English 1022E Lecture Notes - T. S. Eliot, Fire Sermon, Jessie Weston
English Lecture March 15, 2011
The Wasteland T.S. Eliot
Doctrine of Impersonality
Thomas Malory, Morte d’Arthur
Jessie Weston, From Ritual to Romance (1920)
The Legend of Sir Parsifal. 2 vol
(1905 - 06)
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-Three issues that loom largely in the third part of the poem:
-This poem is a therapeutic poem. It deals with the illnesses
(psychological, physical) of the modern world, and suggests cures for those
-The figure of the Fisher King is important. He is a character who rules over
a wasted and infertile land. Because of his inattention to spiritual matters
and the rampant materialism of his people and himself. In order for the land
to return to fertility, a knight has to appraoch the kingdom and do a number
of important things:
-Has to confront death. He does this by spending a night in the Ruined
Chapel. He has to be alone in this frightening place that reminds him
of his own mortality, makes him confront that mortality, and move
beyond that mortality with the possibility of rebirth.
-Has to ask a crucial question. In the Morte d’Arthur the quest for the
holy grail is satisfied/achieved by Sir Galahad who is able to complete
it because of his purity. Most common version of the story. In various
versions of the story, he asks “What is the holy grail” after he’s seen
the goblet. In other versions he has to ask “What is the cause of the
Fisher King’s suffering?” This question will come at the end of part 5,
but prepared for by earlier questions. “What are the roots that clutch,
what are the branches that grow out of this stoney rubbish?” This is
the first of a number of questions which will lead to the last question
which will not solve the problems, but point strongly in the direction
to the solution.
-Importance of two elements: water and fire. Both function in a bivalent
way: both of them have positive and negative qualities to them. Water can
be a source of renewal, but also drowning. Fire can be cleansing/purging but
also a cause of destruction.
-Water is renewal, rebirth, fertility, baptism, but also destruction.
Baptism touches someone with water as a way of taking away their
sins and making them new again. Immersion of Mabel in water in the
HDD and her rescue. The Tempest, where everybody was immersed in
water before landing on the island. Water is an element of fertility,
but the inhabitants of the Wasteland want to avoid water; they don’t
want to bring fertility to the landscape. They are happy with their
comfortable world. Line 9: People take shelter in a colonade to avoid
rain. People go south in the winter to avoid the cold and the rain. Line
English Lecture March 15, 2011
55: Madam Sisostrus who represents corrupt religion looks at her
tarot pack and says “I do not find the hanged man” who symbolizes
self sacrifice, death by water. She warns the recipient to fear death by
-Eliot means that what these people need is exactly what they
-Some indications of a positive approach to water and infertility.
There is a reference to a corpse that may sprout in the spring,
which will only happen if it has water. Part 1 ends on this
slightly positive note. At the end of Part 2, we end with the
figure of Ophelia, making her way from this world to the water
to commit suicide, but it’s the necessary death that precedes
rebirth. At the end of Part 1 and 2 there are positive signs.
-Fire, like water, can be cleansing and purifying but also destructive
and deadly. Fire is also suggestive of sexual and religious passion.
Goblin Market is the fire of faith that quenches the fire of desire in
Laura. there is a seen of fighting in her blood as one fire meets and
overcomes the other fire. Eliot uses this element positively when he
draws on the fire sermon on p.2623 where we are told that the
Buddhist fire sermon is delivered against the fires of lust and passion.
People are counseled to overcome these. Eliot uses this fire sermon
and St. Augustine in positive ways.
-St. Augustine was a very firey blooded person. He came to
Carthage as a young man. He was blown away by the beautiful
women in brothels in Carthage and he spent quite awhile
‘enjoying their company’ but then he had a vision and was in
his backyard and he knew that he’d seen the light. He prayed
to God to give him chastity but “not quite yet” he still wanted
to continue to enjoy his life.
-l.307 Eliot picks up this story, direct quote from Augustine’s
autobiography: ‘To Carthage then I came, burning, Oh Lord,
thou pluckest me out” The pronoun of selfishness, the I
pronoun, is removed from the third/fourth line. The fire in
Augustine is purging him of his individual desire.
-The very thing that the inhabitants of the wasteland need is the
water that yields destruction > rebirth. Fire will purge them of
destructiveness and yield them to good.
-l. 187: Inklings of what is gathering momentum here.
-A rat crept softly through the vegetation” still a distasteful
animal to us. Associated with polluted garbage. But notice it’s
moving softly. There is fertility in this moment in the wasteland.
“Dragging its’ slimy belly while I was fishing” seems like the
FIsher King. There is moisture here, but the attitude of the
speaker is disgust. His attitude is the problem, not the lack of
fertility or moisture because it is there. Gas is one of those
things that is inseparable from modernity.
-“White bodies naked on the low, damp ground” moisture
English Lecture March 15, 2011
-The mood here is becoming calm and accepting at the end.
There isn’t disgust that was there at the beginning of the
-These lines prepare us for Death by Water
-Death by Water
-Gulls: people who are easy prey, stupid and easily tricked.
-Swell: falsely important person.
-Being born is an act of rebirth. Going into the whirlpool in order
-Final lines (circle these) creepy: Imperative talk. This is what
you’ve got to do. Death has to be faced, mortality has to be
faced and accepted.
-Eliot killing off his sexuality/homosexual side.
-He succumbed to the heterosexuality of the 1920’s. He
married. There’s a sense of the fires of same sex desire being
quenched with the achievement of piece of mind that comes
after it because the final lines are peaceful. In any event this
section paves the way for Part 5 of the poem
-Note 2 on page 2625 has been useful in telling us what to
expect in Part 5.
-Three themes: Journey, Approach of the Knight, Present
decay of Eastern Europe. These will be orchestrated in
the last part of the poem.
-Eliot is pulling together the threads of all the other parts into a
summary statement about the decay of Europe
-What is that sound higher than the air, murmur of maternal
lamentation. Is this Europe weeping over the fate of Culture? One way
of looking at it.
-This air is the colour of sunset, twilight of the gods. Something is
dying here. Falling towers, Jerusalem.
-Journey to Aneas. Core Christian Story. Christ has been crucified and resurrected
but the disciples are still in a sense of battlement; they are uncertain if he’s dead or
living. Eliot focuses on that aspect because he doesn’t wish to move quickly to a
positive conclusion but keep emphasizing the uncertainty about religion.
-crowing cock: new life, new day. But then a flash of lightning bringing rain. Rain is
now coming, fertility is possible. What has to be done in order for this healing to
-He refers us to the meaning of the Thunder in Panashed.
-Message: Start thinking of other people; move beyond your secret, private world in
which so many of inhabitants of the Wasteland live.
-Thinking of the key confirms our prison
-Prisons are of our own making. We make the traps in which we place
ourselves. Trivialized version of Satan in PL who is trapped in the prison of
himself. Stop thinking about the prison, and it will disappear.