
sonalities have precedents in Joyce's Ulysses: the first in the parallel
with the Odyssey, the next in the extravagant recapitulation o f style
in "Oxen o f the Sun," and the last in the confused shape-shiftings
o f "Circe." H u g h Kenner in his essay "The Urban Apocalypse" has
suggested that Eliot, through a succession o f references to Virgil's
Aeneid in the poem, may have thought at some point o f creating a
>jnodern quest o£.Aeneas.as lovce.had created that o f B l o o m — O d y s -
^eus^The. clue to this quest, which can be made to work in reading
the poem mythologically, is the descent into hell, as has been d e m -
onstrated by Bernard F. Dick in an article entitled "The Waste Land
and the Descensus ad Inferos." Kenner connects Virgil with The Waste
Land in a different way. He surmises that after reading Van Doren's
John Dry den, w i t h its express comparison o f the London o f the 1660s
and 1670s to the Rome o f O v i d , Eliot converted the familiar analogy
"expressed by the term "Augustan" to the service o f a thematic and
stylistic interplay between modern and Augustan London. For the
theme o f the city in the original section o f his poem, "The Fire
Sermon," the obvious epical parallels were those provided by the
Aeneid, which Dryden translated, the epic that looks to the founding
o f Rome. Kenner's hypothesis constricts Eliot's project unduly at its
inception; Eliot had much more in mind, but he may also have had
this. Van Doren would have been tickled to think that his book had
affected The Waste Land. Whether Dryden's impact was so forcible,
the hard evidence does not establish. N o r do the Augustan literary
modes predominate in "The Fire Sermon." Eliot drew upon Van
Doren's book for some details o f the section, these being from D r y -
den indeed, as I [show elsewhere]; and he may have owed to it traces
o f "the decorums o f urban satire" for which Kenner makes claims
in "The Urban Apocalypse." Thus the fifteen-line passage beginning
"London, the swarming life you kill and breed," ultimately rejected
from the work, could have been suggested in part by the long apos-
trophe to London in Dryden's "The Medal" (lines 167 ff.), a poem
The Structure and Mythical Method of The Waste Land I 101
not cited by Van Doren or Kenner. Eliot's passage, however, was
written in terza rima, and the interim cancellations do not show Eliot
going over to Dryden's couplets definitely or anticipating the q u a -
train form o f his o w n succeeding lines. Nothing in the passage sounds
much like either Dryden or Dante. N o r despite Kenner, do the q u a -
trains recall Dryden.
The time mixture o f the original "Fire Sermon," like that o f the
poem long familiar, presents dissolving views of a city that is basically
modern London but melts into its past layers indiscriminately. As a
counterpart o f Tiresias' consciousness, this has one structural value;
as a treatmenLof.historical time, another. The time mixture however
makes no sharp distinction in this~fespect. It and Tiresias himself are
interdependent; they combine in expressing the moral " m y t h " — t h a t
new and surprising distillation towards which the poem aspires as
presaged by Eliot's critical hints o f 1921. This myth, to objectify its
point o f view as a vision o f good and evil, employs the container as
well as the contents, the former a structured identity to compensate
for the looseness and variety o f the latter. In a solipsistic universe
the mind and the external panorama would reduce to a single reality;
in a Bradleyan context they could be described as experience experi-
encing. But Eliot's poem, like Proust's vast novel, keeps the t w o at
the arm's length o f contemplation. Yet in theory, like facing mirrors
magically filled w i t h shadows, their private and social realities reflect
each other. Each is the other's self-transformation, each the other's
So conceived in the planning o f the "long poem" that began
w i t h "The Fire Sermon," Eliot's myth did not depend upon t r a d i -
tional mythology. The difference between making myth and using
it is essential to the understanding o f The Waste Land as a w o r k o f
art. The t w o concepts really involve different senses o f the term
" m y t h , " which in neither sense unfortunately, whether in Eliot's
vocabulary or in common usage, has a synonym. The traditional
sense carries implications o f the primitive, the prelogical, the spell-
bound and superstitious, interesting to the folklorist and anthropol-
ogist. The new-sense implies a deliberate effort to reawaken the
unconscious and intuitive powers o f the primitive myth-maker in
the service o f poetic feeling; and to create, such poetic images o f
human behaviour as to suggest for the quotidian rituals o f modern
life a meaning like that provided for less self-conscious society by
magic and myth. I f in effect the new myth-maker calls upon the
102 / G R O V E R S M I T H
same resources of the mind as the primitive one, then in the same
sense the structure he presents w i l l mirror the workings o f the mind,
its psychology. It will, however, conform to an up-to-date psycho-
logical model. In The Waste Land the psyche is modern, the content
miscellaneous, and the controlling mind transformational; all are nec-
essary. The substance o f the poem forms a myth, something wholly
new, generated by that mind in the semblance o f a timelessjpoint o f
view or conLuxuujnrl, filled with images and echoes and diverse voices.
