Following my recent post on the history of poetry I’m starting a new series of posts along the same lines as my Paintings You Should Know series – ‘Poems You Should Know’. Much like the painting series I’m not planning on following a particular chronology or providing deep analysis; I’ll simply be sharing significant poems.
So here’s my first offering, ‘The Waste Land’ by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). It’s a Modernist work full of literary allusions.
The Waste Land
by T. S. EliotFOR EZRA POUND
IL MIGLIOR FABBRO.I. The Burial of the Dead.April is the cruellest month, breedingLilacs out of the dead land, mixingMemory and desire, stirringDull roots with spring rain.Winter kept us warm, coveringEarth in forgetful snow, feedingA little life with dried tubers.Summer surprised us, coming over the StarnbergerseeWith 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 arch-duke’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 growOut of this stony rubbish? Son of man,You cannot say, or guess, for you know onlyA 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. OnlyThere is shadow under this red rock,(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),And I will show you something different from eitherYour shadow at morning striding behind youOr your shadow at evening rising to meet you;I will show you fear in a handful of dust.Frisch weht der WindDer Heimat zuMein 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 notSpeak, and my eyes failed, I was neitherLiving 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, neverthelessIs 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 findThe 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 hoursWith 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!”..II. A Game of Chess.The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,Glowed on the marble, where the glassHeld up by standards wrought with fruited vinesFrom which a golden Cupidon peeped out(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabraReflecting light upon the table asThe glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,From satin cases poured in rich profusion;In vials of ivory and coloured glassUnstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confusedAnd drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the airThat freshened from the window, these ascendedIn fattening the prolonged candle-flames,Flung their smoke into the laquearia,Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.Huge sea-wood fed with copperBurned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,In which sad light a carvéd dolphin swam.Above the antique mantel was displayedAs though a window gave upon the sylvan sceneThe change of Philomel, by the barbarous kingSo rudely forced; yet there the nightingaleFilled all the desert with inviolable voiceAnd still she cried, and still the world pursues,“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.And other withered stumps of timeWere told upon the walls; staring formsLeaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.Footsteps shuffled on the stair.Under the firelight, under the brush, her hairSpread out in fiery pointsGlowed 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’ alleyWhere 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.“Do“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember“Nothing?”.I rememberThose are pearls that were his eyes.“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”.ButO O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—It’s so elegantSo 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,HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIMENow Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave youTo 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.HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIMEIf 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 all right, but I’ve never been the same.You are a proper fool, I said.Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,What you get married for if you don’t want children?HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIMEWell, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIMEHURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIMEGoonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night...III. The Fire Sermon.The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leafClutch and sink into the wet bank. The windCrosses 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 endsOr 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 hearThe rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear..A rat crept softly through the vegetationDragging its slimy belly on the bankWhile I was fishing in the dull canalOn a winter evening round behind the gashouseMusing upon the king my brother’s wreckAnd on the king my father’s death before him.White bodies naked on the low damp groundAnd 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 hearThe sound of horns and motors, which shall bringSweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.O the moon shone bright on Mrs. PorterAnd on her daughterThey wash their feet in soda waterEt O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!.Twit twit twitJug jug jug jug jug jugSo rudely forc’d.Tereu.Unreal CityUnder the brown fog of a winter noonMr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchantUnshaven, with a pocket full of currantsC.i.f. London: documents at sight,Asked me in demotic FrenchTo luncheon at the Cannon Street HotelFollowed by a weekend at the Metropole..At the violet hour, when the eyes and backTurn upward from the desk, when the human engine waitsLike a taxi throbbing waiting,I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can seeAt the violet hour, the evening hour that strivesHomeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lightsHer stove, and lays