'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 not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
The word "yet" in the hyacinth passage has always bothered me. "Yet" is a
word of transition and contrast; so in what way do the final hyacinth lines
("Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden") stand in transition
and contrast to the opening two lines?
I've been thinking again about the analysis of the hyacinth passage
provided years ago by P. K. Saha. As you may recall, Saha pointed out that
"I was neither / Living nor dead" is the exact equivalent of lines in Canto
34 of Inferno:
"lo non mori, / e non rimasi vivo"
The Italian line represents Dante's sense of fear and paralysis when he sees
Saha also pointed out that "Looking into the heart of light" is the
equivalent of Dante's vision at the end of Paradiso of being consumed in the
["I fixed my gaze on the eternal light so deeply that my entire vision was
consumed in it."]
". . . ficcar lo viso per la Luceeterna, / tanto che la veduta vi consunsi!"
(Paradiso, XXXIII, 83-84).
Saha's point is that the structure of the lines in the hyacinth garden
section parallel the overall scheme of the Commedia itself, namely, a
contrast of the vision at the end of Inferno, representing the ultimate
failure of love as personified by Lucifer, and the vision at the end of
Paradiso, focusing on the redemptive power of love.
I (and others) have also conjectured that The Waste Land is (in part) an
elegy to Jean Verdenal, a Frechman who died at Gallipoli in 1915. Some
believe that Verdenal had a romantic relationship with Eliot that was
depicted, in some transformed way, in the hyacinth scene.
If we accept Saha's analysis, the hyacinth passage in "The Burial of the
Dead" is about a lost love the combines a vision of God and Lucifer, combines
a vision of overwhelming love and overwhelming terror.
It seems to me that the "yet" demarcates the "awful daring of a moment's
surrender", marks the exact instant when the relationship transitioned from
"talk" to "action", from non-physical to physical. That's the monumental
significance of that deceptively simply word, "yet".
Because of Eliot's guilt over his homosexuality, once the relationship
crossed the line and was consummated, an "awful" moment occurred. "Awful"
meaning "full of awe / awe-inspiring"; "awful" meaning "dreadful". The moment
of consummation represented, to Eliot, some impossible combination of meeting
God and confronting Lucifer simultaneously.
-- Steve --