In the Letters of T. S. Eliot, Vol 3, (p 752) Eliot replied to
Claude Collier Abbot who had asked TSE about 'The Waste Land.' TSE wrote:


13 October 1927      The Monthly

Dear Sir,

  I am sorry that I was unable to answer
immediately your letter of the 15th September, and perhaps I am now too late to
be of any use for your purpose. I am pleased that you like The Waste Land and
wish that I could tell you more about it. It is not an evasion, but merely the
truth, to say that I think in these cases that an explanation by the author is
of no more value than one by anybody else. You see, the only legitimate meaning
of a poem is the meaning which it has for any reader, not a meaning which it
has primarily for the author. The author means all sorts of things which
concern nobody else but himself, in that he may be making use of his private
experiences. But these private experiences are merely crude material, and as
such of no interest whatever to the public. About the best thing that has been
written about this poem is an introductory essay by Professor E. R. Curtius in
the Neue Schweizer Rundschau, but I do not know whether you know German.

Yours faithfully, 

T. S. Eliot


During this past summer Ken Armstrong helped me locate a copy of this essay by
Professor Curtius. I finally got a new scanner to replace my broken one, so I
decided to try it out by scanning in the 1927 Curtius essay, which follows


-- Tom --


T. S. Eliot


Essay by Professor E.R. Curtius

Translated from the original German by Michael Kowal (p355-371)

Princeton University Press

(Note: All footnotes appear at the end of the main text)





   Let us begin with the positive facts.
A small volume is lying before me, Poems, by T. S. Eliot.(1) The dust jacket
contains a note on the author: "Thomas Stearns Eliot was born at St.
Louis, Mo. in 1888. He received his A.B. at Harvard in 1909 and his A.M. in
1910. He studied subsequently at the Sorbonne, at the Harvard Graduate School,
and at Merton College, Oxford. He has lived in London where he became a master
at Highgate School, and lecturer under both the Oxford and the London
University Extension Systems. He has contributed to several English papers,
among them, the 'Athenaeum.' From 1917 to 1919 he was Assistant Editor of the
'Egoist.' He published Prufrock in 1917 and Poems in 1919—this volume assembles
the contents of the two, together with a number of other poems, and is the
first volume to be published in America, where heretofore it has been exceedingly
difficult to obtain his poems."

 Groping a bit further bibliographically,
we come upon The Criterion, a quarterly. The editor is T. S. Eliot. The first
number appeared in October 1922, published by R. Cobden-Sanderson in London. It
contained contributions by George Saintsbury, Dostoevski, T. Sturge Moore, May
Sinclair, Hermann Hesse, Valery Larbaud—and a poem by the editor entitled The
Waste Land. The work was published separately, with additional notes, in
1923.(2) Since 1926 The Criterion has been continued by Eliot as The New
Criterion.(3) It is in a class by itself among the literary periodicals of the
globe. Other publications of Eliot's that I am familiar with are: 1. The Sacred
Wood, Essays on Poetry and Criticism,(4), 2. Homage to John Dryden, Three
Essays on Poetry of the Seventeenth Century,(5) 3. Poems 1909-1925(6), various
contributions to the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, Commerce, etc.

  In France Ramon Fernandez has written
on Eliot (1925, in the Nouvelle Revue Francaise),(7) in England his influence
on recent literature has been strong, according to the testimony of Edwin Muir
(in Transition, Essays on Contemporary Literature).(8) But despite my literary
sympathy for Fernandez and Muir, I cannot think that they have viewed and
appreciated Eliot correctly.

 The Waste Land is Eliot's most important
work up to now. I have tried to translate it.(9) In my translation I was
particularly concerned to reproduce the rhythms and the changes in the rhythms.
Coleridge once said that, to please him, a poem had to have either
"sense" or "music." These are indeed the two approaches to
the arcanum of poetry. They issue in the one adyton. But the point of departure
is different. And yet both are legitimate. A line of verse that causes us to
vibrate musically, that excites us with its rhythm and haunts us with its
melody—must be a good line, even if its meaning is still hidden from us. Think
of Hofmannsthal:

   Den Erben lass verschwenden 

   An Adler Lamm und Pfau

   Das Salbol aus den Handen 

   Der toten alten Frau.

