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Notes


Eliot's original notes have been supplemented by additional notations, which appear in green like so. I have taken several notes directly from M. H. Abrams et al., eds., The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th ed., vol. 2 (NY: Norton, 1993). I have also drawn heavily on A Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot by B. C. Southam.
The title probably originates with Malory's Morte d'Arthur. A poem strikingly similar in theme and language called Waste Land, written by Madison Cawein, was published in 1913.
Eliot's original title for the poem was He do the Policemen in Different Voices, a reference to Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, and is a comment on the skill of Sloppy in reading out Court cases from the newspapers.

Epigraph I have seen with my own eyes the Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her "What do you want?" She answered,
"I want to die."
Petronius, Satyricon
The Cumaean Sibyl was the most famous of the Sibyls, the prophetic old women of Greek mythology; she guided Aeneas through Hades in the Aeneid. She had been granted immortality by Apollo, but because she forgot to ask for perpetual youth, she shrank into withered old age and her authority declined.

Dedication The better craftsman.
(Purgatorio xxvi, 117)

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 Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies.

I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD

Line

12.I am not Russian at all; I come from Lithuania, I am a real German

18.Eliot derived most of the ideas in this passage from My Past by the Countess Marie Larisch.

20. Cf. Ezekiel 2:7.

23. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5.

30. Cf. Donne's Devotions. Evelyn Waugh took this phrase for the title of his novel, A Handful of Dust .

31. The wind blows fresh
To the Homeland
My Irish Girl
Where are you lingering?
V. Tristan und Isolde, i, verses 5-8.

42. Desolate and empty the sea
Id. iii, verse 24.

43. A mock Egyptian name (suggested to Eliot by 'Sesostris, the Sorceress of Ecbatana', the name assumed by a character in Aldous Huxley's novel Crome Yellow who dresses up as a gypsy to tell fortunes at a fair).

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.

55. On his card in the Tarot pack, the Hanged Man is shown hanging from one foot from a T-shaped cross. He symbolizes the self-sacrifice of the fertility god who is killed in order that his resurrection may bring fertility once again to land and people.

60. Cf. Baudelaire:
Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves,
Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.

63. Cf. Dante's Inferno, iii. 55-7:
si lunga tratta
di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta.
So long a train of people, that I should never have believed death had undone so many.

64. 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.
Here there was no plaint, that could be heard, except of sighs, which caused the eternal air to tremble.

68. A phenomenon which I have often noticed.

69. Some have taken 'Stetson' to be a reference to Pound, who wore a sombrero-stetson. Eliot, however, denied that it had any connection to an actual person.

74. Cf. the Dirge in Webster's White Devil.

76. Hypocrite reader! - my doppelganger - my brother!
V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.

II. A GAME OF CHESS

77. Cf. Antony and Cleopatra, II. ii. 190.
This passage is reminiscent of the description of Imogen's bedroom in Cymbeline, which also mentions Cupids.

92. Laquearia. V. Aeneid, I. 726:
dependent lychni laquearibus aureis incensi, et noctem flammis funalia vincunt.
Laquearia means a "panelled ceiling," and Eliot's note quotes the passage in the Aeneid that was his source for the word. The passage may be translated: "Blazing torches hang from the gold-panelled ceiling [laquearibus aureis], and torches conquer the night with flames." Virgil is describing the banquet given by Dido, queen of Carthage, for Aeneas, with whom she fell in love.

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.

128. Hamlet's dying words in the Folio text - either a corruption, or actor's revision, of the speech in the Quarto.

138. Cf. the game of chess in Middleton's Women beware Women.

172. Ophelia's last words in Hamlet, IV v.

III. THE FIRE SERMON

176. V. Spenser, Prothalamion.

192. Cf. The Tempest, I. ii.

196. Cf. Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.

197. 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...

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. And oh, the sound of children, singing in the cupola!
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:

Translate...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.

