The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of seven branched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion.
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid-troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
'Jug Jug' to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.
    'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
    'Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
    'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
    'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'

      I think we are in rats' alley
      Where the dead men lost their bones.

    'What it that noise?'
      The wind under the door.
    'What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?'
      Nothing again nothing.
    'You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
    I remember
    Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!.
    'Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?'
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag-
It's so elegant
So intelligent
'What shall I do now? What shall I do?'
'I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
'With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
'What shall we ever do?'
The hot water at ten. And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

When Lil's husband got demobbed, I said-
I didn't mince my words, I said to her myself,
Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get herself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He's been in the army for four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o' that, I said.
Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
If you don't like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can't.
But if Albert makes off, it won't be for a lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She's five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be all right, but I've never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won't leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don't want children?
Hurry up please its time
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot-
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

(turn the page)

(turn the page)

-T.S. Eliot-
The Waste Land


First publication date 1922.
Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved.

In the original manuscript, there was a (rather clever) line which was finally omitted at the behest of Eliot's wife Vivian:

And we shall play a game of chess,
The ivory men make company between us
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

In my opinion, it's actually pretty unfortunate that this line was excised from the text; I think it does much to illuminate the pun on "lidless eyes" in the next line (i.e. that it could either be a literal description of chess pieces, which have eyes of sorts without lids, or a scene from Dante).

Eliot's Notes Continued


A Game of Chess: This echoes the title of a play by Thomas Middleton (1627)--A Game at Chesse, in which a game of chess parallels seduction. But it is also worth noting that a game of chess shows up in the French continuation of Perceval, and in the Welsh version of the Grail quest, called "Peredur"--the Chessboard is owned by the Empress of the Otherworld. When Peredur tries to play the game but loses, he throws the chessboard into a fountain, which upsets the Empress, who sends him off on another quest, this time to kill the white stag/unicorn (in some versions)--a symbol of purity, but a savage symbol.

77. Cf. Antony and Cleopatra, II. ii. 190.
: "The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burn'd on the water."

92. Laquearia. V. Aeneid, I. 726:
dependent lychni laquearibus aureis incensi, et noctem flammis funalia vincunt.

Describing Dido's banquet for Aeneas: "blazing torches hang from the golden paneled ceiling, and the torches conquer the night with flames."

98. Sylvan scene. V. Milton, Paradise Lost, iv. 140. Satan looking at Eden

99. V. Ovid, Metamorphoses, vi, Philomela. An incredibly sad story of Philomela, raped by her brother-in-law king Tereus, who then cuts out her tongue to keep her from talking, and hides her in the woods, so that Philomela's sister Queen Procne won't discover what has happened. Procne of course discovers her raped, disfigured sister, who can only tell the story by weaving it into a tapestry. Procne decides to seek revenge on Tereus by killing their son Itys and serving him to Tereus as food, driving the king mad. They are then all changed into birds: Philomela the nightingale, Procne the swallow and Tereus the hawk.

100. Cf. Part III, l. 204.
Meaning, refer to Pt III of The Waste Land. Lines 203-206:
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.

111-172: This section is best understood as recording conversations taking place in a pub at closing time (10:30 pm--thanks Albert_Herring).

115. Cf. Part III, l. 195. Meaning, refer to Part III of The Waste Land: Lines 193-195:
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.

118. Cf. Webster: 'Is the wind in that door still?'
Refers to John Webster's The Devil's Law-Case III.ii. (1620) in which a man is thought dying for having been stabbed, but ironically is saved from dying, as the stabbing actually lances an infection, draining the poison which would have killed him. The line is said by one of the physicians treating the man:

Did he not groan?

Is the wind in that door still?

Ha! Come hither, note a strange accident:
His steel has lighted in the former wound,
And made free passage for the congealed blood.
Observe in what abundance it delivers
The putrefaction.

In Book V of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1475), King Arthur says to Sir Gareth, "What, nephew, is the wind in that door?" upon returning from an adventure. But what exactly is meant, I'm not sure. The wind is equated with breath, and breath with the spirit--the Greek "pneuma" meaning both.

126. Cf. Part I, l. 37, 48.
From Part I of The Waste Land: 37. --Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden
48. (Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

To be honest, the relation of these lines, beyond the theme of death and nature, eludes me.

128. "O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag--" There was a ragtime song ca. 1912 called "That Shakesperian Rag." Eliot was likely agravated by the appropriation of that most canonical of writers into a pop song.

Also, take note of the "O O O O"--in the "Bad Quarto" of Hamlet, these are in fact Hamlet's last words--so much for "the rest is silence." See line 172 for another Hamlet allusion.

138. Cf. the game of chess in Middleton's Women beware Women.

This is another case of chess imitating a seduction scene.

139. demobbed: "demobilized"--discharged from the army. WWI slang.

159. pills: to induce an abortion. "She's had five already"--she's had five children, and nearly died in childbirth with one. We see here a rejection of fertility, and implications of its dangers. Sterility as survival, against the backdrop of the intertwining of fertility and death.

172. "Goodnight ladies..." While the words to a popular song, is also meant to refer to the drowning of Ophelia in Hamlet IV.v. (death by water again):

I hope all will be well. We must be patient: but I
cannot choose but weep, to think they should lay him
i' the cold ground. My brother shall know of it:
and so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my
coach! Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies;
good night, good night.
At which point she exits. When we next hear of her, she has drowned.

(turn the page)

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