[Let the heir squander on eagle, lamb, and peacock the anointing oil from the
hands of the dead old woman.]

A long time may pass before the meaning of The Waste Land has become clear to
us. I do not pretend to have solved all its riddles. But even on the first
reading, years ago, it captivated me with sudden dazzling flashes of mystery
and music, with a resonant happiness. This is the path I followed; this is the
path on which I should like to guide a few readers.

 Criticism, after all, always remains a
risk. Evaluation cannot be grounded. The ground exists, no doubt, but only as
intuition. This can leap across as a spark. It can be transmitted, but not
communicated. That is the beauty of criticism. It is an act of creative
intellectual freedom. Of course intuition can be subsequently motivated. But
this motivation will only convince those who are already favorably disposed.
The fundamental act of criticism consists in irrational contact. True criticism
never seeks to prove, it seeks only to show. Its metaphysical background is the
conviction that the world of the mind is organized around systems of




   But I do not wish to be misunderstood.
Intuition is an unfortunate term. It is constantly in the mouths of people who
are otherwise starving. I am "against intellectual nourishment through
intuition," to use Franz Blei's estimable coinage. What we would like,
after all, is that intuition and intelligence should be brought together. Hence
we combat the superstition that poets must be stupid, men of letters
uncultured, and scholars obtuse. Eliot is especially interesting to me because
he unites criticism and poiesis in one person. He confirms me in the
conviction, which I recently found again in Marichalar, that in the twentieth
century criticism is an ingredient of all superior intellectual production.
Examples? Here they are: Gide, Proust, Valery, Larbaud, Joyce, Ayala, Ortega. .
. . They are all artists of intellectualism, all establishers of awareness.
Mere "creativity," or whatever else goes by this label, is no longer
enough. Do I mention only foreign names? I could mention German ones as well. I
go so far as to claim priority for us Germans in this respect. We once had a
Novalis, a Friedrich Schlegel. This is where the new world begins, where
consciousness means a creative heightening of life; where myth is wedded to
method; where for the first time the synthesizing mind crystallizes and mirrors
itself in ironic-mystical fashion. After that we had Nietzsche, who has not
been discovered as a critic even now, when we mummify him as a hero or work him
up as scholarship. We still have criticism today, even if—as good old custom
requires—it is not acknowledged or is not allowed to be acknowledged as such.
We simply want to have only poets. But how is one to do justice to a Franz Blei
or a Borchardt if one doesn't take them as critics, as creative critics (and
hence also destructive)? If we could bring ourselves to erect a temple of
criticism on the German Parnassus—only Utopian dreamers could demand a section
for criticism in the German Academy of Literature—then the rank of Alfred Kerr
might at last be properly ascertained; this sovereign intellect and founder of
values who, from a historical standpoint, has been the sole but perfectly
adequate justification for the existence of hundreds of bad plays: that is, to
say that they were bad, to say it with such brilliance and trenchancy; and to
use the occasion to say so many other, more interesting things that have
nothing to do with the matter.

 It is not merely a western European, it
is, we may hope, also a German phenomenon that criticism is assuming a new and
productive function within the economy of the intellectual energies of our age.
It cannot be otherwise if we wish to accept this age, with its exploration of
consciousness, its syncretism, its emerging ecumenical, cosmopolitan culture.




    And if it really were an epoch of
Hellenism? Would that be so bad as people often suppose? Those five or six
hundred years from Menander to Lucian, from Theocritus to Plotinus, from
Callimachus to the Pervigilium Veneris, those ages of Alexander, of the
Ptolemies, of the Julians and the Antonines —should they really still need
"saving"? Many a later age, and not the worst, has turned with
longing toward their ripe abundance, their autumnal sweetness, toward the
breadth of vision and freedom of choice of late Antiquity, where every desire
could find its wisdom.

