One interesting exception to the symbol of  water as a purifying agent or as 
an agent of passion in a positive sense in  TWL is T. S. Eliot's use of the 
words of  Ophelia at the  conclusion of "A  Game of Chess" -- "Good night, 
ladies, good night sweet  ladies, good night, good night."  Elizabeth Drew, in her 
book "T. S.  Eliot:The Design of His Poetry," says "The good  nights of the 
group modulate into the voice of the mad Ophelia, the preface to  another death 
by drowning, but a death which is self-destruction, the end of  frustrated 
love, not a baptism and regeneration into a new birth."
      I wonder if the reference to the Thames in  "The Fire Sermon" (another 
water allusion), in addition to being a comment about  the decline of Western 
culture/civilization ("The river sweats oil and tar..."),  might not also be 
an allusion to the philosophy of TSE's "hero of pessimism",  Heraclitus, the 
real Father of Quantum Mechanics -- Heraclitian flux: "a  person cannot step 
into the same river twice." As Bertrand Russell wrote in  1946, "The doctrine of 
perpetual flux, as taught by Heraclitus, is painful, and  science can do 
nothing to refute it."  -- but poetry can. :-)

In a message dated 7/27/2007 6:21:49 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
[log in to unmask] writes:


You're right, Eliot places great value upon  "death by water".
Madame Sosostris has the power to  predict it but she cannot
decipher  its spiritual value -- hence her note of caution.
Your second point. The dual aspect  of "water" in Eliot's
poetry has always fascinated me -- as  water of passion(s), 
or as a purifying/redeeming/transforming  agent.
In Part I, Isolde is lingering over the seas  of passion 
and the sailor's song sounds a note of caution.
In Part V, the seas of passion are "calm", if  one's hand is 
"expert with  sail and oar", i.e. if one has control over one's
As a purifying agent, it is part of the  washing ceremony at
Chapel Perilous.  As a transmuter, "Those  are pearls that were 
his eyes. Look!" And as a redeemer in Part IV.
In TWL, the yearning for water is both literal  and figurative --
(a) the need to quench one's physical  thirst, as well as to dispel the
dryness of  the land,  and (b)  the need for emotional and  spiritual 
It would be interesting to watch this duality  in Eliot's use of
the "wind" too -- but for that  one will have to look up some other
poems too in  addition to TWL. 
I must thank you, Diana, for raising this  issue.


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