Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

3.9: T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \(\newcommand{\avec}{\mathbf a}\) \(\newcommand{\bvec}{\mathbf b}\) \(\newcommand{\cvec}{\mathbf c}\) \(\newcommand{\dvec}{\mathbf d}\) \(\newcommand{\dtil}{\widetilde{\mathbf d}}\) \(\newcommand{\evec}{\mathbf e}\) \(\newcommand{\fvec}{\mathbf f}\) \(\newcommand{\nvec}{\mathbf n}\) \(\newcommand{\pvec}{\mathbf p}\) \(\newcommand{\qvec}{\mathbf q}\) \(\newcommand{\svec}{\mathbf s}\) \(\newcommand{\tvec}{\mathbf t}\) \(\newcommand{\uvec}{\mathbf u}\) \(\newcommand{\vvec}{\mathbf v}\) \(\newcommand{\wvec}{\mathbf w}\) \(\newcommand{\xvec}{\mathbf x}\) \(\newcommand{\yvec}{\mathbf y}\) \(\newcommand{\zvec}{\mathbf z}\) \(\newcommand{\rvec}{\mathbf r}\) \(\newcommand{\mvec}{\mathbf m}\) \(\newcommand{\zerovec}{\mathbf 0}\) \(\newcommand{\onevec}{\mathbf 1}\) \(\newcommand{\real}{\mathbb R}\) \(\newcommand{\twovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\ctwovec}[2]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\threevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cthreevec}[3]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfourvec}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\fivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{r}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\cfivevec}[5]{\left[\begin{array}{c}#1 \\ #2 \\ #3 \\ #4 \\ #5 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\mattwo}[4]{\left[\begin{array}{rr}#1 \amp #2 \\ #3 \amp #4 \\ \end{array}\right]}\) \(\newcommand{\laspan}[1]{\text{Span}\{#1\}}\) \(\newcommand{\bcal}{\cal B}\) \(\newcommand{\ccal}{\cal C}\) \(\newcommand{\scal}{\cal S}\) \(\newcommand{\wcal}{\cal W}\) \(\newcommand{\ecal}{\cal E}\) \(\newcommand{\coords}[2]{\left\{#1\right\}_{#2}}\) \(\newcommand{\gray}[1]{\color{gray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\lgray}[1]{\color{lightgray}{#1}}\) \(\newcommand{\rank}{\operatorname{rank}}\) \(\newcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\col}{\text{Col}}\) \(\renewcommand{\row}{\text{Row}}\) \(\newcommand{\nul}{\text{Nul}}\) \(\newcommand{\var}{\text{Var}}\) \(\newcommand{\corr}{\text{corr}}\) \(\newcommand{\len}[1]{\left|#1\right|}\) \(\newcommand{\bbar}{\overline{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bhat}{\widehat{\bvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\bperp}{\bvec^\perp}\) \(\newcommand{\xhat}{\widehat{\xvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\vhat}{\widehat{\vvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\uhat}{\widehat{\uvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\what}{\widehat{\wvec}}\) \(\newcommand{\Sighat}{\widehat{\Sigma}}\) \(\newcommand{\lt}{<}\) \(\newcommand{\gt}{>}\) \(\newcommand{\amp}{&}\) \(\definecolor{fillinmathshade}{gray}{0.9}\)

    Thomas Stearns Eliot was born into a large, upper-middle-class family in St. Louis, Missouri. His early interest in literature was fostered by his education, beginning at Smith Academy, where he studied classical and modern languages; followed by a prep year at Milton Academy; and concluding in America when he attended Harvard University. There he completed work for a Ph. D. in Philosophy, but failed to earn the degree because he did not complete the final oral exam.

