In his note for Part V of The Waste Land (What the Thunder Said) Eliot wrote:

"In the first part of Part V three themes are employed: the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous (see Miss Weston's book), and the present decay of eastern Europe."

For his note for line 424 Eliot had:

"V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King."

In Chapter VI of From Ritual to Romance (entitled The Symbols) Weston has a few pages discussing the Tarot deck and the symbols of the Grail legend.


BTW, Nancy, you have constantly observed that Jessie Weston was not central to the scheme of TWL and that she was only a subsequent addition finding expression in section V of the poem only. But here are some observations, if you like.

// "Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend From Ritual to Romance." 

"I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the 'crowds of people', and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself." 
 -- Eliot's Notes //

Notwithstanding Eliot's later repudiation of notes, and even though he subsequently cautioned the reader against any "wild goose chase" after Tarot etc., it remains a fact that the poet derived the idea of the cards from Miss Weston and used them as symbolic and structural elements in the poem:   

                                      Here, said she, 
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes.  Look!)
Here is Belladonna, The Lady of the Rocks, The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and  this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see.  I do not find 
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring. 

The tarot symbols do operate in the rest of the poem. In the poem's 'Death by Water' section, for instance. The Hanged Man of the Tarot finds expression in the opening of 'What the Thunder Said' apropos Christ's crucifixion and the journey to Emmaus of Christ's disciples after the event.  

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together 
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
 - But who is that on the other side of you? 

'From Ritual to Romance' as well makes its presence felt in the poem's allusions to the Fisher King's mythical wasteland: 

While I was fishing in the dull canal ...
Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
And on the king my father's death before him 

and in the Fisher King's feet-washing ceremony resonant in 
Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole! 
(even though the source of the line is Verlaine's Parsifal

Then, of course, there is the journey up the Chapel Perilous in 'What the Thunder Said'. 


From: Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Sunday, August 18, 2013 12:17 PM
Subject: Re: The significance of the Tarot cards in 'The Waste Land'

It would be difficult to find any discussion of TWL from 1922 to at least 1960--and for many ongoing--that did not emphasize the Tarot. And this is 1982--31 years of commentary later; I don't think that is very fresh.