One can never read the same posting for the first time twice.
I suspect one can never do the same temporal trip down the
TWL's Thames twice either.
----- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">Diana Manister
To: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">[log in to unmask]
Sent: Sunday, July 29, 2007 7:14 AM
Subject: Re: Water in TWL -- Heraclitus

Barnwell, thanks for the pertinent comments on Eliot's use of water. However, I think as a symbol in TWL it does not point clearly to any interpretation. I'll have to go back to the mss version to see if some transitions were deleted that might make it more clear.

One can extrapolate many interpretations from the juxtaposition of water as a cause of fear and death, something that dissolves the body of the sailor, and the later symbolizing of water as life-bringer, but I do not see sufficient evidence in the poem for anything but speculation. Diana

From: Barnwell Black <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Water in TWL -- Heraclitus
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2007 17:30:06 EDT

      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 perrpetual 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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