The Waste Land
For the sake of completeness--and because Eliot believed that the endnotes were as much a part of his poem as the rest of it--I present Eliot's original endnotes to the 1922 edition of The Waste Land, along with my own notes, in italics.
Eliot originally balked at the idea of including endnotes explaining his poem--ever the elitist. So, the notes themselves stand as obscure as the rest of the poem, and are now an integral part of the poem.
First, an introduction. Eliot's poem is, like "The Hollow Men," a reaction to post-war Europe. World War I was unlike any war the world had ever seen, and Europe was utterly devastated. It had become--of course--a waste land. Not a physical waste land (except on the Western Front), but a spiritual waste land, one of hopelessness and despair, of having seen the enlightened cultures of Vienna, London, Paris, self-destruct in an incredibly horrible, violent way.
A popular book in those days was Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance, which sought to apply Frazer's anthropological theories on Near East religions to the Celtic story of the Holy Grail. The effect is only somewhat successful (there is too much reliance on Eastern religion and the corn king, and not enough on the actual Celtic origins of the story itself; plus other oddities which make more sense when you realize that Weston was running with the Golded Dawn crowd).
Eliot, like many Modernists, was influenced by this and other works studying mythology (Eliot went with the Grail; Joyce with the Greeks, and so on), as well as psychology. He applied the concept of the Waste Land--a theme from grail myth, wherein the Fisher King is wounded in the "thigh," thus leaving the land infertile. (The land and the king are one.) At the same time, however, he is sustained by this miraculous piece of crockery (cup, dish, bowl), which can magically produce any food or drink the king desires. It is only in the Waste Land that the life-giving Grail can be found.
And so, an outsider who is also an insider (Perceval--raised alone in the woods and thus ignorant, while at the same time the nephew of the Fisher King) is the only one who can ask the question which will heal the King and the Land. However, according to Chretien de Troyes' romance (which is unfinished), Perceval fails on his first trip to the castle--just as Europe failed to prevent this devastation. (There are even some versions of the grail myth in which Perceval's failure to ask the question causes the devastation.)
Part of the key to understanding the poem is knowing the original title: He do the Police in Different Voices, which is a line in Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. Mrs. Betty Higden is describing how Sloppy reads the paper aloud; we are then to read the poem as different voices--different perspectives, each calling to our attention. A similar technique is employed in James Joyce's Ulysses, also released in 1922. Eliot had brought the poem to his and Joyce's mutual friend Ezra Pound, who found the poem too unwieldy, cutting out huge sections of the text and telling Eliot to rename it. This is also the reason for Eliot's dedication, calling Pound "the better craftsman."
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 (Macmillan). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies.
Adonis Attis Osiris is the collective name of volumes four and five of the twelve volume unabridged version of The Golden Bough
I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
The title of a section in the Anglican burial service
Line 1-4: "April...rain": a negative allusion to the openning of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales:
When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
Line 8. Starnbergersee: a lake south of Munich. It is significant that this is where "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria was drowned. Ludwig was the patron of Richard Wagner, who wrote Parsifal for the eccentric king; Eliot sets him up as a sort of Fisher King. This is the first instance of death by water, a recurring theme in the poem--which would be an ironic way to go, given that the usual result of the success of the Grail quest is "the freeing of the waters"--but then, we are in a world where the old order no longer works, and now water will not save the Waste Land.
12. "I'm not Russian; I come from Lithuania, a true German."
13-15. "arch-duke... Marie" Marie is thought to be Marie, Countess Larisch, cousin to Archduke Rudolph, who was found dead in a hunting lodge in 1889, in what became the Mayerling Affair. His death lead to the Francis Ferdinand becoming archduke, whose assassination was the direct trigger of World War I. Eliot claimed to have met Marie.
Line 20 Cf. Ezekiel 2:7. "Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee."
23. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5. "the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail."
24-25: Isaiah 32: 2. "And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." This refers to the coming of the Messiah, the King of Righteousness. What is interesting is that this messiah is "a covert from the tempest"--the play The Tempest being prominent in this poem.
31. V. Tristan und Isolde, i, verses 5–8. Sung by a sailor thinking of his lover "Fresh blows the wind to the homeland, my Irish child, where do you tarry?"
42. Id. iii, verse 24. Sung by a shepherd looking to sea for Isolde's ship, as Tristan waits, dying. "Empty and waste is the sea."
43. Madame Sosostris: a character from Aldous Huxley's Chrome Yellow--a fortune teller "Sesostris, the Sorceress of Ecbatana" who dresses like a stereotypical Gypsie.
46. 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.
Traditionally, the Hanged Man--the twelfth card of the major arcana--in the Tarot symbolizes sacrifice which leads to rebirth. Eliot is not alone in associating the Hanged Man with the Hanged God in Frazier. Moreover, there is the case of the Gaulic god Esus, whose devotees were hung on a tree and flayed. Odin hung himself on Yggdrasil and gained the knowledge of the runes. And the hooded figure on the road to Emmaus? Well, that's Jesus, the most famous of the sacrificial gods.
The Three of Staves (or Wands) in the Rider-Waite deck shows a man looking away from us out over a landscape. He is defined as being someone with foresight, looking at the big picture. The "Wheel" card is the Wheel of Fortune, the tenth card in the major arcanum, whose meaning is fairly straightforward--you're dealing with fortune, good or bad.
The other cards are not in the deck, but are Eliot's own invention. "Belladonna" means "beautiful woman" but is also the plant deadly nightshade--highly poisonous, thought to have been used in witchcraft, as it is hallucinogenic and causes one to believe she is flying.
Weston's book talks a good deal about Tarot, deciding that it was brought back from the East by the Knights Templar, and kept by the Gypsies, as a secret gnostic bible. She also draws parallels between the major arcana and the Grail quest, following W. B. Yeats' connection between the magic weapons of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the four suits:
Tarot Sword = Sword of Nuada
Tarot Cup = Cauldron of the Dagda
Tarot Stave = Spear of Lugh
Tarot Pentacle = Liath Fail
48. Those are pearls that were his eyes: from The Tempest I, ii, 398:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Ariel the sprite, under the control of Prospero, sings this song to Prince Ferdinand (ah! Archduke Francis Ferdinand?), trying to convince him of his father's death, so as to lure the young man to Prospero, who seeks revenge.
60. Cf. Baudelaire:
Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves,
Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.
"Swarming city, city full of dreams,
Where the specter in broad daylight accosts the passerby."
63. Cf. Inferno, iii. 55–7:
si lunga tratta
di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta.
"so long a train of people, that I would never have believed death had undone so many."
64. Cf. Inferno, iv. 25–27:
Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
non avea pianto, ma' che di sospiri,
che l'aura eterna facevan tremare.
"Here, to my hearing, there was no weeping, but sighs which caused the eternal air to tremble."
68. A phenomenon which I have often noticed.
74. Cf. the Dirge in Webster's White Devil.
"But keep the wolf far thence, that's foe to man,
For with his nails he'll dig them up again."
76. V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.
"Hypocrite reader!--my likeness--my brother!"
(turn the page)