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TSE  May 2002

TSE May 2002

Subject:

In a flash of lightning

From:

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Date:

Sat, 4 May 2002 20:21:33 EDT

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5/4/2002

   In a published essay that has been discussed on this list, P. K. SAHA of 
Case Western Reserve University points out a parallel between the hyacinth 
garden lines and the ending of Commedia canticles Inferno and Paradiso. 
Specifically, Saha refers to the TWL lines 38-41:

.................. 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.

As Saha said in his essay, 

"Some of the specific links between Eliot's and Dante's lines follow: "I was 
neither / Living nor dead" is the exact equivalent of "lo non mori, e non 
rimasi vivo" (Inferno, XXXIV, 25). The Italian line represents Dante's sense 
of fear and paralysis when he sees Lucifer, and this terrifying vision at the 
end of Inferno needs to be related to the luminous vision at the end of 
Paradiso: ". . . ficcar lo viso per la Luce eterna, / tanto che la veduta vi 
consunsi!" (Paradiso, XXXIII, 83-84). ["1 fixed my gaze on the eternal fight 
so deeply that my entire vision was consumed in it."  "I knew nothing, 
Looking into the heart of light" is the equivalent of Dante's vision being 
consumed in the eternal light, and the overall notion of suspended being in 
"I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed" is the counterpart of "Cosi la 
mente mia tutta sospesa, / mirava fissa, immobile ed attenta . . . " 
(Paradiso, XXXIII, 97-98) ["Thus with wholly suspended mind, 1 stared 
fixedly, motionless and intent . . . "]"
=====================================================

   I would like to expand on Saha's observations of the parallels between the 
ending of the Commedia and key TWL lines. This post will focus on these TWL 
lines in "What the Thunder Said:

-----------------------------
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   
----------------------

   The explanation I had seen for "Only a cock stood on the rooftree/
Co co rico co co rico/In a flash of lightning" was that these lines allude to 
the biblical lines in which Peter denied Christ and a cock crows (The Gospel 
of Matthew, Chapter 26, 1-75). Two things have always bothered me about this 
explanation:

1) The cock is crowing in French 
("Co co rico co co rico" is the French equivalent to "cock-a-doodle-do")

2) There is a flash of lightning. 

If the allusion is solely to biblical lines, there would be no reason to use 
French or have a lightning flash, neither of which occur in the biblical 
passage.

    In James Miller's book "T.S. Eliot's personal Waste Land", Miller 
explores the idea that TWL is, in part, a tribute to TSE's deceased French 
friend, Jean Verdenal. But even assuming that the crowing rooster is a veiled 
allusion to Verdenal, what accounts for the lightning flash at that exact 
moment?

   While I think part of the answer has sexual overtones, the idea that I 
want to explore in this post is the relation of this lightning flash to three 
"flashes of lightning" that occur in Dante's Paradiso. 

  The first "flash of lightning" occurs in Paradiso XIV, 97-108

=====================================================
  Come distinta da minori e maggi
lumi biancheggia tra ' poli del mondo
Galassia sì, che fa dubbiar ben saggi;
  sì costellati facean nel profondo
Marte quei raggi il venerabil segno
che fan giunture di quadranti in tondo.
  Qui vince la memoria mia lo 'ngegno;
ché quella croce lampeggiava Cristo,
sì ch'io non so trovare essempro degno;
  ma chi prende sua croce e segue Cristo,
ancor mi scuserà di quel ch'io lasso,
vedendo in quell'albor balenar Cristo.

As, pricked out with greater and lesser lights, between the poles of the 
Universe, the Milky Way so gleams as to cause even the wise to question, so 
did those beams, thus constellated, make in the depth of Mars the venerable 
sign which joinings of quadrant make in a circle. Here my memory outstrip my 
wit, for that Cross so flashed forth Christ that I can find for it no fit 
comparison; but he that takes up his cross and follows Christ shall yet 
forgive me for what I leave untold when he sees Christ flash in that dawn.
===================================

Interestingly, Dante speaks of  the enlightened person who "sees Christ flash 
in that dawn".  A rooster, of course, crows at dawn. This timeline is 
consistent with the opening TWL line of  "In the faint moonlight, the grass 
is singing" -- the moon is faint, as it is just before dawn when the rooster 
is about to crow.  So one Commedia "flash of lightning" is the image of 
Christ appearing as a flash of light at dawn. If this is part of the intended 
imagery, the cock is (in part) an image of Christ. 

