One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eliot's "The Waste Land": What Does It Matter Who Is Speaking

Foucault, echoing Beckett: What does it matter who is speaking. This came to mind in re-reading Eliot's first few lines (1-18) of "The Waste Land."

And the pronouns "searching for antecedents" in the first few lines are continued and compounded throughout the consciously fragmented text, especially in the last strophe where a string of disembodied voices (from Weston's Fisher King to the Upanishads: Shantih   shantih   shantih) brings the poem to a close.

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This morning I will only highlight one of those disembodied voices: Line 430 is a single line from Gerard de Nerval's sonnet El Desdichado ("The Disinherited"): Le Prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie.

Here is the entire sonnet:

El Desdichado

I am the man of gloom -- the widower -- the unconsoled,
the prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruins:
My sole star is dead -- and my constellated lute
bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

In the night of the tomb, you who consoled me,
give me back Posilipo and the Italian sea,
the flower that so pleased my desolate heart,
and the arbour where the vine and the rose are entwined.

Am I Amor or Phoebus? . . . Lusignan or Biron?
My brow still burns from the kiss of the queen;
I have dreamed in the grotto where the siren swims . . .

And I have twice victorious crossed the Acheron:
Modulating on Orpheus' lyre now
the sighs of the saint, now the fairy's cry

(translated by Richard Sieburth)
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