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Allusion in The Waste Land

Allusion Examples in The Waste Land:

Text of the Poem

🔒 4

"I had not thought death had undone so many...."   (Text of the Poem)

This is a direct quotation from Canto III of The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). In The Inferno, Dante remarks "I had not thought death had undone so many" after entering the gates of Dis, the subterranean city of the dead. Thus, Eliot's allusion equates London to hell and the throngs of Londoners to the countless dead. The comparison is metaphorical, for the Londoners are not literally dead, but perhaps spiritually so.

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"Hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!..."   (Text of the Poem)

This is an allusion to Charles Baudelaire's 1857 poem "Au Lecteur." Eliot repurposes Baudelaire's shocking address to his "Hypocrite reader." Baudelaire's poem ends with the following stanza:

C'est l'Ennui! L'oeil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
II rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

One of many English translations of these lines is:

He is Ennui! — His eye watery as though with tears, 
He dreams of scaffolds as he smokes his hookah pipe.
You know him reader, that refined monster,
— Hypocritish reader, — my fellow, — my brother!

Translation: William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954).

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"(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)..."   (Text of the Poem)

This line is an allusion to a poem Shakespeare wrote into Act 1, Scene 2 of The Tempest, sung by Ariel. The poem is about transformation, and Eliot returns to its language again, with—fittingly—slight transformations. The eight-line poem, which is often anthologized as "A Sea Dirge," is as follows:

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:
Hark, now I hear them,—Ding-dong bell.

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"“O keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men, “Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!..."   (Text of the Poem)

This is an allusion to John Webster's 1624 poem "The Dirge." With its darkly comic meditation on death, Webster's poem matches the gloomy mood of Eliot's. The poem is as follows:

Call for the robin-redbreast and the wren,
Since o'er shady groves they hover,
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call unto his funeral dole
The ant, the field-mouse, and the mole,
To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,
And (when gay tombs are robbed) sustain no harm;
But keep the wolf far thence, that's foe to men,
For with his nails he'll dig them up again.

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