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 traditionNevertheless, class differences were very important to Eliot. These werepart of his allegiance to a tradition founded on the supremacy of a benignking (and a noble aristocracy) where, in a mysterious way, as in the mythof the Fisher King, the all-round well-being of the land was said to derivefrom 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 profligatearistocracy. 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 decayedinstitutions,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 hoursWith 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 levelsof society -- just as Terius's to his sex.Above the antique mantel was displayedAs though a window gave upon the sylvan sceneThe change of Philomel, by the barbarous kingSo rudely forcedThe tragedy of thelady with the nerves, and of Lil, is deliberatelyconcluded 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', wherean idyllic Thames is strewn with flowers by the nymphs to celebratethe wedding of the daughters of the Earl of Worcester in 1596.The linesMusing upon the king my brother'swreckAnd on the king my father's death before himobviously account for the wasteland conditions surrounding this imperialcharacter, be he Prince Ferdinand, Fisher King, or Oedipus Rex, "fishingin 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'shealing by Parsifal."So rudely forc'd. / Tereu" : The poem atthis point doesn't fail toremind the reader of the sinful deed of king Tereus.And, of course, the blind Tiresius is a standing reminder of KingOedipus's wasteland.'This music crept by me upon the waters' -- these are the words ofprince Ferdinand even as he sits bemoaning the supposed deathof the king, his father."Elizabeth and Leicester" -- in his Notes, Eliot refers the reader tothe flirtation of QueenElizabeth and Lord Robert Dudley, the Earlof Leicester.Lines 280-5 recall a description of Cleopatra's barge.According to Eliot's Notes, the linesHighbury bore me. Richmond and KewUndid me. By Richmond...allude to the tragedy of La Pia, the Lady of Siena, murdered atMaremma and pushed out of a caste window: 'Remember me, who amLa Pia: Siena made me, Maremma unmade me.' (Dante, Purgatorio v, 133)The section 'Death by Water', among others is an allusion toking Alonso's supposed shipwreck in The Tempest, as well asto Ophelia's death by drowning.Remarkably again, in 'What the Thunder Said', the devastation ofthe 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 UnrealThe 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 withthe loss of faith. The "cisterns" are empty and the "wells" are exhaustedbecause "There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home." And one couldtrace 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"toanother, or to others, or to God" ('East Coker')"Dayadhvam", to sympathize, to be compassionate, is demonstratedin terms of the terrifying consequences of imprisoning oneself withinone's own ego epitomized in the figures of nobility -- an allusion toUgolino della Gherardesca, a thirteenth century Italian noble with histwo sons and two grandsons, locked up in a horrible tower where theystarved to death in Dante'sInferno, and "a broken Coriolanus".The concluding stanza of TWL opens on a hopeful note with a kingsetting out to "at least set my lands in order", seeking the fertilityof his lands, "Fishing", "with the arid plain behind".The line Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli afina evokes the religiousinjunction "Damyata", "to control". The Provençal poet, Arnaut Danielleaps into the refining fires of Purgatory for his sin of lust withthese words to Dante: "And so I pray you, by that Virtue whichleads you to the topmost of the stair -- be mindful in due time ofmy pain."And, as a part of the summing up, there is"Le Prince d'Aquitaine à 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" :)CR
Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:To me, Eliot's poetry, even when drawing upon experiences of peoplefrom different social classes, focusses on the human aspect which isuniversal. In Little Gidding, for example, the experience of even a kingis fundamentally human -- like King Lear's in Shakespeare at the sightof a naked beggar: "Is man no more than this?" or something to thateffect.You can put Marie's words into the mouth of a middle class woman(at Marie's age, though) much to the sameeffect. Of course, in thatcase 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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