. . . Jove, they say, was happy
And feeling pretty good (with wine) forgetting
Anxiety and care, and killing time
Joking with Juno. "I maintain," he told her
"You females get more pleasure out of loving
Than we poor males do, ever." She denied it,
So they decided to refer the question
To wise Tiresias’ judgment: he should know
What love was like, from either point of view.
Once he had come upon two serpents mating
In the green woods, and struck them from each other,
And thereupon, from man was turned into woman,
And was a woman seven years, and saw
The serpents once again, and once more struck them
Apart, remarking: "If there is such magic
In giving you blows, that man is turned into woman,
It may be that woman is turned to man. Worth trying."
And so he was a man again; as umpire,
He took the side of Jove. And Juno
Was a bad loser, and she said that umpires
Were always blind, and made him so forever.
No god can over-rule another’s action,
But the Almighty Father, out of pity,
In compensation, gave Tiresias power
To know the future, so there was some honor
Along with punishment.

Ovid, Metamorphoses (translated by Rolphe Humphries): The Story of Tiresias, Book III, Lines 318 -343

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. Götterdammerung, III. i: The Rhine-daughters.

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.'

301.In October 1921 Eliot was in Margate, recuperating from mental exhaustion.

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.
In the sermon, the Buddha instructs his priests that all things "are on fire. . . The eye. . . is on fire; forms are on fire; eye-consciousness is on fire; impressions received by the eye are on fire; and whatever sensation, pleasant, unpleasant, or indifferent, originates in dependence on impressions received by the eye, that also is on fire. And with what are these on fire? With the fire of passion, say I, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of infatuation."

309. 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.

IV. DEATH BY WATER

This section is a version of the last seven lines of Eliot's earlier poem, Dans le Restaurant.

V. WHAT THE THUNDER SAID

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 in 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.
I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.
Ernest Shackleton, South; reprinted in Roland Huntford, Shackleton

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 heiligen 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.
Already half of Europe, already at least half of Eastern Europe, on the way to Chaos, drives drunk in sacred infatuation along the edge of the precipice, sings drunkenly, as though hymn singing, as Dmitri Karamazov [in Dostoyevski's Brothers Karamazov] sang. The offended bourgeois laughs at the songs; the saint and the seer hear them with tears.

392. The French version of 'cock a doodle doo'

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.
The Hindu fable referred to is that of gods, men, and demons each in turn asking of their father Prajapati, "Speak to us, O Lord." To each he replied with the one syllable "DA," and each group interpreted it in a different way: "Datta," to give alms; "Dayadhvam," to have compassion; "Damyata," to practice self-control. The fable concludes, "This is what the divine voice, the Thunder, repeats when he says: DA, DA, DA: 'Control yourselves; give alms; be compassionate.' Therefore one should practice these three things: self-control, alms-giving, and compassion."

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. Dante's Inferno, xxxiii. 46:
ed io sentii chiavar l'uscio di sotto
all'orribile torre.

Also 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.
The Latin phrase in the text means, "When shall I be as the swallow?" It comes from the Pervigilium Veneris (Vigil of Venus), an anonymous late Latin poem combining a hymn to Venus with a description of spring. In the last two stanzas of the Pervigilium occurs a recollection of the Tereus-Procne-Philomela myth (except that in this version the swallow is identified with Philomela); the anonymous poet's mood changes to one of sadness, combined with hope for renewal: "The maid of Tereus sings under the poplar shade, so that you would think musical trills of love came from her mouth and not a sister's complaint of a barbarous husband. . . . She sings, we are silent. When will my spring come? When shall I be as the swallow that I may cease to be silent? I have lost the Muse in silence, and Apollo regards me not." Cf. Swinburne's Itylus, which begins, "Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow,/ How can thine heart be full of spring?" and Tennyson's lyric in The Princess: "O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying south."

429. The Prince of Aquitaine to the ruined tower
V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.

431. V. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.

433. Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. 'The Peace which passeth understanding' is a feeble translation of the conduct of this word.