The Waste Land/3

From Gerald R. Lucas
 * 1 2 3 4 5 

III. The Fire Sermon[1]

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. 175
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.[2]
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.[3]
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors; 180
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman[4] I sat down and wept. . .[5]
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[6] 185
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. 190
Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck
And on the king my father’s death before him.[7]
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. 195
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring[8]
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter[9]
And on her daughter 200
They wash their feet in soda water
Et, O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la couple![10]
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d. 205
Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with [abbr title="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. [E]"]a pocket full of currants 210
C. i. f. London: documents at sight[/abbr],
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a week-end at the Metropole.
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back 215
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I [abbr title="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: [E] He then goes on to quote a passage from Ovid wherein Tiresias spent part of his life as a woman and was able, therefore, to experience sex both as a man and a woman."]Tiresias[/abbr], though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives 220
Homeward, and <abbr title="This may not appear as exact as Sappho’s lines, but I had in mind the ’longshore’ or ’dory’ fisherman, who returns at nightfall. [E]"]brings the sailor home from sea[/abbr],
The typist home at tea-time, 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, 225
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. 230
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 [abbr title="A manufacturing town in Yorkshire that prospered because of World War 1.[/abbr]Bradford millionaire[/abbr].
The time is now propitious, as he guesses, 235
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; 240
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 [abbr title="Tiresias appears in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and made prophecies around Thebes before dying."]Thebes[/abbr] below the wall 245
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronizing kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit. . .
She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover; 250
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely [abbr title="V. Goldsmith, the song in The Vicar of Wakefield. [E]"]woman stoops to folly[/abbr] and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand, 255
And puts a record on the gramophone.
“[abbr title="V. The Tempest, as above. (Eliot’s note referring to l. 191)"]This music crept by me upon the waters[/abbr]”
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street, 260
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of [attr title="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.). [E]"]Magnus Martyr[/abbr] hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold. 265
[abbr title="The Song of the (three) Thames-daughters begins here. From line 292 to 306 inclusive they speak in turn. V. Götterdammerung, III. i: The Rhine-daughters. [E]"]The river sweats[/abbr]
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails 270
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach 275
Past the [abbr title="East of London, the Isle of Dogs is a peninsula on the north bank of the Thames across from Greenwich."]Isle of Dogs[/abbr].
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala
[abbr title="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. [E]"]Elizabeth and Leicester[/abbr]
Beating oars 280
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores 285
South-west wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
Weialala leia 290
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." 295
“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. 300
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing." 305
la la
To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest 310


  1. In his fire sermon, the Buddha denounces the lusts and passions for earthly experience. Follow the link next to read the whole sermon. In this section, Eliot shows these passions further deteriorating into sterility.
  2. V. Spenser, Prothalamion. [E]
  3. 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 . . .”
  4. Lake Geneva (where Eliot wrote much of The Waste Land). A leman is a mistress or lover.
  5. In Psalm 137:1, the exiled Hebrews sit by the rivers of Babylon and weep for their lost homeland.
  6. An echo of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
  7. Cf. The Tempest, I.ii. [E]
  8. 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...” [E]
  9. I do not know the origin of the ballad from which these lines are taken: it was reported to me from Sydney, Australia. [E]
  10. And oh, the sound of children, singing in the cupola! - V. Verlaine, Parsifal [E].
  11. Cf. Ovid Metamorphosis (Book VI, 519–562) where Tereus rapes Philomela and then cuts out her tongue for defying him.


Works Cited

Commentary and some notes are from:

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