  This is the horizon against which I see
Eliot's poetry. Eliot is an Alexandrian poet in the strictest sense of the
word—as such a poet can and must look today. He is first of all an erudite
poet. He knows the languages, the literatures, the techniques. His works are
adorned with the jewels of quotation, with reminiscences of his reading. He
does precisely what the Alexandrians and Romans did, except that he indicates
his sources directly in a footnote. His poetry draws its sustenance from the
late Latins, the Trecentisti, the Elizabethans, and the French Symbolists.
Philologists might learn from his work the artistic significance of this
technique of mosaic: how personal experience is enhanced, suffused, illuminated
when it is registered by the discerning memory. Ages and styles coalesce into
magical substance. It is the poetry of an expert, and only the expert will get
the best out of it. But to be an expert, an expert in literature, would be
contemptible only if literature itself were contemptible. For literature
without tradition is destiny without history—uncomprehended, unpossessed. Only
original geniuses could take offense at this idea or maintain even further that
literature and life are antitheses. Literature is a form of life: a form by
which it can be enjoyed, known, and overcome.

  Poetry of this kind operates with the
highest awareness of its art. It knows all the means and all the effects.
According to his purpose Eliot will choose free verse, blank verse, rhymed
verse. The rhythmic curve feels out precisely the curve of the emotion. In The
Waste Land nothing is chance or pure inspiration. One might have that
impression because the poem is so obscure. But this obscurity, too, is
deliberate. It is one of the stylistic elements of all secondary poetry. It is
present in Hellenism, in the troubadours (where, as trobar clus, it was held in
high esteem); it is present in Dante and in Mallarme. The purpose of this
obscurity is to scare off the superficial reader, but it is also to reinforce
the symbols, to deepen the mystery. It was this obscurity that prompted the
troubadours, and Dante as well, to comment on some of their own works; so that
when Eliot appends notes, he is only taking up again a time-honored practice.

 Finally, Eliot has a third trait in
common with the Alexandrians: his learning in mythology. Eliot himself tells us
that he is indebted to the anthropological research of Frazer and Jessie Weston
for the title, plan, and symbolism of his work. We shall go into that later.
Apart from anything particular we are fascinated by the general situation that
for the poet, with his sensibility and receptiveness, the miracle-plant of
eternal religion can spring from the soil of philological and historical scholarship.

 Our religion, inasmuch as we still have
one, is a spiritualized religion. The religions of the ancient world, however,
were predominantly religions of life. Even after the great god Pan had died,
they were not yet dead. They survived through centuries and millennia, partly
in the form of heresies which sought an accommodation with Christian dogma,
spiritualizing on gnostic principles the old life cult; partly in secret
fellowships; and partly as customs, legends, and traditions which had been emptied
of meaning and had lost the memory of their origin. The Church has always done
everything in its power to repress and extirpate them: by force (through
persecutions of heretics); by method (through eradication of documents,
reinterpretation of traditions); by reform (under which must be included both
Reformation and Counter-Reformation). What this work of annihilation destroyed
cannot be estimated. But it could not destroy everything. Again and again a
longing for the mysteries made itself felt, for a religious consciousness which
should embrace nature as well as spirit, for a new initiation into the cult of
the life powers. Goethe hinted at it in his poem Die Geheimnisse [The
Mysteries], in Faust's rejuvenation, in the journey to the Mothers. Novalis, in
his Hymnen an die Nacht [Hymns to the Night], proclaims a Christianity in which
Dionysian enthusiasm is united with Catholic Mariolatry; a Christianity in
which all the beauty of Hellas, all the wisdom of the East is not only
preserved but actually realized for the first time:

   Die Sternwelt wird zerfliessen 

   Zum goldnen Lebenswein. 

   Wir werden sie geniessen 

   Und lichte Sterne sein. 

   Die Lieb' ist frei gegeben 

   Und keine Trennung mehr. 

   Es wogt das voile Leben 

   Wie ein unendlich Meer....

[The starry world will dissolve into golden wine of

life. We shall drink it with joy and become bright

stars ourselves. Love is freely given, and separation

at an end. Life billows in all its fullness like

an infinite sea ]

It is that third kingdom, that everlasting gospel of Christianity, which had
already appeared to the heresies of Antiquity and the Middle Ages as the light
at the end of their journey.