   The next "flash of lightning" occurs in Paradiso XXX  L 38-54. In this 
crucial scene, Beatrice is leading Dante to view the souls of the elect. They 
will appear as bright light, and Dante's eyes must get used to this light 
intensity as a "candle must be prepared for its flame". The relevant lines 
are Paradiso XXX  L 38-54 (Beatrice is speaking to Dante):

=========================================
     "Noi siamo usciti fore
del maggior corpo al ciel ch'è pura luce:
  luce intellettual, piena d'amore;
amor di vero ben, pien di letizia;
letizia che trascende ogne dolzore.
  Qui vederai l'una e l'altra milizia
di paradiso, e l'una in quelli aspetti
che tu vedrai a l'ultima giustizia".
  Come sùbito lampo che discetti
li spiriti visivi, sì che priva
da l'atto l'occhio di più forti obietti,
  così mi circunfulse luce viva,
e lasciommi fasciato di tal velo
del suo fulgor, che nulla m'appariva.
  "Sempre l'amor che queta questo cielo
accoglie in sé con sì fatta salute,
per far disposto a sua fiamma il candelo".

"We have issued forth from the greatest body to the heaven 
which is pure light: 
light intellectual full of love, 
love of true good full of joy, 
joy that transcends every sweetness. 
Here you shall see the one and the other soldiery of Paradise, 
and the one in those aspects which you shall see at the last judgment." 

    As a sudden flash of lightning which scatters the visual spirits so that 
it robs the eye of the sight of the clearest objects, so round about me there 
shone a vivid light and left me so swathed in the veil of its effulgence that 
nothing was visible to me. "Ever does the love which quiets this heaven 
receive into itself with such like salutation, in order to prepare the candle 
for its flame". 
==================================================

In his commentary on Paradiso, Singleton says of these lines:

-------------------------------------------------------------------
The tercet, as it further defines the nature of the Empyrean, presents the 
pattern of a "trinity," light to love to joy. The order is significant, for 
light, intellectual light, coming first, stresses seeing (intellection), 
which pertains to intellect; love, which is of the will, follows on seeing. 
Joy, which is fulfillment of intellectual desire to see and of love resulting 
from the seeing, is that which completes the triad. 

By a very special privilege the wayfarer, a living man who has attained to 
this ultimate goal, is to be shown the human souls of the elect as they will 
be seen after the Last Judgment, when they will have their bodies (glorified 
bodies) again. Here the poet is quite on his own, for no accepted doctrine 
concerning the attainment of this pinnacle of contemplation on the part of a 
living man allows any such privilege. But now the poet allows it and crowns 
his poem with such embodied vision (by special privilege), thus climaxing the 
whole structure with the kind of vision which is the very substance of his 
poetry. Human souls that have been flames, without human countenance or 
bodily semblance throughout most of the Paradiso, are now to be seen in their 
glorified bodies.
---------------------------------------------------------

Singleton also notes:
--------------------------------------------------------
Actus 22:6, St. Paul's words concerning his own experience of the blinding 
light that came to him on the road to Damascus: "And it came to pass that, as 
I was on my way and approaching Damascus, suddenly about noon there shone 
round about me a great light from heaven."
Actus 22:11: "and as I could not see because of the dazzling light". 
[Dante's] phrasing here seems to echo deliberately Paul's words, a fact which 
is highly significant, for St. Paul was the prime example of one who was 
"caught up to Heaven".
---------------------------------------------------------

   If this "flash of lightning" is also alluded to in TWL, there is an 
implied comparison between Beatrice, who leads Dante towards God, and Jean 
Verdenal, who I believe TSE thought was (symbolically) leading Eliot to God.  
Commedia commentators have noted a strong connection between Beatrice and the 
notion of Christ himself, and I believe an analogous link exists in TWL 
between Eliot's image of Verdenal and Christ. Such a link also explains the 
opening of TWL section five ("He who was living is now dead"), a conflation 
of the image of Christ and Verdenal. As I see it, Eliot came to believe his 
love of Verdenal led TSE towards God just as Christ/Beatrice led Dante 
towards God. 

