Marcia, thanks for clearing that up, and for the excerpts. Webster and the Jacobeans are mordant overall: a severed hand, an exhumed corpse, they loved all that! I wonder if Poe liked them! They are his direct ancestors. Diana

From: Marcia Karp <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: The Yoruba and TSE
Date: Mon, 4 Jun 2007 12:25:32 -0400

Dear Diana,
    As Eliot notes (and Jeffrey Spear repeats, counting on his reader to know the note and so the particular lines), lines 74-75 are a reworking of Webster, but the lines that Wole Soyinka brings into question are 71-72.  Spear does not say they are from Webster, since they aren't.  As to whether Eliot knew the Yoruba proverb, I await the results of research that is no doubt well underway in response to the Guardian article.

Here is Spear's only mention of Webster for those who can't access his article.  This is his opening paragraph (there are some errors in copying from Acrobat, for which I apologize; I tried to get as many as I easily could):

CONVENTIONAL COMMENTARY on the "Stetson!" passage at the end of the first section of The Waste Land builds from the hints provided in Eliot's notes to the poem. Beginning with the allusion to Cornelia's Dirge in Webster's The White Devil and some comment on Eliot's substitution of a friendly dog for Webster's wolf that is foe to men, the exposition moves by way of Jesse Weston to remarks upon fertility rituals and the cyclical progress of the vegetation gods from death through resurrection. Many interpretations continue to other associations between dogs and the cycle of life: to the Dog Star and the rising of the Nile, and even to Anubis, the Egyptian mortuary god (though, to be precise about it, he is a jackal).1 My purpose is not to object to a primary line of enquiry that is sanctioned, at least at its outset, by Eliot's own notes, but to suggest that in addition to the context provided by the study of comparative religion, the passage fits in a complementary context that is specifically Christian.

1 Studies in The Waste Land, ed. Bradley Gunter (Columbus, Ohio, 1971) contains several well-known readings of the passage.

[" 'The Burial of the Dead': Eliot's Corpse in the Garden in a Christian Context," American Literature, Vol. 50, No. 2. (May, 1978), 282.]

Here's the passage:

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: 'Stetson!
'You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,         *
'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
'O keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,             *
'Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
'You! Hypocrite lecteur! - mon semblable, - mon frère!'

Here is Webster.  Cornelia speaks near the end of the play:

Call for the Robin-Red-brest and the wren,
Since ore shadie groues they houer,
                                         Cornelia doth this in seuerall formes of distraction.

And with leaues and flowres doe couer
The friendlesse bodies of vnburied men.
Call vnto his funerall Dole
The Ante, the field-mouse, and the mole
To reare him hillockes, that shall keepe him warme,
And (when gay tombes are rob'd) sustaine no harme,
But keepe the wolfe far thence: that's foe to men,
For with his nailes hee'l dig them vp agen.

They would not bury him 'cause hee died in a quarrell
But I haue an answere for them.
Let holie Church receiue him duly
Since hee payd the Church tithes truly.

His wealth is sum'd, and this is all his store:
This poore men get; and great men get no more.
Now the wares are gone, wee may shut vp shop.
Blesse you all good people,
                                         Exeunt Cornelia and Ladies.

What is so chilling in Eliot's use of the lines is that there is menace, but no betrayal, in a wolf's, a foe's, digging up buried men, but that a dog, a friend, would is horrifying.


Diana Manister wrote:
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Eliot's notes to the poem reveal that the corpse is a reference to one dug up by a wolf in John Webster's play The White Devil. Further discussion can be found in, among other sources,

Gilbert, Sandra M.
"Rats' Alley": The Great War, Modernism, and the (Anti)Pastoral Elegy
New Literary History - Volume 30, Number 1, Winter 1999, pp. 179-201

"The Burial of the Dead: Eliot's Corpse in the Garden in a Christian Context" by Jeffrey L. Spear in JStor




From:  Tom Gray <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:  "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To:  [log in to unmask]
Subject:  The Yoruba and TSE
Date:  Sat, 2 Jun 2007 07:32:24 -0700
From today's issue of the Guardian:

From a description of a talk by Wole Soyinka - Nobel

'He reserved a sideswipe for TS Eliot, for stealing a
Yoruba saying for The Waste Land. According to
Soyinka, the original line was: "That corpse that you
buried in your garden: its toes have begun to poke

Full article at:,,2093138,00.html

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