 From debris and oblivion the scholarship
of the last hundred years has rescued much that the tradition of the Church had
consigned to extinction. In ecclesiastical history men like Harnack have
brought us the insight—in H. v. Soden's fine formulation—"that heresy is
not a caricature but a component of Catholicism."(10). Classical and
Oriental philology, in close collaboration, have shed new light on our view of
postclassical syncretism. Research in ethnology and anthropology—stimulated by
Jacob Grimm, advanced by Wilhelm Mannhardt's Feld-und Waldkulte (1875-1877)—has
recognized and interpreted the survival of pre-Christian religious practices up
until our own times. Upon Mannhardt is based Sir James George Frazer's The
Golden Bough (from 1890 to 1922, several editions and revisions), and Frazer's
work was carried on and expanded in valuable studies like Jane Harrison's
Themis (1912) and Jessie L. Weston's From Ritual to Romance (1920).

  A strong influence has been exerted by
this English branch of studies in comparative religion (in England customarily
designated by the misleading term anthropology) upon recent English literature.
Without a knowledge of these connections The Waste Land cannot be understood at

  Impressive as is the achievement of
modern work in comparative religion, it has, by the very nature of the case,
been accomplished from the point of view of the modern scientific
consciousness, which in its main varieties of liberalism, historicism, and
positivism, is essentially irreligious or at most religious only in a pallid
moral sense. The aim of comparative religion is to confront customs, explain
myths and rituals, delimit spheres of religious conceptions, establish
influences. It hands its material over to libraries and museums. But this
material was alive once, these conceptions were certainties, these rites had
power, and these mysteries were the gate by which the adept ascended to higher
planes of life. The monuments of comparative religion are nothing but the
petrified and fragmentary remains, in stone or script, of a religious life that
had its reality only in covenants and cults, and that was consummated in
initiation, apotheosis, ecstasy, and the transcendence of life and death. They
are evidences of a race of men still bound to the earth and to the stars, and
they can reveal their significance only to those who, even in these "times
without gods," have preserved some trace of these primary religious
powers. They resemble shriveled flower bulbs, which can blossom into life if
planted in a bed of warm soil. This warm soil is the soul of the poet.




   What is the result of such a
fertilization? Well, surely no rebirth of ancient mysteries. We can no longer
raise altars or cultivate gardens to Adonis. That a poet like Eliot may once
again hear echoes of a long vanished world does not make him either a priest or
an initiate. No, he is a poet and a man of this age, and he knows its thoughts
and its dissensions, its restless city-life, its wage slavery, its suburban
ugliness, its prostitution, and its snobbishness. But Psyche is alive even in
this world. Even in this desolate land the soul lives and can pray with the
Psalmist: "Deus meus, Deus meus, ad te de luce vigilo. Sitivit in te anima
mea, quam multipliciter tibi caro mea in terra deserta et invia et
inaquosa" ["O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul
thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where
no water is"—Psalm 63]. The soul can abate nothing of its wishes, its
hopes, its fears. It thirsts for the waters of life, it cowers at the darkness
of death:

   Animula vagula blandula, 

   hospes comesque corporis, 

   quae nunc abibis in loca, 

   pallidula rigida nudula, 

   nec ut soles dabis iocos!

["Dear wandering, charming little soul, guest and companion of the body,
whither will you go now, pale, rigid, naked little soul, and not crack jokes as
you used to do!"]

 This soul is not only at home in our age
but in every age. And if she cannot find an echo amidst the noise of our time,
she puts her ear to the shell that resonates with the song of vanished ages,
there to hearken to the voice of her longing.

  To sum up: Eliot is not a religious
poet, but in our Americanized age—the age of the Sweeneys(11) —he has
rediscovered the primary form of religious symbolism and used it to express
Psyche's passion and longing.

  It will now be necessary to state some
of the main conclusions reached by the English studies in comparative religion
on which Eliot has drawn. The work of Mannhardt and Frazer directed attention
to the significance of the vegetation cults. The Syrian Adonis, the Phrygian
Attis, the Egyptian Osiris are vegetation gods. The death and resurrection of
these deities symbolizes the cycle of growth and decay in nature. The fertility
of nature is conceived as dependent upon the vital curve of a god or godlike
being, and occasionally even of a king or priest-king.(12) Such a being is
inhabited by the cosmic life-principle. Tree-cults, rain magic, maypoles,
harvest festivals are all associated with it.

