"Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers."
I recently came across something that may relate to the above lines from
TWL. I realize this will not be an award-winning post, but I thought some on
the list may find this interesting.
I was reading some of the stories from James Joyce's book "Dubliners"
(which is a collection of short stories about the Irish people). For reference,
the stories are all on-line at http://www.bibliomania.com.
One of the stories, "After the race", focuses on a young, 26 year old
Irishman, named Jimmy Doyle. The following passage (about Jimmy's father) caught
"He had sent his son to England to be educated in a big Catholic college and
had afterwards sent him to Dublin University to study law. Jimmy did not study
very earnestly and took to bad courses for a while. He had money and he was
popular; and he divided his time curiously between musical and motoring
circles. Then he had been sent for a term to Cambridge to see a little life."
The phrase "a little life" is odd enough that I thought the TWL phrase may
be an allusion to "After the race" in Dubliners. As the story continues,
Jimmy is repeatedly described as "excited", as in this section:
"Rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the
possession of money. These were three good reasons for Jimmy's excitement."
In the context of TWL, the passage could be an ironic illusion. Eliot,
like the Jimmy Doyle character, left his homeland and went to England to seek "a
little life". The reference to Cambridge (England) may also have gotten TSE's
attention since TSE was educated at Harvard, in Cambridge (Massachusetts).
In this context, the phrase "dried tubers" may be an ironic reference to
the Irish Potato Famine of 1846-1850. In those years, a fungus destroyed
Ireland's potato crop and had devastating consequences.
The Irish Famine of 1846-50 took as many as one million lives from
hunger and disease, and changed the social and cultural structure of
Ireland in profound ways. . .
The combined forces of famine, disease and emigration depopulated the
island; Ireland's population dropped from 8 million before the Famine to
5 million years after. If Irish nationalism was dormant for the first
half of the nineteenth-century, the Famine convinced Irish citizens and
Irish-Americans of the urgent need for political change. The Famine also
changed centuries-old agricultural practices, hastening the end of the
division of family estates into tiny lots capable of sustaining life
only with a potato crop.
My thought are: The phrase "a little life" in TWL is a reference to the
Jimmy Doyle character in "After the race", an Irishman seeking adventure as a
young man. The narrator in TWL, despondently ties the hopeful reference of "a
little life" to the phrase "dried tubers", a reference to the recent Irish
potato famine. That is, the narrator's life is not one of excitement, not one of
"elevation" or of "notoriety" or even of "the possession of money" -- rather
the narrator's life is better compared to famine and devastation.
As always, comments are more than welcome.
-- Steve --