The Fire Sermon

by T. S. Eliot

The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.[24]
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.

By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
And on the king my father's death before him.[25]
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.
But at my back from time to time I hear[26]
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring[27]
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter[28]
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water[29]
Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole![30]

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.
Tereu

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants[31]
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,[32]
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,[33]
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
"Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over."
When lovely woman stoops to folly and[34]
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

This music crept by me upon the waters[35]
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold[36]
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

     The river sweats[37]
     Oil and tar
     The barges drift
     With the turning tide
     Red sails
     Wide
     To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
     The barges wash
     Drifting logs
     Down Greenwich reach
     Past the Isle of Dogs.
          Weialala leia
          Wallala leialala

     Elizabeth and Leicester[38]
     Beating oars
     The stern was formed
     A gilded shell
     Red and gold
     The brisk swell
     Rippled both shores
     Southwest wind
     Carried down stream
     The peal of bells
     White towers
          Weialala leia
          Wallala leialala

"Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees[39]
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe."

"My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised 'a new start'.
I made no comment. What should I resent?"
"On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing."
     la la

To Carthage then I came[40]

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest

burning



[24] V. Spenser, Prothalamion.

[26] Cf. Marvell, To His Coy Mistress.

[27] Cf. Day, Parliament of Bees:

When of the sudden, listening, you shall hear,
A noise of horns and hunting, which shall bring
Actaeon to Diana in the spring,
Where all shall see her naked skin…"

[28] I do not know the origin of the ballad from which these lines are taken: it was reported to me from Sydney, Australia.

[Mrs. Porter was a madame of a Cairo brothel and she and her daughter were well known to Australian troops who created new (risque) lyrics to a popular ragtime song. (Infoplease Editors)]

[29] Bicarbonate of soda, or sodium bicarbonate [i.e., baking soda] (Infoplease Editors)

[30] And, O these voices of children singing in the cupola! (Infoplease Editors)

V. Verlaine, Parsifal.

[31] The currants were quoted at a price "carriage and insurance free to London"; and the Bill of Lading etc. were to be handed to the buyer upon payment of the sight draft.

Carriage and insurance free” — “cost, insurance and freight(Editor).

[32] Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a "character," is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem. The whole passage from Ovid is of great anthropological interest:

        …Cum Iunone iocos et “maior vestra profecto est
Quam, quae contingit maribus,
” dixisse, “voluptas.
Illa negat; placuit quae sit sententia docti
Quaerere Tiresiae: venus huic erat utraque nota.
Nam duo magnorum viridi coeuntia silva
Corpora serpentum baculi violaverat ictu
Deque viro factus, mirabile, femina septem
Egerat autumnos; octavo rursus eosdem
Vidit et “est vestrae si tanta potentia plagae,
Dixit “ut auctoris sortem in contraria mutet,
Nunc quoque vos feriam!
” percussis anguibus isdem
Forma prior rediit genetivaque venit imago.
Arbiter hic igitur sumptus de lite iocosa
Dicta Iovis firmat; gravius Saturnia iusto
Nec pro materia fertur doluisse suique
Iudicis aeterna damnavit lumina nocte,
At pater omnipotens (neque enim licet inrita cuiquam
Facta dei fecisse deo) pro lumine adempto
Scire futura dedit poenamque levavit honore.

[       … Jove, they say, was happy
And feeling pretty good (with wine) forgetting
Anxiety and care, and killing time
Joking with Juno. “I maintain,” he told her
You females get more pleasure out of loving
Than we poor males do, ever.
” She denied it,
So they decided to refer the question
To wise Tiresias' judgment: he should know
What love was like, from either point of view.
Once he had come upon two serpents mating
In the green woods, and struck them from each other,
And thereupon, from man was turned into woman,
And was a woman seven years, and saw
The serpents once again, and once more struck them
Apart, remarking: “If there is such magic
In giving you blows, that man is turned into woman,
It may be that woman is turned to man. Worth trying.

And so he was a man again; as umpire,
He took the side of Jove. And Juno
Was a bad loser, and she said that umpires
Were always blind, and made him so forever.
No god can over-rule another's action,
But the Almighty Father, out of pity,
In compensation, gave Tiresias power
To know the future, so there was some honor
Along with punishment. (Infoplease Editors)]

[33] This may not appear as exact as Sappho's lines, but I had in mind the "longshore" or "dory" fisherman, who returns at nightfall.

[34] V. Goldsmith, the song in The Vicar of Wakefield.

[36] The interior of St. Magnus Martyr is to my mind one of the finest among Wren's interiors. See The Proposed Demolition of Nineteen City Churches (P. S. King & Son, Ltd.).

[37] The Song of the (three) Thames-daughters begins here. From line 292 to 306 inclusive they speak in turn. (V. Gutterdsammerung, III. i: the Rhine-daughters.)

[38] V. Froude, Elizabeth, Vol. I, ch. iv, letter of De Quadra to Philip of Spain:

In the afternoon we were in a barge, watching the games on the river. (The queen) was alone with Lord Robert and myself on the poop, when they began to talk nonsense, and went so far that Lord Robert at last said, as I was on the spot there was no reason why they should not be married if the queen pleased.

[39] Cf. Purgatorio, v. 133:

Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
Siena mi fe', disfecemi Maremma.

[40] V. St. Augustine's Confessions: "to Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears."