Dear Tom,

You're right about what Eliot claimed to be the substance of the poem.
But all those notes are after the fact and after Pound. The material he
added last and then removed was in fact a lot of allusion to The Aeneid
and the Dido episode, and that, of course set up love and war as in
conflict but inseparable. That source was one he went back to in the
1940's even in his lecture on Virgil. Moreover, Eliot's religious ideas
of love and sex were later. (Correct me if I'm wrong; I never recall
dates, but he was not focusing in that way at the time of TWL. He was in
the chaos of both his marriage and his sense of the horror he heard
about and saw and later tried to enlist for. And he spent a great deal
of time working on reparations immediately after the Armistice. His
comments on that are equally important. Many critics besides me have
seen the "wilderness of mirrors" in "Gerontion" as the Hall of mirrors
in Versailles, and Eliot wanted to make "Gerontion" a prelude to TWL but
dropped the idea because of Pound. Had it been the prelude, it would
have been to the anguish of an aged man who was not "at the hot gates"
or fought--hence it would have set up war and despair and neurosis as

My reading does not depend on what Eliot said in those places but on the
poem itself and his many other statements about the War itself. The
allusions to WWI are no more ephemeral or easily excised than any
others, and one major effect of the War was a very great shift in
women's public behavior and social relations. So I do not think those
themes are really separable. Also, the scene in the pub merges them, and
of course Tiresias is best known not only for his gender shifts and
Oedipus but for his insights in Antigone about the impact of War on
Creon and on Antigone's burial of a brother dead in war.

So I don't disagree with you on the importance of sexual and gender
relations, but I also do not read the poem as something Eliot himself
could simply define once it was done any more than any other critic. He
said something similar himself somewhere. 


>>> Tom Colket 08/09/13 11:02 AM >>>


While I agree that WW1 images are depicted throughout TWL, I also was
thinking about Tim's point concerning the TSE letter to E.M. Forster
(For your convenience, I'm reposting that letter at the end of this

It's worth discussing what TSE meant when he wrote to Forster that "the
Waste Land might have been just the same without the War." I don't think
he meant that the exact text of TWL, the exact images, would have been
the same. For example, the lines about Mrs. Porter and her daughter are
from a bawdy song sung by Australian solders in the War, so those lines
would have been different if there had been no WW1. 

I think he's really talking about "the substance of the poem," the thing
he identifies in the notes as being "what Tiresias sees." If the poem's
focus was on war in general or on WW1 in particular, Eliot could have
written in the notes something like, "The scene involving Stetson and
the ships at Mylae is the substance of the poem." But that is not what
he wrote in the notes.

What the blind prophet 'sees' is a rape, sees a person using another
person sexually purely for selfish gratification, without love. The
language used in the rape scene, when sexual selfishness and brute force
are depicted ("Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over") is the
polar opposite to the language used when the narrator reflects back on a
sexual relationship truly rooted in love ("What have we given?/My
friend, blood shaking my heart/The awful daring of a moment's
surrender/Which an age of prudence can never retract/By this, and this
only, we have existed"). To the extent that WW1 caused the death of
loved ones, the war _is_ in TWL. But when I look for "the substance of
the poem," I keep coming back to description after description of failed
sexual relationships. These failed relationships (the 'Cleopatra woman,'
Lil, Ophelia, Philomel, the Thames maidens, Mr. Eugenides' homosexual
proposition, the typist rape) often involve some kind of force. These
relationships all stand in stark contrast to "the awful daring of a
moment's surrender," with its emphasis on the implied willingness, the
total lack of force, in the idea of a 'daring . . . surrender.' Note
that, when applied to war, "surrender" is a term of utter defeat; but
when applied to love, it is a term of utter bliss. 

In essays, TSE expressed the religious notion that human physical
sexuality, that is, physical union, is "made reasonable" only by
consideration of the soul's union with God after death (that is, human
love is, at its essence, "practice" to prepare us for and teach us about
divine love). In that context, the substance of the ending of TWL
revolves around the peace that eventually overwhelms the narrator during
his initial sorrowful contemplation of the one experience he has had
with human love ("The awful daring of a moment's surrender") and the
implied longing for that love in the multi-language fragments that
conclude the poem [e.g., "Le Prince d'Aquitaine  la tour abolie"]. This
experience with human love allows him, in the end, to connect with and
finally experience divine love ("Shantih Shantih Shantih").

