The Waste Land/1

From Gerald R. Lucas
 * 1 2 3 4 5 

I. The Burial of the Dead[1]

April is the cruellest month, breeding[a]
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering 5
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, 10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.[2]
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, 15
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[b]
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,[3] 20
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,[4]
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock, 25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),[5]
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.[6] 30
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu,
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?[7]
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 35
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, 40
Looking into the heart of light,[8] the silence.[c]
Öd’ und leer das Meer.[9][d]

Madame Sosostris,[10] famous clairvoyante,[e]
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, 45
With a wicked pack of cards.[11][f] Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes.[12] Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,[13]
The lady of situations. 50
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.[g] Fear death by water.[h] 55
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,[14][i] 60
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.[15]
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,[16]
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. 65
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,[17]
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.[18][j]
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson![k]
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae![19] 70
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,[20]
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog[21] far hence, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again![22] 75
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”[23]


  1. From the Anglican burial ceremony.
  2. “I am not Russian at all; I come from Lithuania, I am a real German.”
  3. Cf. Ezekiel 2:7 [E]: “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.”
  4. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5 [E]: “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way . . . the grasshopper shall he a burden, and desire shall fail.”
  5. Cf. Isaiah 32:2, where it is said that at Christ’s coming “a man shall be . . . as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” In the Grail story as told by Wolfram von Eschenbach (Parzifal, ix 627 ff.), the Grail is said to be a stone, and those who are called to its quest are said to be called as children and to grow up under its shadow. (“As children the Grail doth call them, ’neath its shadow, they wax and grow.”)
  6. Cf. Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” And Genesis 3:19: “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
  7. “The wind blows fresh / To the Homeland / My Irish Girl / Where are you lingering?” V. Tristan und Isolde, I, verses 5-8. [E] The verses are sung by a sailor on the ship bringing the Irish Isolde to Cornwall.
  8. the light: cf. Dante’s phrase from Paradiso, xii 28: “del cor dell’ una luci nuove” (from the heart of one of the new lights).
  9. Tristan und Isolde, III, verse 24 [E]: “Desolate and empty sea.” The dying Tristan hears this erroneous report as he waits for Isolde’s ship in the third act of Wagner’s opera.
  10. The name suggests an Egyptian fortuneteller that Eliot borrowed from Aldous Huxley’s novel Crome Yellow.
  11. 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. [E]
  12. Those . . . eyes: From Ariel’s song to Prince Ferdinand in The Tempest (I.ii.398), touching on the “sea change” of King Alonzo, Ferdinand’s father, whom Ferdinand supposes to be drowned.
  13. With ironic reminder of the Madonna, of whom there is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci entitled “Madonna of the Rocks.”
  14. Cf. Baudelaire: Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves, / Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant. [E] “Swarming city, city full of dreams / Where the specter in broad daylight accosts the passerby.” Baudelaire, The Seven Old Men.
  15. Cf. Dante’s Inferno, iii. 55-7: si lunga tratta / di gente, ch’io non avrei mai creduto / che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta. [E] “So long a train of people, that I should never have believed death had undone so many.”
  16. Cf. 63. Cf. Dante’s Inferno, iv. 25-27: Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare, / non avea pianto, ma' che di sospiri, / che l'aura eterna facevan tremare. [E] “Here there was no plaint, that could be heard, except of sighs, which caused the eternal air to tremble.”
  17. King William Street is one of London’s most thronged with commuting office workers at the morning rush hour.
  18. A phenomenon which I have often noticed. [E]
  19. The Battle of Mylae took place in 260 BC during the First Punic War—a “business” war—and was the first real naval battle between Carthage and the Roman Republic.
  20. Cf. Romans 6:3-5: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” See the whole chapter.
  21. Cf. Psalm 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.” Also, Eliot’s lines in Marina: “Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning Death.”
  22. Cf. the Dirge in Webster’s The White Devil. [E]—sung by a mad woman to her son over the corpse of his brother whom he has killed.
  23. V. Baudelaire, Preface to Les Fleurs du Mal. [E] “Hypocrite reader!—my double—my brother!” Where the “menagerie” of men’s vices concluded with “Boredom.”


  1. Compare to the beginning of The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue. Eliot’s opening reverses Chaucer’s joy in springtime. Several lines follow expressing resentment felt by the buried at being stirred into life again. This is followed by casual talk of tourists (it is summer now) in the Hofgarten. Again Chaucer is reversed, his pilgrims, devout or bawdy, had a definite goal, a shrine, while the secular tourist of Eliot wanders about sightseeing.
  2. This paragraph universalizes the terror with clutching roots and branches that grow from the “stony rubbish,” of fallen civilizations, and heightens it by allusion to the tribulations of Ezekiel, whom God addresses as “Son of man.” We are now in the midst of the true desert, with its “heap of broken images,” where “the dead tree gives no shelter.” The dead tree suggests, amoung other recollections, the arbre sec (dried tree) of medieval legend, i.e., the withered stump of fallen humanity, the sons of Adam. We are invited to “Come in under the shadow of this red rock,” where we will be shown “fear in a handful of dust”; the end of every man is the grave.
  3. Hyacinth, loved by Apollo, was accidentally slain by the god, who then caused the flower bearing the youth’s name to grow from his blood. The hyacinth girl herself is forgotten by her lover—distracted by a vision of light. This is a reversal of Dante’s experience, who saw all of Paradise in Beatice’s eyes.
  4. The anguish of fractured love is added to the canvas. Tristan dies thinking Isolde will not come to him (though she is on her way).
  5. Fear engendered by ignorance of the future comes next at a seance run by Madame Sosostris. She is both a debased form of the ancient Sibyl and a reflection of the diviners of Egypt (the name is masculine) who predicted the floods of the Nile by use of the Tarot. She reads the cards for her client, beginning with his own, “The drowned Phoenician Sailor,” the symbol of a fertility god annually thrown into the sea at the death of summer.
  6. The Tarot pack of cards seems to have played a significant part in the ancient fertility rituals. Here it has degenerated into a fortune-teller’s property.
  7. She does not see the Hanged Man (suggesting the hanged Jesus of Nazareth, who appears as the hooded figure in part V).
  8. I.e., fear death of the old Adam by baptism into the life of the new Adam, Christ, could be one of several meanings.
  9. Her is a nightmare vision of the “Unreal City,” with its slaves of a secular Mammon flowing over London Bridge on their way to work. Warfare in commerce and war on the battlefield are but two aspects of one activity, as Virgil and his commentators knew. The average businessman, here called Stetson, is one in the same with the average warrior in the commercial rivalry between Rome end Carthage at the battle of Mylae. By the end of part I, Stetson is identified with the poet and with the reader—with all of us for we all bear the mark of Cain.
  10. Nine is the hour when the business crowd must be at work. But cf. also, Matthew 27:45-6: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying . . . ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
  11. So Dante in the Inferno sees and stops friends. Stetson is simply a typical businessman’s name.

Works Cited

Commentary and some notes are from:

  • Mack, Maynard; Dean, Leonard; Frost, William (eds.). Modern Poetry. English Masterpieces. VII (Second ed.). Prentice Hall.