  Miss Weston, known to specialists for
decades as an authority in the complicated field of Grail studies, and inspired
by Frazer, Jane Harrison, Leopold von Schroder et al, was able to
demonstrate—convincingly, to my mind—that the Grail legend derives neither from
a Christian legend nor from a folkloristic marchen motif (the enchanted cup or
vessel), but rather from an ancient nature cult which, at the time of the
Hellenic-Christian religious mingling, was incorporated into the symbolism of
the cult of the Eucharist and then survived esoterically for centuries until,
merging with the cycle of Celtic legends about King Arthur and his Round Table,
it penetrated, along with this cycle, the matter of the courtly romance,
finally to lose altogether, in its latest versions, its original meaning, owing
in part to the misunderstandings of uninitiated jongleurs, in part to a
systematic correction in the sense of clerical orthodoxy.(13)

 The original version of the Grail legend
tells of a young hero who comes to a barren land in which the water has dried
up and nothing can grow. The lord of the land, the ailing fisher-king, inhabits
a mysterious castle whose knights receive material and spiritual nourishment
whenever the miraculous vessel of the Grail manifests itself. Spear and cup are
always seen in connection with the appearances of the Grail. The task of the
hero—regardless of whether he succeeds or not—is to heal the fisher-king and so
to redeem the parched land, which is withering because of the king's infirmity.

 What is this infirmity? Some versions
veil it in euphemism, others say it outright: it is the loss of male potency,
in other words, it has the same meaning as the mutilation of the Phrygian Attis
and the mortal wounding of the Syrian and Cyprian Adonis by the boar.

 Why do lance and cup appertain to the
symbolism of the Grail and of the fisher-king? This combination of symbols is
unknown to Christian literary and artistic tradition. Attempts have been made
to prove their origins in the spear of Longinus and the chalice of the mass.
But these attempts have been unsatisfactory. The question is resolved simply if
lance and cup are taken as life symbols, as male and female sexual symbols.
This symbolism antedates Christianity and lies outside it. It belongs to the
magic archetypal symbolism; but there it is further associated with two other
symbols: the sword and the dish.

  The ensemble of these four symbols may
have an esoteric efficacy and validity even today. Exoterically, however, it
has sunk to the lowest level: it is found in the suits of playing cards. The
Tarot pack had 870 cards, distributed among four colors: hearts=cup;
diamonds=spear; spades=sword; clubs=dish (also pentagram). Initiates are still
familiar with the meaning of these symbols. There are good indications that
playing cards were imported from Egypt by the gypsies.

  I mention all this only to explain the
significance of cartomancy—Mme. Sosostris—and the Tarot pack in Eliot's work.

  But what does the fisher-king mean? He
is one of those semihuman, semidivine creatures on whose vitality the fertility
of the land depends. He is a life and vegetation daemon. The fish is a life
symbol of utmost antiquity (corroborations for which can be found in
psychoanalysis). The Temple of Astarte in Ascalon was surrounded by flocks of
doves and by fishponds. It was prohibited to catch the fish—except for certain
ritual meals at which fish was eaten by the priests and initiates in order to
unite with the lives of the gods. These meals were held on Friday as the day
sacred to Astarte and later to Venus—hence vererdi, vendredi. The Jews,
probably during the Babylonian exile, adopted the custom of eating fish on

  The secret of the Grail lies in the
fusion of ancient life-cults with the Christian mysteries, a fusion that was
probably a component of an esoteric tradition. It happens that we possess a
document attesting this tradition, die so-called Naassene sermon, which was
transmitted by Bishop Hippolytus (220) in his Philosophumena, a polemic against
heretics. The Naassenes combined the (Iranian?) myth of the celestial original
man and his son—from which the Biblical expression "son of man" also
seems to be derived—with the Attis cult and the belief in Christ as chosen to
fulfill the entire process of cosmic redemption. They taught that the beginning
of perfection was the gnosis of man, but that the gnosis of God was perfect
perfection.(14) They distinguished between the little and the great mysteries.
The former are those of fleshly generation. "When men have been initiated
into these, they should cease for a while and become initiated into the great,
heavenly mysteries . . . , for this is the gate of heaven and the house of God,
where the good God dwells alone, into whose house no one impure shall

