The allusions and parallels are interesting; the question they raise for me is 
what we can really infer from them.  The conclusion Saha reaches begs the 
question, because they enhance our understanding by having universal 
significance only if they have universal significance and only if that is the 
point of TWL.  That is, Saha is assuming in advance what he claims to be 

Eliot's allusions come from everywhere and do not offer any single idea, so 
their presence does not necessarily direct readers to a specific 
significance.  If the poem were, let us assume for argument, "rhythmical 
grumbling" or an expression of personal distress, then this set of lines 
would have some other effect or function, would it not?  It is the conclusion 
that is in question.

Date sent:      	Thu, 5 Jul 2001 23:19:38 EDT
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Subject:        	Dante in the hyacinth garden


A friend sent me this short article on the TWL hyacinth garden scene that
made a connection to Dante that I hadn't seen before. Perhaps it will be
of interest to the list.

-- Steve --  

.................. I could not                              38
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither     39
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,            40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.   41

In The Waste Land, the lines quoted above follow the famous "hyacinth
girl" lines, and the entire passage, framed as it is by the verses from
Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, is clearly suggestive of the paralysis of
love. After Eliot's death in 1965, many comments appeared in print,
suggesting a homosexual interpretation of the hyacinth girl passage,
specifically claiming that the hyacinth girl lines are a veiled reference
to Eliot's affection for a young Frenchman, Jean Verdenal, who was killed
in a naval battle in 1915. (In 1917 Eliot dedicated his first book of
poems to the memory of Verdenal.) Other critics have tried to refute this
interpretation, and it seems to me that in the debate an important point
has (to the best of my knowledge) been overlooked so far.

Lines 38-41 are a conflation of lines or images from the last cantos of
Dante's Inferno and Paradiso. In his essay on Dante, too, Eliot focused on
these two cantos simultaneously by suggesting that the ending of Paradiso
"repairs any failure" of the ending of Inferno. He also claimed that the
last canto of Paradiso is "the highest point that poetry has ever
reached." Some of the specific links between Eliot's and Dante's lines
follow: "I was neither / Living nor dead" is the exact equivalent of "lo
non mori, e non rimasi vivo" (Inferno, XXXIV, 25). The Italian line
represents Dante's sense of fear and paralysis when he sees Lucifer, and
this terrifying vision at the end of Inferno needs to be related to the
luminous vision at the end of Paradiso: ". . . ficcar lo viso per la Luce
eterna, / tanto che la veduta vi consunsi!" (Paradiso, XXXIII, 83-84). ["I
fixed my gaze on the eternal fight so deeply that my entire vision was
consumed in it."]  "I knew nothing, Looking into the heart of light" is
the equivalent of Dante's vision being consumed in the eternal light, and
the overall notion of suspended being in "I could not / Speak, and my eyes
failed" is the counterpart of "Cosi la mente mia tutta sospesa, / mirava
fissa, immobile ed attenta . . . " (Paradiso, XXXIII, 97-98) ["Thus with
wholly suspended mind, 1 stared fixedly, motionless and intent . . . "]
The notion of subdued speech and vision is also present in the same canto
(11. 56 and 61-62).

Paradiso ends with the famous last line: "l'Amor che move il sole e
l'altre stelle" ["the love that moves the sun and the other stars"]. In
the overall scheme of The Divine Comedy, 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, jointly indicate the polarities of love and its transcendent

By conflating Dante's concluding visions in the opening section of his own
poem, Eliot may be suggesting that the hallmark of the modem waste land 
indeed the paralysis of love. Whether the love is homosexual or
heterosexual is not the crucial issue. The crucial point is that the
images of the waste land that appear after lines 38-41 are a consequence
of the breakdown of love in all its different meanings.

If lines 38-41 are viewed exclusively as a statement by a modem voice,
they may remain bogged down in controversy involving Eliot's personal
fife. Seen as an allusive conflation of lines from The Divine Comedy, they
take on a universal significance that enhances our understanding of The
Waste Land.

P. K. SAHA, Case Western Reserve University