Eliot's Notes Continued


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.

322-330.: These lines are traditionally read as the Agony in the Garden (i.e., Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting to be arrested by the Romans).

339. "Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit" is thought to come from Shackleton's book South, on his failed expedition to Antarctica: "A jagged line of peaks with a gap like a broken tooth confronted us."

357. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush which I have heard in Quebec County. Chapman says (Handbook of Birds in Eastern North America) 'it is most at home in secluded woodland and thickety retreats.... Its notes are not remarkable for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and exquisite modulation they are unequalled.' Its 'water-dripping song' is justly celebrated.

359. This begins the Emmaus section. The story is given in Luke 24:13-34. Two unnamed disciples--who are not of the 12--are walking to Emmaus, recounting the crucifixion to each other, when they are joined by a stranger, who is ignorant of the last few days' events. As they eat with the stranger and tell him what has happened, they recognize that the stranger is the resurrected Christ, changed in form but not in spirit.

360. The following lines were stimulated by the account of one of the Antarctic expeditions (I forget which, but I think one of Shackleton's): it was related that the party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was one more member than could actually be counted. I find it interresting that Eliot--a Christian--was equating this delusion with the resurrected Christ. But then, as we are discussing a dying-and-rising god who will not rise, then the resurrected Christ would only be an illusion in this world.

367-77. Cf. Hermann Hesse, Blick ins Chaos:
Schon ist halb Europa, schon ist zumindest der halbe Osten Europas auf dem Wege zum Chaos, fährt betrunken im heiligen Wahn am Abgrund entlang und singt dazu, singt betrunken und hymnisch wie Dmitri Karamasoff sang. Ueber diese Lieder lacht der Bürger beleidigt, der Heilige und Seher hört sie mit Tränen.

"Half of Europe, at least half of Eastern Europe is already on the road to chaos, moving in a drunken state in holy delusion along the abyss and singing also, singing intoxicated and hymn--like Dmitri Karamasoff sang. The common man laughs about the songs and is offended, the saint and the prophet are listening in tears." --A Glimps Into Chaos

373-375. "Falling towers... London" Eliot compares the devastation wreaked upon the cities of enlightenment like London and Vienna to those of Jerusalem, Athens, and Alexandria.

385-394. This begins the section on the Perilous Chapel. Here are some of Weston's notes on his chapel:

Students of the Grail romances will remember that in many of the versions the hero--sometimes it is a heroine--meets with a strange and terrifying adventure in a mysterious Chapel, an adventure which, we are given to understand, is fraught with extreme peril to life. The details vary: sometimes there is a Dead Body laid on the altar; sometimes a Black Hand extinguishes the tapers; there are strange and threatening voices, and the general impression is that this is an adventure in which supernatural, and evil, forces are engaged.

...Sometimes the Hand holds a bridle, a feature probably due to contamination with a Celtic Folk-tale, in which a mysterious Hand (here that of a giant) steals on their birth-night a Child and a foal {this is the story of Pryderi's birth in the Mabinogion; Pryderi is a precursor of Perceval--Tlachtga}

...At the risk of startling my readers I must express my opinion that it was because the incidents recorded were a reminiscence of something which had actually happened, and which, owing to the youth, and possible social position, of the victim, had made a profound impression upon the popular imagination.

For this is the story of an initiation or perhaps it would be more correct to say the test of fitness for an initiation) carried out on the astral plane, and reacting with fatal results upon the physical. (Underlining is substitute for the author's italics)

This is where Weston gets weird, suggesting that this is all part of a nature cult still around in medieval Wales. She certainly used to hang out with members of the Golden Dawn.

At any rate, the Perilous Chapel represents a perverted chapel where the devil invades and kills knights searching for the grail. The grail knight must confront the devil, winning by virtue of his own nature. In reality, this is a sort of harrowing of hell story, a journey into the underworld before one can journey into the otherworld, like Dante's travels in hell before he can reach purgatory and heaven. The grail knight must face his fears before beign worthy of the grail.

So we are in hell now, a place of dry bones. But then, the last line of this section, thunder is heard.

395. Ganga: This is the Ganges, the holy river of Hinduism.

401. 'Datta, dayadhvam, damyata' (Give, sympathize, control). The fable of the meaning of the Thunder is found in the Brihadaranyaka--Upanishad, 5, 1. A translation is found in Deussen's Sechzig Upanishads des Veda, p. 489.

The title derives from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Fifth Adhyaya, Second Brahmana (not the first):

1. The threefold descendants of Pragapati, gods, men, and Asuras (evil spirits), dwelt as Brahmakarins (students) with their father Pragapat. Having finished their studentship the gods said: 'Tell us (something), Sir.' He told them the syllable Da. Then he said: 'Did you understand?' They said: 'We did understand. You told us "Damyata," Be subdued.' 'Yes,' he said, 'you have understood.'

2. Then the men said to him: 'Tell us something, Sir.' He told them the same syllable Da. Then he said: 'Did you understand?' They said: 'We did understand. You told us, " Datta," Give.' 'Yes,' he said, 'you have understood.'

