Dear CR: Perhaps Eliot sympathized with the dismantling of the old European aristocracy after the war. ("Down we went," Marie says.) He was a Royalist, after all. But displaced aristos who spoke about the good old days as if they were present reality were delivering illusions. Whatever his sympathies were, TWL illustrates throughout the ambiguous meanings of human speech. That is more the point I think than trying to discover any fixed meaning for the 'spoken' words in the poem.


From:  Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:  "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To:  [log in to unmask]
Subject:  Re: The Context of Marie ( Was Re: a Jeremiah sighting?)
Date:  Thu, 12 Jul 2007 12:06:05 -0700

TWL : corruption of a tradition
Nevertheless, class differences were very important to Eliot. These were
part of his allegiance to a tradition founded on the supremacy of a benign
king (and a noble aristocracy) where, in a mysterious way, as in the myth
of the Fisher King, the all-round well-being of the land was said to derive
from him, the fountainhead of life. This notion is at the basis of TWL.
To begin with, there is Marie, the duchess, an instance of a profligate
aristocracy. The opening lines seem to describe her situation.
Tristan and Isolde belong here too -- in terms of their class.
And there's "the man with three staves", a figure on a Tarot card
-- later in the poem he incarnates himself as a king. (Eliot's Notes)
There is, then, the haunting spectrum of two decayed
the State and the Church. The spectral crowd of an "Unreal City"
Flowed up the hill and down //King William Street//,
To where //Saint Mary Woolnoth// kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
                                    (emphasis mine)
These are not mere locales. They are profoundly emblematic.
The "dead" sound betokens the funeral of a king and his state.
The opening of 'A Game of Chess' alludes to queen Cleopatra
-- the malady that afflicted her percolates to her sex at all levels
of society -- just as Terius's to his sex.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced
The tragedy of the
lady with the nerves, and of Lil, is deliberately
concluded on a tragic note of Ophelia, an aristocrat.
The Fire Sermon was preached by Gautama the Buddha, a prince.
"The nymphs are departed" alludes to Spenser's 'Prothalamion', where
an idyllic Thames is strewn with flowers by the nymphs to celebrate
the wedding of the daughters of the Earl of Worcester in 1596.
The lines
Musing upon the king my brother's
And on the king my father's death before him
obviously account for the wasteland conditions surrounding this imperial
character, be he Prince Ferdinand, Fisher King, or Oedipus Rex, "fishing
in the dull canal".
And then, the line "Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole !"
(from 'Parsifal' by Paul Verlaine) celebrates the occasion of the king's
healing by Parsifal.
"So rudely forc'd. / Tereu" : The poem at
this point doesn't fail to
remind the reader of the sinful deed of king Tereus.
And, of course, the blind Tiresius is a standing reminder of King
Oedipus's wasteland.
'This music crept by me upon the waters' -- these are the words of
prince Ferdinand even as he sits bemoaning the supposed death
of the king, his father.
"Elizabeth and Leicester" -- in his Notes, Eliot refers the reader to
the flirtation of Queen
Elizabeth and Lord Robert Dudley, the Earl
of Leicester.
Lines 280-5 recall a description of Cleopatra's barge.
According to Eliot's Notes, the lines
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond...
allude to the tragedy of La Pia, the Lady of Siena, murdered at
Maremma and pushed out of a caste window: 'Remember me, who am
La Pia: Siena made me, Maremma unmade me.' (Dante, Purgatorio v, 133)
The section 'Death by Water', among others is an allusion to
king Alonso's supposed shipwreck in The Tempest, as well as
to Ophelia's death by drowning.
Remarkably again, in 'What the Thunder Said', the devastation of
the land and its people is purposely bracketed with "Falling towers" :    
What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation   
Who are those hooded hordes swarming   
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth   
Ringed by the flat horizon only   
What is the city over the mountains   
Cracks and reforms and bursts in violet air   
Falling towers   
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria   
Vienna London   
The tragedy of TWL is a tragedy, in the first place, primarily because 
"upside down in air were towers".
And throughout, this fall of a king and his kingdom is associated with
the loss of faith. The "cisterns" are empty and the "wells" are exhausted
because "There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home."  And one could
trace this moral and spiritual wasteland to the loss of religious values:
"He who was living is now dead", the "He" here extending to embrace God.
The injunction of the thunder, "Datta", is "to give" oneself
another, or to others, or to God" ('East Coker')
"Dayadhvam", to sympathize, to be compassionate, is demonstrated
in terms of the terrifying consequences of imprisoning oneself within
one's own ego epitomized in the figures of nobility -- an allusion to
Ugolino della Gherardesca, a thirteenth century Italian noble with his
two sons and two grandsons, locked up in a horrible tower where they
starved to death in Dante's
Inferno, and "a broken Coriolanus".
The concluding stanza of TWL opens on a hopeful note with a king
setting out to "at least set my lands in order", seeking the fertility
of his lands, "Fishing", "with the arid plain behind".
The line Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli afina evokes the religious
injunction "Damyata", "to control". The Provenal poet, Arnaut Daniel
leaps into the refining fires of Purgatory for his sin of lust with
these words to Dante: "And so I pray you, by that Virtue which
leads you to the topmost of the stair -- be mindful in due time of
my pain."
And, as a part of the summing up, there is
"Le Prince d'Aquitaine la tour abolie"
-- an allusion to the disinheritance of the tradition of courtly love,
its idealization and sublimation of physical passion.
Hah!  Too long a haul !  But that's the poem's burden :)
And all this in support of what Diana said about "class" :)

Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:  
To me, Eliot's poetry, even when drawing upon experiences of people
from different social classes, focusses on the human aspect which is
universal. In Little Gidding, for example, the experience of even a king
is fundamentally human -- like King Lear's in Shakespeare at the sight
of a naked beggar: "Is man no more than this?" or something to that
You can put Marie's words into the mouth of a middle class woman
(at Marie's age, though) much to the same
effect. Of course, in that
case this woman, in her childhood, would not stay at the arch-duke's,
but at some friend's or relative's lodge.

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