  This is followed in the document by an
Attis hymn. The conclusions reads, however: "And of all men we alone are
Christians and fulfill the mystery at the Third Gate."(16)

  The question that has interested
students of comparative religion in this text is, of what and how many strata
of various provenience does it consist, and how many redactors have worked on
it. For the study of comparative religion this is worth knowing. But for
religion it is worth knowing that this text reproduces a unified experience,
albeit one drawn from many sources, of a pagan-Christian fellowship in the
mysteries. What to the eye of history appears as syncretism is, regarded
phenomenologically, a complex oppositorum; a unity in multiplicity; a life. And
of this age-old life of the mysteries the Grail legend is a last—or
provisionally last—literary residuum. Who can tell whether the heretical
esotericism that brought destruction upon the Order of the Templars may not be
related to it in origin?




    No one who understands poetry will
suppose that Eliot's work is nothing but an ornamental tissue of motifs from
comparative religion. The only reason why Eliot could employ these motifs was
that they expressed certain essential elements in his own psychological
situation, reinforcing and concealing them at the same time. But this situation
comprises more and other things as well. Eliot's poem is motivated by the two
great afflictions of the soul—sexual love and death. These are the poles around
which revolve the thoughts and struggles of all those who cannot rest content
with the traditional solutions of Christianity and the available stores of
worldly wisdom. Eros and Thanatos are the gods of the hooded gaze before whose
images the modern soul prays, laments, questions, and sacrifices. Eliot is
modern because he sees and speaks of everything physical, defiling, anxious,
horrible, and grotesque that has to do with love and death. To label this as
materialism would be a grave misconception. Materialism and spiritualism are no
longer antitheses in our world. What contemporary poet is still capable of
separating body and soul? Perhaps this very separation, which seemed so certain
to past centuries that it was taken for granted, was itself a symptom of decay.
And perhaps the very fact that it is no longer valid for us affords a guarantee
that a new type of man is developing who has once more achieved integration.

  Anyone who still refuses to see the
reality, the ugliness and the beauty of this flesh-spirit human condition to
which we are bound will have little to say to us today. Whether this reality
and unity is experienced as more depressing or more elating in character will
undoubtedly always be a matter of personal temperament and type. With Eliot the
depressive element predominates. He is of those for whom everything earthly
reeks of the charnel house. The rat plagues and torments his imagination. He
has an obsession with decay that expresses itself partly as poetry, partly as
cynicism—both are manifestations of suffering. This earthly residue which is
"impure" does not signify a delight in filth. It represents the old
Christian consciousness of sin in the modern soul. And like this consciousness
it goes hand in hand with a spirituality that longs for seraphic worlds. It
would be enough to cite Baudelaire in this connection. We ought to be more
careful generally in our use of the word realism. There is a kind of realism
that seems to be a necessary component of ecstatic religiosity. One has only to
think of Tintoretto. The putrescent horrors depicted in his Last Judgment in
Santa Maria dell'Orto are brought to mind by certain of Eliot's verses. Others
make one think of Brueghel. There are drawings by him that could be set beside
the last section of The Waste Land.

 The waste land, the desolate, barren,
rocky, terrible land, is our age. This at any rate is one side of the symbol
that cannot be ignored. It is an age of self-despair, in all its hopelessness,
its deadly lassitude, its memories of the song and story and beauty of former
ages which it is almost too ashamed of itself to dare to recall. It reduces all
grandeur to a common grimace. It thought it could rise to heroism through war.
But the outcome is the banality and ugliness of daily life to which the
demobilized soldier returns. This age has turned the ancient arts of magic and
divination into the sordid practice of card reading; has made of the Phoenician
sailor an unshaven Smyrna merchant trading in currants. Eliot's poem is a
lament for all the misery and fear of this age. It breathes the same air of
desperation that constitutes the substratum of Proust and Valery: that sense of
universal collapse that prompted Joyce to introduce "the End of the
World" into the hallucinatory procession in one of the scenes of Ulysses.
It is the mood of the concluding lines of Eliot's poem:


   This is the way the world ends 

   This is the way the world ends 

   This is the way the world ends 

   Not with a bang but a whimper.

