Debra San wrote:
> I have a question about lines 191-2 of The Waste Land. I know that
> the part about the king my father's death is adapted from what
> Ferdinand says in The Tempest, but I don't know what to make of 'the
> king my brother's wreck'. Any thoughts?
This part of TWL is a stumper for me also, Debra. I have a gut
feeling that it has something to do with Jean Verdenal but I've never
really come up with (or read about) a connection that appeals to me.
None-the-less, I'll pass on a few things about it.
As you noted, one allusion here is to The Tempest's "Weeping again the
king my father's wreck" but this section of the poem can also be seen
as having a comparison to the Grail legend. I'll append a page from
my website below to explain the similarities.
Cleanth Brooks has written that the father and brother fit Wolfram von
Eschenbach's "Parzial": 'Trevrezent, the hermit, is the brother of the
Fisher King, Anfortas. He tells Parzival. "His name all men know as
Anfortas, and I weep for him evermore." Their father, Frimutel, is of
course dead."' If Eliot is using this then it appears that he has
merged the two brothers into one.
For a biographical angle: in the summer of 1921, when Part III to TWL
was being composed, TSE, Vivian and TSE's brother, Henry, shared Lucy
Thayer's flat for a number of weeks (about six) while she was away and
TSE's mother and sister stayed in the Eliots' flat. Vivian wrote about
Thayer's flat that they were "encamped in attic with a glass roof."
So, at this time, Henry the father was dead and TSE was with his
brother Henry in a humble (little, low) garret. Valerie Eliot in
"Letters of TSE" has noted that Henry, like his father, hard of
hearing, was the inspiration for Eliot's "infinitely suffering thing"
Exploring The Waste Land
A commentary page linked from The Waste Land, Part III, line 189
For gashouse think Grail Castle as Cleanth Brooks did when he compared
189) While I was fishing in the dull canal
190) On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
with these elements of the Grail myth: the Fisher King, the Grail
Castle and the river passing by:
The castle of the Fisher King was always located on the banks of a
river or on the sea shore. The title 'Fisher King', Miss Weston
shows, originates from the use of the fish as a fertility or life
symbol. This meaning, however, was often forgotten, and so the
title in many of the later Grail romanaces is accounted for by
describing the king as fishing. Eliot uses the reference to fishing
for reverse effect. The reference to fishing is part of a realistic
detail of the scene--'while I was fishing in the dull canal'. But
to the reader who knows the Weston references, the reference is to
that of the Fisher King of the Grail legends. The protagonist is
the maimed and impotent king of the legends.
Brooks mentions Jesse Weston's ideas on the Grail castle and the
Fisher King. Below are some excerpts from her From Ritual to Romance.
On the Grail castle:
We may also note the fact that the Grail castle is always situated
in the close vicinity of water, either on or near the sea, or on
the banks of an important river. In two cases the final home of the
Grail is in a monastery situated upon an island. The presence of
water, either sea, or river, is an important feature in the Adonis
cult, the effigy of the dead god being, not buried in the earth,
but thrown into the water.
On the Fisher King:
Robert de Borron is the only writer who gives a clear, and
tolerably reasonable, account of why the guardian of the Grail
bears the title of Fisher King; in other cases, such as the poems
of Chrétien and Wolfram, the name is connected with his partiality
for fishing, an obviously post hoc addition.
The story in question is found in Borron's Joseph of Arimathea.
Here we are told how, during the wanderings of that holy man and
his companions in the wilderness, certain of the company fell into
sin. By the command of God, Brons, Joseph's brother-in-law, caught
a Fish, which, with the Grail, provided a mystic meal of which the
unworthy cannot partake; thus the sinners were separated from the
righteous. Henceforward Brons was known as 'The Rich Fisher.' It is
noteworthy, however, that in the Perceval romance, ascribed to
Borron, the title is as a rule, Roi Pescheur, not Riche Pescheur.