Sorry for the long (and perhaps rambling) post.

-- Tom --

Forster letter repost:

Note: E. M. Forster, had just published an essay in June, 1929 titled
"T.S. Eliot and His Difficulties." This is the essay that Eliot is
referring to in his August 10th letter (below):

From "The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Vol 4 - 1928-1929."

To E. M. Forster
10 August 1929

Faber & Faber Ltd

My dear Forster,
I am not sure whether I wrote to thank you for your essay in Life and
Letters or not. If I did, please forgive the repetition.
On account of the flattery implied by being written about by you, my
opinion is anything but reliable, but I liked the article very much. You
are right about the 'horror'; and may be interested to know that the
first quotation I chose for the Waste Land, before I hit on the more
suitable one from Trimalchio, was a sentence from the end of Heart of
Darkness, which you may remember, ending with Kurtz's words 'the horror
. . . the horror'. I only think that you exaggerate the importance of
the War in this context. The War crippled me as it did everyone else;
but me chiefly because it was something I was neither honestly in nor
honestly out of, but the Waste Land might have been just the same
without the War.
I am not sorry that you detect the element of bluff in much of the
prose. The relation to James may however be pressed too far, because I
do think that I succeed in distinguishing the City of God from London in
the Season; but the bluff is there right enough, and I believe that I
was the first person to detect it. As for the 'impersonality' doctrine,
it has its personal motives of course, and is neither more true nor more
false than the opposite doctrine; but I believe that it may have been of
some value in its time.

I wish that we might meet occasionally.

Yours sincerely,
T. S. Eliot


Forster's reply to TSE was dated September 9, 1929:

Your letter gave me very great pleasure; thank you so much for it. As to
the war, I put that part wrong in my article. I did see that the _The
Waste Land_ would have been written anyhow. On the other hand, but for
the war, I shouldn't myself have had any preparation for the poem. The
article ought to have contained a sentence to the above effect. As it
stands, it's misleading. - I'll think over what you say about the
"impersonality" doctrine. I want, when your next book or books come out
to go through your work very carefully again. - The poems, of course, I
keep on reading on and off for "pleasure" as I call it; the sort of
thing I love comes to me out of their words again and again, and out of
different words as re-read.


<!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]-->

Date: Fri, 9 Aug 2013 10:29:33 -0400
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Eliot and WWI
To: [log in to unmask]

Dear Tim,

I recall that claim, but I don't think it's true, though he may have
felt that way by then. For one thing, the poem is, in fact, full of
references to the War--many quite explicit--that would presumably not be
there otherwise. In that sense, it could not have been "just the same."
For another, the letters are also full of references to how very hard it
was and how Americans did not understand. Eliot said so many and often
such contradictory things that in this case I don't find that claim fits
the text itself any more than his claim in the notes about Weston. Her
book obviously had some impact, but it is not the explanation Eliot said
and even then it is pretty much only in section V. I think the "might"
is the key word here. I think it really could not have been "quite the

>>> "Materer, Timothy J." 08/09/13 9:19 AM >>> 
I agree about significance of the war, but keep in mind Eliots letter to
E M Forster in vol four of the Letters, p 573, that the poem "might have
been just the same without the war." 

Sent from my iPad 

On Aug 8, 2013, at 11:09 PM, "Nancy Gish" wrote: 

> I think it will become a major topic to see TWL in relation to WWI
since next year is the centennial of the War's start. Paul Fussell
called the poem "a memory of War," though of course Eliot never went.
Its impact on him, though, was very great. The letters have many places
where he speaks of how hard it is and later how it was. And of course he
was in Germany when it started and had to get his way out while
surrounded by troop trains and German soldiers and general chaos. So in
many ways, the poem is as much a poem of War--experienced from the Home
Front--as post war. And chunks of it were written during the War. The
post-war composition was not the same as a post-war poem. So Fussell's
view is especially interesting now. 
> I think it was in Fussell that I first read the claim that "rat's
alley" was a name for a trench, and the dead bodies were those of
soldiers in and between trenches as much as any other place. David Jones
described his own great War poem as being about "day by day in the Waste
Land," and he did mean literally the devastated land of France as well
as King Pellam's Land. The War does turn up in many places--Stetson,
Albert who was just demobbed, the rats and dead bodies, and the passage
from Hesse, for example. 
> Nancy