   The final "flash of lightning" occurs at the very end of Paradiso, Canto 
XXXIII,
 L 131-145:

-------------------------------------------------------
  Qual è 'l geomètra che tutto s'affige
per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova,
pensando, quel principio ond'elli indige,
  tal era io a quella vista nova:
veder voleva come si convenne
l'imago al cerchio e come vi s'indova;
  ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne:
se non che la mia mente fu percossa
da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne.
  A l'alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e 'l velle,
sì come rota ch'igualmente è mossa,
  l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle.

As is the geometer who wholly applies himself to measure the circle, and 
finds not, in pondering, the principle of which he is in need, such was I at 
that new sight. I wished to see how the image conformed to the circle and how 
it has its place therein; but my own wings were not sufficient for that, save 
that my mind was smitten by a flash wherein its wish came to it. Here power 
failed the lofty phantasy; but already my desire and my will were revolved, 
like a wheel that is evenly moved, by the Love which moves the Sun and the 
other Stars.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

As Singleton notes, 
-----------------------------------
XXXIII L 140 -145
The wayfarer's wings were themselves not powerful enough to uplift him to the 
vision of the deepest mystery, but divine grace now intervenes to raise his 
sight and comprehension to that transcendental point. His mind, his power of 
vision, is uplifted by a flash, a lightning bolt from above, and the desired 
vision and comprehension is given to him, through highest grace. Established 
theology speaks of "man on the way to God" as a viator and of "man who 
attains to the beatific vision" as a comprehensor. The wayfarer, in his long 
journey, attains to the latter condition in these final verses. In a flash 
his desire to see, to comprehend, is granted him. 
--------------------------------------

   I take this final meaning of the lightning flash, the flash of divine 
understanding, to also apply to the TWL section. In a post I sent in to the 
list in December 2001, I noted a time-shifting and overlapping of the "chapel 
perilous" scene and the final scenes in which the thunder speaks. In the 
December post I made the case that the two scenes are meant to occur at the 
same time, and the reader must overlap them in the reader's mind to see what 
is happening. Thus, the lines "In a flash of lightning. Then a damp 
gust/Bringing rain" are meant to occur at the same time as "Datta. Dayadhvam. 
Damyata./Shantih     shantih shantih". In other words, the poet has a flash 
of Divine understanding precipitated by his reconciling Verdenal's premature 
death (parallel to the premature death of Beatrice), bringing the healing 
rains in one section and the overwhelming peace ('Shantih') in the final 
section. 

   The use of Verdenal/Phlebas to allude to the Commedia would have been more 
explicit if certain lines had not been edited out of the final version of 
TWL, as shown from the facsimile edition. In the original section of "Death 
by Water", it is clear that the sailors are on a fatal voyage meant to evoke 
the final journey of Ulysses as detailed in the Commedia, Inferno XXVI.  Note 
the use of the word "Another": In Inferno XXVI, Ulysses says (139-142)

-------------------------------------
  "Tre volte il fé girar con tutte l'acque;
a la quarta levar la poppa in suso
e la prora ire in giù, com'altrui piacque,
  infin che 'l mar fu sovra noi richiuso".


-- (Describing a whirlwind)--
"Three times it whirled her round with all the waters, and the fourth time it 
lifted the stern aloft and plunged the prow below, as pleased Another, till 
the sea closed over us." 
------------------------------------------------

In the TWL facsimile edition, the following line appeared, just before the 
Phlebas lines announce the drowning of the sailors:

Death by Water facsimile edition, 
p61, L 82-83:
"And if Another knows, I know not, 
Who only knows that there is no more noise now."

   The point is that the Commedia tie-in starts with the hyacinth garden 
lines (as noted by Saha), continues with "Death by Water" (in the facsimile 
edition) and continues though the opening of "What the Thunder Said", 
reaching its climax "in a flash of lightning". Even with the Ulysses voyage 
edited out, the meaning I'm suggesting can be seen by tracing the Commedia 
references to the "flashes of lightning". 


-- Steve --

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