out food in tins.Out of the window perilously spreadHer 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 dugsPerceived 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 sitsAs 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 caressesWhich 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 allEnacted on this same divan or bed;I who have sat by Thebes below the wallAnd 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 andPaces 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 hearBeside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,The pleasant whining of a mandolineAnd a clatter and a chatter from withinWhere fishmen lounge at noon: where the wallsOf Magnus Martyr holdInexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold..The river sweatsOil and tarThe barges driftWith the turning tideRed sailsWideTo leeward, swing on the heavy spar.The barges washDrifting logsDown Greenwich reachPast the Isle of Dogs.Weialala leiaWallala leialala.Elizabeth and LeicesterBeating oarsThe stern was formedA gilded shellRed and goldThe brisk swellRippled both shoresSouthwest windCarried down streamThe peal of bellsWhite towersWeialala leiaWallala leialala.“Trams and dusty trees.Highbury bore me. Richmond and KewUndid me. By Richmond I raised my kneesSupine on the floor of a narrow canoe.”.“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heartUnder my feet. After the eventHe wept. He promised a ‘new start.’I made no comment. What should I resent?”.“On Margate Sands.I can connectNothing with nothing.The broken fingernails of dirty hands.My people humble people who expectNothing.”la la.To Carthage then I came.Burning burning burning burningO Lord Thou pluckest me outO Lord Thou pluckest.burning..IV. Death by Water.Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swellAnd the profit and loss.A current under seaPicked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fellHe passed the stages of his age and youthEntering the whirlpool.Gentile or JewO you who turn the wheel and look to windward,Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you...V. What the Thunder Said.After the torchlight red on sweaty facesAfter the frosty silence in the gardensAfter the agony in stony placesThe shouting and the cryingPrison and palace and reverberationOf thunder of spring over distant mountainsHe who was living is now deadWe who were living are now dyingWith a little patience.Here is no water but only rockRock and no water and the sandy roadThe road winding above among the mountainsWhich are mountains of rock without waterIf there were water we should stop and drinkAmongst the rock one cannot stop or thinkSweat is dry and feet are in the sandIf there were only water amongst the rockDead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spitHere one can neither stand nor lie nor sitThere is not even silence in the mountainsBut dry sterile thunder without rainThere is not even solitude in the mountainsBut red sullen faces sneer and snarlFrom doors of mudcracked housesIf there were waterAnd no rockIf there were rockAnd also waterAnd waterA springA pool among the rockIf there were the sound of water onlyNot the cicadaAnd dry grass singingBut sound of water over a rockWhere the hermit-thrush sings in the pine treesDrip drop drip drop drop drop dropBut there is no water.Who is the third who walks always beside you?When I count, there are only you and I togetherBut when I look ahead up the white roadThere is always another one walking beside youGliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hoodedI 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 airMurmur of maternal lamentationWho are those hooded hordes swarmingOver endless plains, stumbling in cracked earthRinged by the flat horizon onlyWhat is the city over the mountainsCracks and reforms and bursts in the violet airFalling towersJerusalem Athens AlexandriaVienna LondonUnreal.A woman drew her long black hair out tightAnd fiddled whisper music on those stringsAnd bats with baby faces in the violet lightWhistled, and beat their wingsAnd crawled head downward down a blackened wallAnd upside down in air were towersTolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hoursAnd voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells..In this decayed hole among the mountainsIn the faint moonlight, the grass is singingOver the tumbled graves, about the chapelThere 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 rooftreeCo co rico co co ricoIn a flash of lightning. Then a damp gustBringing rain.Ganga was sunken, and the limp leavesWaited for rain, while the black cloudsGathered far distant, over Himavant.The jungle crouched, humped in silence.Then spoke the thunderDADatta: what have we given?My friend, blood shaking my heartThe awful daring of a moment’s surrenderWhich an age of prudence can never retractBy this, and this only, we have existedWhich is not to be found in our obituariesOr in memories draped by the beneficent spiderOr under seals broken by the lean solicitorIn our empty roomsDADayadhvam: I have heard the keyTurn in the door once and turn once onlyWe think of the key, each in his prisonThinking of the key, each confirms a prisonOnly at nightfall, aethereal rumoursRevive for a moment a broken CoriolanusDADamyata: The boat respondedGaily, to the hand expert with sail and oarThe sea was calm, your heart would have respondedGaily, when invited, beating obedientTo controlling hands.I sat upon the shoreFishing, with the arid plain behind meShall I at least set my lands in order?London Bridge is falling down falling down falling downPoi s’ascose nel foco che gli affinaQuando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallowLe Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolieThese fragments I have shored against my ruinsWhy then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.Shantih shantih shantih