 All this had to be suffered, suffered to
the bitter end. The pangs of thirst, the barren stony wastes, the horrors of
death had to be spoken. Like the Sybil in Petronius, a poet would have to say:
"I want to die." The way to rebirth lies only through this mortal

 This mortal agony is already lit up, in
Eliot, by the first faint dawning of a new consciousness. I am referring to
that new consciousness of our age which knows the synthesis beyond the antitheses.
It is, properly speaking, a mystical consciousness. The last section of The
Waste Land may be read as a journey to the hereafter. Such things are being
written again. Psyche wanders through unearthly regions. The "little life
in dried tubers" has a presentiment, however obscure, of future
germination. He who has felt his life to be united with the general rhythm of
growth, who has recognized his own passion in that of the ancient vegetation
gods, has passed through the gates of death into the land of the beyond. Death
and life are no longer antitheses to him. He has come to know a third condition
that is neither

   Your shadow at morning striding behind

   Nor your shadow at evening rising to
meet you.

  The old distinctions no longer apply.
Past and present are contemporaneous. The seer who once sat at the gates of
Thebes is the same who is present in the shabby room of the London typist. He,
Tiresias, has experienced in his own person the changes of time and the changes
of sex—"venus huic erat utraque nota." He knows that the division
into male and female is not permanent either. The original man—Adam as well as
the Anthropos of the Gnostics—was not aware of it. Individuation is an
illusion. All the women in the poem are, according to Eliot's explanations, the
same woman, just as the one-eyed merchant of the Tarot cards melts into the
trader in currants Mr. Eugenides and into Phlebas the Phoenician.

  All this seems unreal. But even this
ultimate antithesis between "reality" and "unreality" must
be abolished. What is unreal need not on that account be a fiction. It simply
belongs to a different level of existence. There are many such levels. The
modern poet is familiar with this superreality. He sees the dead streaming
across London Bridge, sees Elizabeth and Leicester on their gilded barge, he
sees the cities in the land of the beyond; and our cities become unreal:

   Jerusalem Athens Alexandria

   Vienna London


  The more often I read Eliot's poem, the
more sense and music I discover in it. What I have said about it is only a
fragment. . . . Eliot's aesthetic theories especially ought still to be
discussed. But that would have to be done in connection with his critical
writings. I shall save it for a later occasion. May it suffice if I have led a
few readers to the poet.




1 Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 1920).

2 Hogarth Press (Paradise Road, Richmond, Surrey).

3 Faber & Gwyer Ltd. (London). 

4 Methuen & Co. (London, 1920).

5 Hogarth Press (London).      

6 Faber & Gwyer (London).

7 The Waste Land was translated into French by Jean de Menasce and published in
the first issue of Esprit (F. Rieder & Cie., Paris, 1926).

8 Hogarth Press (London, 1926).

9 My translation appeared in 1927 in the Neue Schweizer Rundschau (newly
reprinted in the Neue Rundschau, 1950), and now in T. S. Eliot, Ausgewahlte
Gedichte. Englisch und deutsch (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt).

10 From which it would he possible to conclude, of course, that one must be a
Catholic and a heretic at the same time.

11 Sweeney is the name Eliot gives to the American man of practical reality. He
is a recurring figure in Eliot's poems and also appears in The Waste Land.

12 According to Frazer, monarchy is of magical origin. Traces of

it in Roman religion are the legend of Numa and Egeria as well as

the priestly offices of the rex sacrificulus (in Rome) and above all of

the rex nemorensis (by the lake of Nemi). The latter institution, with

its highly archaic features, is attested as late as the period of the

Empire, and constituted the starting-point for Frazer's investigations.

Renan treated it in his drama Le Pretre de Nemi (1885). In England

and France, too, the monarchy preserved vestiges of the magical

conception for a long time. As recently as the seventeenth century

one of the King's functions was to cure scrofula by the laying on of

hands. The republic means a "dis-enchantment" of the state.

13 As might have been expected, official Grail scholarship, working only with
philological and literary-historical methods, has rejected Miss Weston's

14 Hippolytus Werke, ed. Wendland, vol. 3 (1916), 78.

15 Ibid. p. 97.  

16 Ibid. p. 102.