    He expanded his knowledge of philosophy by studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, where he attended lectures by Henri Bergson (1859-1941), and at Merton College, Oxford University. From Oxford, Eliot frequently traveled to London where he met Ezra Pound, an Imagist poet and major figure in the Modernist movement in literature.

    clipboard_ec7467fef7f76f246cf8c43525fbf9525.pngDetermined to remain in England, Eliot earned a living as a teacher, as an accountant at Lloyd’s Bank, and as an editor at Faber and Faber publishers. In 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism—professing as an Anglo-Catholic—and became a British citizen. His poetry expressed a parallel search for stability and personal, spiritual, and cultural meaning and coherence. As a modernist, his experiments in form, sound, and imagery used fragmentation and multi-vocalism along with the mythic method that gave shape to apparent chaos and spiritual meaning to apparent vacuity.

    In his poetry, Eliot often counterpointed the distant past with the present to highlight inner vacuity, or the modern individual’s tendency to be cut off from the unconscious and alienated from nature and the natural cycle. In the “Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917), he depicted the individual self as tenuous, changing and discontinuous, without integrity, unity, or freedom and subject to external conditions. Like Conrad, Eliot sought to put such almost inexpressible horrors into words, relying on objective correlatives that use externals/symbols to express emotion and thought.

    His most famous poem The Waste Land (1922) grounds its grail-like quest for meaning and renewal in the syncretic research of Sir James Fraser’s The Golden Bough (1890), a study in comparative religion that searched for the one myth to which all myths referred. The Waste Land seeks for archetypal/socio-cultural identities beyond the egoistic self and the immediate historical moment. His later poems, particularly Four Quartets (1943), locate the intersection of the immediate moment and eternity, movement and stasis, spirituality and art.

    Eliot influenced literature and culture through not only his poetry but also such important critical essays as “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1921) and “Hamlet and his Problems” (1921). His work led to the revival of the metaphysical poets, especially John Donne (1572-1631), and influenced younger critics and poets such as Woolf, William Empson (1906-1984) and W. H. Auden (1907-1973). Eliot won many awards and recognitions, including the Nobel Prize in Literature and an Order of Merit.

    3.9.1: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

    S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse

    A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

    Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

    Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo

    Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,

    Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

    Let us go then, you and I,

    When the evening is spread out against the sky

    Like a patient etherized upon a table;

    Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

    The muttering retreats

    Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

    And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

    Streets that follow like a tedious argument

    Of insidious intent

    To lead you to an overwhelming question. . . .

    Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

    Let us go and make our visit.

    In the room the women come and go

    Talking of Michelangelo.

    The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

    The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

    Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

    Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

    Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

    Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

    And seeing that it was a soft October night,

    Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

    And indeed there will be time

    For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

    Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

    There will be time, there will be time

    To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

    There will be time to murder and create,

    And time for all the works and days of hands

    That lift and drop a question on your plate;

    Time for you and time for me,

    And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

    And for a hundred visions and revisions,

    Before the taking of a toast and tea.

    In the room the women come and go

    Talking of Michelangelo.

    And indeed there will be time

    To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

    Time to turn back and descend the stair,

    With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—

    (They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

    My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

    My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—

    (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

    Do I dare

    Disturb the universe?

    In a minute there is time

    For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

    For I have known them all already, known them all:

    Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

    I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

    I know the voices dying with a dying fall

    Beneath the music from a farther room.

    So how should I presume?

    And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

    The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

    And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

    When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

    Then how should I begin

    To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

    And how should I presume?

    And I have known the arms already, known them all—

    Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

    (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

    Is it perfume from a dress

    That makes me so digress?

    Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

    And should I then presume?

    And how should I begin?


    Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

    And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

    Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

    I should have been a pair of ragged claws

    Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.


    And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

    Smoothed by long fingers,

    Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,

    Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

    Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

    Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

    But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

    Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

    I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;

    I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

    And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

    And in short, I was afraid.

    And would it have been worth it, after all,

    After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

    Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

    Would it have been worth while,

    To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

    To have squeezed the universe into a ball

    To roll it toward some overwhelming question,

    To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

    Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

    If one, settling a pillow by her head,

    Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

    That is not it, at all.”

