>Somewhere in this long thread I believe you asked
>something like "Why fear death by water?"
and Rick wrote:
>Diana and CR were discussing the redemptive
>quality of Phlebas' drowning. I'm not going to go that
>far myself yet, but it doesn't appear to be a death
>to be feared. Nor did the drowning of the fishermen
>in the draft of the poem. Nor the allusions to
>The Tempest scattered within the poem
Rick, I have a reading of this line which is non-conventional and I'll try
to be brief. My reading actually builds on a post you wrote a few weeks ago
about Mr. Eugenides, especially the lines in the facsimile edition about the
"flying feet". Let me explain. Bear with me for a few paragraphs.
I think there are two ways to read the line "Fear death by water". One way
is "Fear death directly caused by water", like drowning. But another reading
is "Fear death _near_ water", like telling John Kennedy, "fear death by the
Dallas Book Depository".
Note that the 'fear' line is close to the introduction of the one-eyed
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hannged Man. Fear death by water.
Also note that the one-eyed merchant takes on great importance, being one of
only a handful of characters the narrator will later encounter who Sosostris
takes the time to single out. After all, Sosostris does NOT mention Stetson,
or Albert and Lil, etc, but does single out Eugenides. Why is he so
important to the narrator?
At the risk of making a long story too short to be taken seriously, here's
what I think Eliot is doing:
1) Mr. Eugenides asks the narrator for a "weekend at the Metropole",
understood to be a homosexual proposition.
2) Sosostris foretells that the one-eyed merchant (Eugenides) has "something
he carries on his back,/ Which I am forbidden to see", namely, his hidden
3) The Eugenides passage contain two key references to _Cannon Street_ that
sandwiches the typist/rapist section between these references (i.e., the
Cannon Street references create a frame):
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, . . .can see
The typist home at teatime
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
'Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.'
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.
'This music crept by me upon the waters'
And along the Strand, and up the ghastly hill of Cannon Street,
Fading at last, behind my flying feet
Note the line 'This music _crept by me_ upon the _waters_'. It reminds me of
the phrasing of "Fear death _by_ water".
Putting it all together, I think what is being poetically referred to here
is an attack by Eugenides upon the narrator at the Cannon Street hotel
(which is why the hill is now 'ghastly' and the narrator is running away
from the ghastly scene with 'flying feet'). The music that the typist puts
on the gramophone poetically transforms into the Tempest music the narrator
imagines near the waters of the Strand and Cannon Street, all part of the
London financial district near the Thames River (where Eliot worked at a
bank). The theme of 'death' then is a poetic combination of the reference to
death in The Vicar of Wakefield ("When lovely woman stoops to folly / . . .
The only art her guilt to cover . . . is to die"), the death of the King
alluded to by the Tempest line, and, poetically, the 'death' the narrator
feels at being the victim of a sexual assault. It is these 'deaths',
especially the spiritual death of an assault victim, not physical death,
that Sosostris, (a fake fortune teller) unknowingly (but accurately) warns
the narrator about.
Sorry for the short-hand post of a long story, but this post is already too
long as it is.
And, no, I don't think that TWL is just the narrator's (or Eliot's)
biography. It's much more. But to get to the other levels, the reader should
first be aware of the nature of what's being depicted. Anyway, that's what I
-- Tom --
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