The presence o f traditional mythic personages in the formal scheme
is not the mythic principle but only an aspect o f it.
Such is not what critics have generally understood by the m y t h
in The Waste Land. Rather there has been a great to-do about t r a -
ditional mythic images as formal and moral devices—Tiresias and
the GraiLS^ notably those o f Virgil
and Dante. This emphasis is natural and inevitable, and it w i l l not
be neglected in the present account. For, along with modern liter-
ature, traditional myths supplied Eliot with the time dimension for
his mythic pattern. It is impossible to look at it without looking at
them, except at the cost o f incomprehension. The received myths o f
thwarted questing and fruitless psychological initiation (to cite one
type o f modern reduction applied to them), with their social and
religious perspectives, fit indispensably into the spiritual or rather
the moral vision o f the poem, this also being formulated in traditional
images. Thus what Eliot called, in his notes to lines 308-9, the " c o l -
location" o f the Buddha and Saint Augustine gives to the title o f
Part III, "The Fire Sermon,".its meaning o f hell exposed in the desires
of the flesh. Thus too the "burning" metaphor applied by Augustine
to sinful Carthage in his Confessions (111,1) reinforces the contrasting
implication o f Eliot's line borrowed, in the original drafts, from the
reference to the virtuous city in Plato's Republic (XI, 592): " N o t here,
O Glaucon, but in another w o r l d . " Through Augustine, as Valerie
Eliot comments in the Facsimile, Platonic conceptions o f the virtuous
city were expressed as the City o f God. In "The Fire Sermon" as
first written, the sinful or "burning" city, Plato's city o f the t y r a n -
nical, has a visionary complement in the ideal city o f the just. These
paradigms o f the actual and the transcendent afford, then, a moral
framework; and the traditional material, mythic and otherwise, r e i n -
forces this with its anthropological glosses o f fertility and drought.
A l l the while, the framework or matrix is identified with the vision
of Tiresias. It is Tiresias who gazes with Augustine upon the city o f
The Structure and Mythical Method of The Waste Land I 103
tyrant demos, the populace hungering for sense-gratification and
power; who entertains with Plato a dream o f wisdom; who, involved
in illusion, fails at Buddhist Enlightenment. These experiences are
not depicted but synthesised as the old strands are woven into a
modern psyche, a m y t h containing the experiences o f a cultural past.
M y t h made to the formula o f "The Romantic Englishman" can
serve to point a moral or construct a morality. But the myths, the
traditional legends that adorn the tale or furnish its matter, import
uncontrollable significances. T o find mythic parallels is to explain
nothing; it is to add implications that in their turn beg for explanation.
The value of Jessie L . Weston or Sir James Frazer to The Waste Land
is that each has a coherent system o f ritual and m y t h with which
Eliot's may be compared and by which its coherence may be tested.
In creating his image o f an interior world and projecting it as an
outward landscape o f events, Eliot made a multiplicity o f details into
m y t h different from all other myths. Since it is a point o f view it
absorbs other points o f view into itself—the scholars' coherent inter-
pretations especially, because they are structured as scattered legends
are not. This blending process does not imply "taking over" the
opinions expressed by scholars o f myth; as always when Eliot's p o -
etry borrows, the adoptions form a new equilibrium. So The Waste
Land is tentative where Weston is doctrinaire, diffuse where Frazer
is organised. Even Frazer, Eliot noted in the Nouvelle Revue jrancaise
of 1 November 1923 (vol. 21), tended as his work became more
voluminous to avoid more and more explaining his material. This
shunning o f hypotheses, Eliot commented, was a point o f view, a
"vision." I do not think this fair to Frazer's scientific commitment,
but it can profitably be transferred to The Waste Land. In the u n -
published paper o f 1913 for Royce k n o w n as "The Interpretation o f
Primitive Ritual" (see above), Eliot had criticised the interpretation
Frazer offered at the conclusion o f The Dying God (The Golden Bough,
vol. 4) o f primitive rites o f spring. Frazer says that early man c o n -
ducted spring ceremonies with magical intent and in the belief, m i s -
taken indeed, that by imitating the natural phenomena o f fertility he
could ensure the annual renewal o f those processes upon which his
life depended. Looking at the daily course o f the sun, the monthly
growth and extinction o f the moon, the slow seasonal round o f the
agricultural year, the primitive mind was beset with fears and w o r -
ries: would the daylight return, would the moon wax again, would
the spring blossom once more? "These and a thousand such misgiv-