3. Then the Asuras said to him: 'Tell us something, Sir.' He told them the same syllable Da. Then he said: 'Did you understand?' They said: 'We did understand. You told us," Dayadharn," Be merciful.' 'Yes,' he said, 'you have understood.'

The divine voice of thunder repeats the same, Da Da Da, that is, Be subdued, Give, Be merciful. Therefore let that triad be taught, Subduing, Giving, and Mercy.


And here lies the crux of the poem. The world was given three comandments: Self control, Charity, and Compassion. But, as Eliot saw in World War I, the world threw away such comandments, which brought about the spiritual waste land of modern Europe and the modern world in general. As a result, the sacrificial king cannot rise. Why? There is no grail knight willing to practice these three comandments, which would allow him to ask the question. Instead, all resources which would allow the Fisher King's revival have been polluted, perverted, and rendered unusable. The waters are filled with trash, and purifying fire is now the fire of passions not kept in check with self control.

407. Cf. Webster, The White Devil, V, vi:

                                  ...they'll remarry 
Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider 
Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs. 

The character of Flamineo tricks his sister and her servant into thinking they were entering into a suicide plot. They shoot Flamineo, who pretends to die. As they are kicking the "corpse" he jumps up and rails against them.

411. Cf. Inferno, xxxiii. 46:
ed io sentii chiavar l'uscio di sotto
all'orribile torre.

"and I heard, at its outlet underneath lock'd up the' horrible tower" This is the story of Ugolino della Gherardesca, Count of Donoratico, who was locked in a tower with his own sons and grandsons, who were forced to resort to cannibalism before they died of starvation. One of the sadder characters in the Inferno.

Also F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 346:

My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts or my feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside; and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it.... In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul.

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

The Fisher King is keeper of the grail. His evolution is best understood as growing out of the character of Bran son of the sea-god Llyr. Bran had a magic cauldron of rebirth (like the grail), but in battle was wounded in the thigh and had his head cut off. The head stayed alive, but the kingdom was usurped and the land of Dyfed made waste. This later evolved into the Fisher King, who has been wounded in the "thigh" causing his impotence, which then causes the land's infertility. In Celtic myth, the king and the land are married, and the king must be unblemished. To be otherwise, forfeits the kingdom. When he meets his nephew, the grail knight, he is usually found fishing, which draws parallels to Christ in later redactors.

There are a good many books discussing the nature of the Fisher King and his wasting sickness, but the best are those by R.S. Loomis (The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol) and Jean Markale (The Grail).

426. London Bridge: the children's nursery rhyme is now a symbol of destruction.

427. V. Purgatorio, xxvi. 148.
'Ara vos prec per aquella valor
'que vos guida al som de l'escalina,
'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor.'
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.

'And so I pray you, by that virtue
which guides you to the top of the stair,
be reminded in time of my pain.'
Then he hid himself in the fire that purifies them.

Txikwa pointed out to me that this is in Provecial, the only other modern language represented in the Divine Comedy.

428. V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.

Again the story of Philomela:
She sings, I am mute. When will my spring come?
When shall I become like the swallow, that I may cease to be voiceless?
I have lost my Muse, through being voiceless, and Phoebus regards me not;
so did Amyclae through being voiceless, persish by its very silence.

429. V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.

I am the Darkened Soul, - the Widower, - the Inconsolable,
The Prince of Aquitaine at the abandoned Tower:
My sole star is dead, - and my bejewelled lute
Bears the black Sun of Melancholy.

A destroyed Tower is one of the cards of the Tarot. "The Disinherited" is the name of the poem. As for the significance of the Prince of Aquitaine in the poem, I do not know. I DO know that it was a "prince" of Aquitaine who went off on Crusade (Richard Coer de Lion), who failed in "winning" Jerusalem back from the Muslims, and who had the support of the Knights Templar, who figure heavily in the grail romance Parzival. It was also Richard's mother--Eleanor of Aquitaine--who was imprisoned by her husband, Henry II; and Richard was imprisoned in the tower during the Crusades; part of his ransom was rumored to be Excalibur.

430. "These fragments I have shored against my ruins." This line sums up the poem fairly well. The world is fragmented, as Eliot's poem is but fragments of situations. He has attempted, like many Modernists, to create order out of chaos in the hopes that it will prevent more tragedy, will return the world to order.

431. V. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. "Ile fit you"--I'll oblige you. The Spanish Tragedy is one of the main sources of Shakespeare's Hamlet, which has a significant part in this poem. Like Hamlet, Hieronymo feignes madness in order to bid his time in achieving revenge for his murdered relative. Like Hamlet, he uses a play within the play to achieve this revenge.

432. Give. Sympathize. Control. The Thunder speaks, and the waters are released, this time clean and pure from the sky.

433. Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. 'The Peace which passeth understanding' is a feeble translation of the conduct of this word.

And the Fisher King is made whole through the exercize of self control, charity, and compassion.