    And would it have been worth it, after all,

    Would it have been worth while,

    After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

    After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

    And this, and so much more?—

    It is impossible to say just what I mean!

    But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

    Would it have been worth while

    If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

    And turning toward the window, should say:

    “That is not it at all,

    That is not what I meant, at all.”


    No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

    Am an attendant lord, one that will do

    To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

    Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

    Deferential, glad to be of use,

    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

    Almost, at times, the Fool.

    I grow old . . . I grow old . . .

    I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

    Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

    I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

    I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

    I do not think that they will sing to me.

    I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

    Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

    When the wind blows the water white and black.

    We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

    By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

    Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

    3.9.2: “The Waste Land”

    “NAM Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis

    vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:

    Σίβυλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat illa: ἀποθανεῖν θέλω.”


    APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

    Memory and desire, stirring

    Dull roots with spring rain.

    Winter kept us warm, covering

    Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

    A little life with dried tubers.

    Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

    With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

    And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

    And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

    Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

    And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,

    My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,

    And I was frightened. He said, Marie,

    Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.

    In the mountains, there you feel free.

    I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

    What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

    Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

    You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

    A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

    And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

    And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

    There is shadow under this red rock,

    (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

    And I will show you something different from either

    Your shadow at morning striding behind you

    Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

    I will show you fear in a handful of dust.


    Frisch weht der Wind

    Der Heimat zu,

    Mein Irisch Kind,

    Wo weilest du?

    “You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

    “They called me the hyacinth girl.”

    —Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,

    Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

    Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither

    Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,

    Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

    Oed’ und leer das Meer.

    Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,

    Had a bad cold, nevertheless

    Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,

    With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,

    Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,

    (Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

    Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,

    The lady of situations.

    Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,

    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 of people, walking round in a ring.

    Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,

    Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:

    One must be so careful these days.

    Unreal City,

    Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

    A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

    I had not thought death had undone so many.

    Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

    And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

    Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

    To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

    With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

    There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!

    “You who were with 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?

    “Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

    “Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,

    “Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!

    “You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”


    THE Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,

    Glowed on the marble, where the glass

    Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines

    From which a golden Cupidon peeped out

    (Another hid his eyes behind his wing)

    Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra

    Reflecting light upon the table as

    The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,

    From satin cases poured in rich profusion;

    In vials of ivory and coloured glass

    Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,

    Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused

    And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air

    That freshened from the window, these ascended

    In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,

    Flung their smoke into the laquearia,

    Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.

    Huge sea-wood fed with copper

    Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,

    In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam.

    Above the antique mantel was displayed

    As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene

    The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king

    So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale

    Filled all the desert with inviolable voice

    And still she cried, and still the world pursues,

    “Jug Jug” to dirty ears.

    And other withered stumps of time

    Were told upon the walls; staring forms

    Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.

    Footsteps shuffled on the stair.

    Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair

    Spread out in fiery points

    Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.

    “My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.

    “Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.

    “What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?

    “I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

    I think we are in rats’ alley

    Where the dead men lost their bones.

    “What is that noise?”

    The wind under the door.

    “What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”

    Nothing again nothing.


    “You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember


    I remember

    Those are pearls that were his eyes.

    “Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”


    O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—

    It’s so elegant

    So intelligent

    “What shall I do now? What shall I do?”

    “I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street

    “With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?

    “What shall we ever do?”

    The hot water at ten.

    And if it rains, a closed car at four.

    And we shall play a game of chess,

    Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

    When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said—

    I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,


    Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.

    He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you

    To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.

    You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,

    He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.

    And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,

    He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,

    And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.

    Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.

    Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.


    If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said,

    Others can pick and choose if you can’t.

    But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.

    You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.

    (And her only thirty-one.)

    I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,

    It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.

    (She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)

    The chemist said it would be alright, but I’ve never been the same.

    You are a proper fool, I said.

    Well, if Albert wont leave you alone, there it is, I said,

    What you get married for if you dont want children?


    Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,

    And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—



    Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.

    Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.

    Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.


