Gunnar Jauch wrote:
> somewhere I have read that the line
> "Simple and faithless as a smile or the shake of a hand"
> is a literal translation of an excerpt of French poem (I forget its author
> -- Verlaine? I'll have to look it up.). It is one more example of TSE's
> collage technique, and a sign of his erudition.
Part of Eliot's line is a literal translation but then he puts in a
twist (could it be any other way?)
The original line is by Jules Laforgue and is in a poem of his
titled (I believe) "La vie qu'elles me font mener." It can be read in
French at http://www.chez.com/laforgue/fleur37.htm
Laforgue's line is:
Simple et sans foi comme un bonjour
(Simple and without faith like a bonjour [greeting])
compared with Eliot's:
Simple and faithless as a smile or the shake of a hand
Donoghue (in "Words Alone") brings up some of the lines from the
Aeneid that follow the epigraph but I think he misses the opportunity
to expound on the sheer genius of Eliot's transposition of the line.
As Steve mentioned, the epigram has Aeneas addressing his mother,
Venus, disguised as a huntress. He cannot see that she is Venus but
can tell that she is not really mortal. Venus speaks for awhile
telling Aeneas about the history of Dido's founding of Carthage. Then
And as she turned, her shoulders
Shone with a radiant light; her hair shed fragrance,
Her robes slipped to her feet, and the true goddess
Walked in divinity. He knew his mother,
And his voice pursued her flight: "Cruel again!
Why mock your son so often with false phantoms?
Why may not hand be joined to hand, and words
Exchanged in truthfulness?"
Thus Eliot alludes to a possible problem in the relationship, the old
"failure to communicate." But the ironic twist is that the taking
hand in hand and looking face to face happens at an imagined ending
to the relationship.