Mr T.S. Eliot's first meagre volume of twenty-four poems was dropped into the waters of contemporary verse without stirring more than a few ripples. But when two or three years had passed, it was found to stain the whole sea.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. ..
1921 was not a good time to be Thomas Stearns Eliot. In 1921 he was 33 years old and it had become impossible for him to write in his own home, which had reduced his health to a shambles. Lloyds gave him 3 months' leave, and he went down to the sea, to the Hotel Albemarle.
He would move on to Lausanne, and would substantially complete the poem we have been reading this week. Cited above, in the periodical which ultimately publish-ed it, Edmund Wilson does not exaggerate the effect of his first work. Now there came a poetic shore without a shoreline.
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole. ..
I, too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you,
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
What is constant in this poem is a dearth of water; Wilson's comment is titled, The Poetry of Drouth. You and I know what the water is, and why there is a title set aside for it in Matter, here. The poem casts a light in it, we recognise.
Now he says, the dust doesn't hold one's shadow, and for an Eliot this is considerable news. For the dar-ling of the Harvard establishment and a good bit of London, too, it's not the nicest thing one could observe: there is no water; the water is dust. As my embarcadero, wherever I go wading now, I recall the Albemarle with cognitive as-tonishment, and thanks.
The Dial, 73
The Norton Critical Edition©
T. S. Eliot
The Waste Land
I The Burial of the Dead
ll 19 - 24
III The Fire Sermon
ll 207 - 214
230 - 234
I The Burial of the Dead
ll 24 - 30
ii iii Balcon 6