    THE river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf

    Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind

    Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.

    Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

    The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,

    Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends

    Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.

    And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;

    Departed, have left no addresses.

    By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .

    Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,

    Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.

    But at my back in a cold blast I hear

    The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

    A rat crept softly through the vegetation

    Dragging its slimy belly on the bank

    While I was fishing in the dull canal

    On a winter evening round behind the gashouse.

    Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck

    And on the king my father’s death before him.

    White bodies naked on the low damp ground

    And bones cast in a little low dry garret,

    Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.

    But at my back from time to time I hear

    The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring

    Sweeney to Mrs. 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’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!

    Twit twit twit

    Jug jug jug jug jug jug

    So rudely forc’d.


    Unreal City

    Under the brown fog of a winter noon

    Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant

    Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants

    C.i.f. London: documents at sight,

    Asked me in demotic French

    To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel

    Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

    At the violet hour, when the eyes and back

    Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

    Like a taxi throbbing waiting,

    I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,

    Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see

    At 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.

    Out of the window perilously spread

    Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,

    On the divan are piled (at night her bed)

    Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.

    I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs

    Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—

    I too awaited the expected guest.

    He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,

    A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,

    One of the low on whom assurance sits

    As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.

    The time is now propitious, as he guesses,

    The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,

    Endeavours to engage her in caresses

    Which still are unreproved, if undesired.

    Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;

    Exploring hands encounter no defence;

    His vanity requires no response,

    And makes a welcome of indifference.

    (And I Tiresias have foresuffered all

    Enacted on this same divan or bed;

    I who have sat by Thebes below the wall

    And walked among the lowest of the dead.)

    Bestows one final patronising kiss,

    And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

    She turns and looks a moment in the glass,

    Hardly aware of her departed lover;

    Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:

    “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”

    When lovely woman stoops to folly and

    Paces about her room again, alone,

    She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,

    And puts a record on the gramophone.

    “This music crept by me upon the waters”

    And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.

    O City city, I can sometimes hear

    Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,

    The pleasant whining of a mandoline

    And a clatter and a chatter from within

    Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls

    Of Magnus Martyr hold

    Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

    The river sweats Oil and tar

    The barges drift

    With the turning tide

    Red sails


    To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.

    The barges wash

    Drifting logs

    Down Greenwich reach

    Past the Isle of Dogs.

    Weialala leia

    Wallala leialala

    Elizabeth and Leicester

    Beating oars

    The stern was formed

    A gilded shell

    Red and gold

    The brisk swell

    Rippled both shores

    Southwest wind

    Carried down stream

    The peal of bells

    White towers

    Weialala leia

    Wallala leialala

    “Trams and dusty trees.

    Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew

    Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees

    Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.”

    “My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart

    Under my feet. After the event

    He wept. He promised ‘a new start.’

    I made no comment. What should I resent?”

    “On Margate Sands.

    I can connect

    Nothing with nothing.

    The broken fingernails of dirty hands.

    My people humble people who expect


    la la

    To Carthage then I came

    Burning burning burning burning

    O Lord Thou pluckest me out

    O Lord Thou pluckest



    PHLEBAS the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

    Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell

    And the profit and loss.

    A current under sea

    Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell

    He passed the stages of his age and youth

    Entering the whirlpool.

    Gentile or Jew

    O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

    Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.


    AFTER the torchlight red on sweaty faces

    After the frosty silence in the gardens

    After the agony in stony places

    The shouting and the crying

    Prison and palace and reverberation

    Of thunder of spring over distant mountains

    He who was living is now dead

    We who were living are now dying

    With a little patience

    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 of rock without water

    If there were water we should stop and drink

    Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think

    Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand

    If there were only water amongst the rock

    Dead mount in mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit

    Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit

    There is not even silence in the mountains

    But dry sterile thunder without rain

    There is not even solitude in the mountains

    But red sullen faces sneer and snarl

    From doors of mudcracked houses

    If there were water

    And no rock

    If there were rock

    And also water

    And water

    A spring

    A pool among the rock

    If there were the sound of water only

    Not the cicada

    And dry grass singing

    But sound of water over a rock

    Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

    Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop

    But there is no water

    Who is the third who walks always beside you?

    When I count, there are only you and I together

    But when I look ahead up the white road

    There is always another one walking beside you

    Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

    I do not know whether a man or a woman

    — But who is that on the other side of you?

    What is that sound high in the air

    Murmur of maternal lamentation

    Who are those hooded hordes swarming

    Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth

    Ringed by the flat horizon only

    What is the city over the mountains

    Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air

    Falling towers

    Jerusalem Athens Alexandria

    Vienna London


    A woman drew her long black hair out tight

    And fiddled whisper music on those strings

    And bats with baby faces in the violet light

    Whistled, and beat their wings

    And crawled head downward down a blackened wall

    And upside down in air were towers

    Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours

    And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

    In this decayed hole among the mountains

    In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing

    Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel

    There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.

    It has no windows, and the door swings,

    Dry bones can harm no one.

    Only a cock stood on the rooftree

    Co co rico co co rico

    In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust

    Bringing rain

    Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves

    Waited for rain, while the black clouds

    Gathered far distant, over Himavant.

    The jungle crouched, humped in silence.

    Then spoke the thunder


    Datta: what have we given?

    My friend, blood shaking my heart

    The awful daring of a moment’s surrender

    Which an age of prudence can never retract

    By this, and this only, we have existed

    Which is not to be found in our obituaries

    Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider

    Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor

    In our empty rooms


    Dayadhvam: I have heard the key

    Turn in the door once and turn once only

    We think of the key, each in his prison

    Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

    Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours

    Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus


    Damyata: The boat responded

    Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar

    The sea was calm, your heart would have responded

    Gaily, when invited, beating obedient

    To controlling hands

    I sat upon the shore

    Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

    Shall I at least set my lands in order?

    London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

    Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

    Quando fiam ceu chelidon— O swallow swallow

    Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

    These fragments I have shored against my ruins

    Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

    Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

    Shantih shantih shantih


    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). 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 Atthis Adonis Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognise in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies.


    Line 20. Cf. Ezekiel II, i.

    23. Cf. Ecclesiastes XII, 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 cité, cité pleine de rèves,

    “Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.”

    63. Cf. Inferno III, 55–57:

    “si lunga tratta

    di gente, ch’io non avrei mai creduto

    che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”

    64. Cf. Inferno IV, 25–27:

    “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.


    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.


    176. V. Spenser, Prothalamion.

    192. Cf. The Tempest, I. ii.

    196. 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 . . .”

    197. Cf. Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.

    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.

    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. Götterdämmerung, III, i: the Rhinedaughters.

    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.

    312. 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.


    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.

    366–76. 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.”

    401. “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.

    407. 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.”

    411. 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.”

    424. V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King.

    427. 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.”

    428. V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.

    429. V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.

    431. 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.

    3.9.4: Reading and Review Questions

    1. Why does T. S. Eliot use so many allusions in his poems, do you think? How does he use them? What’s the effect of his using them?
    2. How does T. S. Eliot’s use of the mythic analog in The Waste Land compare with Joyce’s use of it in Ulysses?
    3. Like Joyce, T. S. Eliot incorporated the voices of actual people he overhead or talked with, for instance, in the talk of Lil’s friend at the pub in Part II: A Game of Chess. Why does he use the voices of actual people, versus his own vocal impersonations of other people, do you think? What’s the effect of his using the voices of actual people in his poetry?
    4. In The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot includes the idea of rape, with the allusion to Philomela; to abortion, with Lil; and to loveless sex, with the typist. Why does he include these events? Is he presenting women’s issues in a progressive, modern way? Is he generalizing from these situations to some larger concern he has about Western culture? Is there another reason, do you think?

    This page titled 3.9: T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Bonnie J. Robinson (University of North Georgia Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.