by Jonathan Vold

Friday, December 9

TWL, Lines 427-432: Shored Against My Ruins

427 London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
428 Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
429 Quando fiam ceu chelidon — O swallow swallow
430 Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
431 These fragments I have shored against my ruins
432 Why then Ile fit you.  Hieronymo's mad againe.

427. LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN is the opening of a nursery rhyme first referenced in The London Chaunticleres (1657, Anon.).  It also alludes back to line 22 (a heap of broken images), 62 (crowd flowing over the bridge), 173 (the river’s tent is broken) and 374 (falling towers).  See also John Henry Mackay, Anarchy (1888), for a similarly toned answer to the question just posed in line 426, “Shall I at least set my lands in order?”:

“‘Wreck of all order,’ cry the multitude,
‘Art thou, & war & murder’s endless rage.’
O, let them cry. To them that ne'er have striven
The truth that lies behind a word to find,
To them the word's right meaning was not given.
They shall continue blind among the blind.
But thou, O word, so clear, so strong, so true,
Thou sayest all for which I for goal have taken.
I give thee to the future! Thine secure
When each at least unto himself shall waken.”

428. ARNAUT DANIEL: Eliot: “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.” See Dante, Purgatorio 26.145-148:

“Therefore do I implore you, by that power
Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,
Be mindful to assuage my suffering!’

Then hid him in the fire that purifies them.”

Dante attributed the first three lies of this passage, written in Old Occitan, to Provencal poet Arnaut Daniel, whom Dante called the “better craftsman,” as Eliot would in turn call Ezra Pound (see note 0.2).Daniel says this as he follows Italian poet Guido Guinizelli, who had “vanished in the fire.” (26.134).  See Dante, Purgatorio 26:115-148:

"O brother," said he, "he whom I point out,"
And here he pointed at a spirit in front,
"Was of the mother tongue a better smith.
Verses of love and proses of romance,
He mastered all; and let the idiots talk,
Who think the Lemosin surpasses him.
To clamour more than truth they turn their faces,
And in this way establish their opinion,
Ere art or reason has by them been heard.
Thus many ancients with Guittone did,
From cry to cry still giving him applause,
Until the truth has conquered with most persons.
Now, if thou hast such ample privilege
'Tis granted thee to go unto the cloister
Wherein is Christ the abbot of the college,

To him repeat for me a Paternoster,
So far as needful to us of this world,
Where power of sinning is no longer ours."

Then, to give place perchance to one behind,
Whom he had near, he vanished in the fire
As fish in water going to the bottom.

I moved a little tow'rds him pointed out,
And said that to his name my own desire
An honourable place was making ready.
He of his own free will began to say:
'Tan m' abellis vostre cortes deman,
Que jeu nom' puesc ni vueill a vos cobrire;
Jeu sui Arnaut, que plor e vai chantan;
Consiros vei la passada folor,
E vei jauzen lo jorn qu' esper denan.
Ara vus prec per aquella valor,
Que vus condus al som de la scalina,
Sovenga vus a temprar ma dolor.' ◦
Then hid him in the fire that purifies them.
◦ So pleases me your courteous demand,
I cannot and I will not hide me from you.

I am Arnaut, who weep and singing go;
Contrite I see the folly of the past,
And joyous see the hoped-for day before me.

Therefore do I implore you, by that power
Which guides you to the summit of the stairs,
Be mindful to assuage my suffering!

429. SWALLOW SWALLOW: Eliot: “V. Pervigilium Veneris. Cf. Philomela in Parts II and III.

See Tiberianus, The Vigil of Venus 88-93 (400 BC, tr. Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch 1912):

“Ah, loitering Summer!  Say when For me shall be broken the charm, that I chirp with the swallow again?  I am old; I am dumb; I have waited to sing till Apollo withdrew—So Amyclae a moment was mute, and for ever a wilderness grew. Now learn ye to love who loved never—-now ye who have loved, love anew, To-morrow!—-to-morrow!”
Amyclae was the ancient Spartan home of the Sanctuary of Apollo and the grave of Hyacinth.  An annual festival, the Hyacinthia, celebrated Hyacinth’s death and rebirth.  See note 36 for the legend of Hyacinth.

“Say when... that I chirp with the swallow again?” is the passage cited from Tiberianus’s poem, and Eliot also ties this to the post-rape transformation of Philomela and her sister into a nightingale and a swallow(see note 99).

See also Algernon Charles Swinburne, Itylus (1864): “Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow.” Swinburne’s poem combines the story of Philomela with the story of Itylus referred to in Homer, Odyssey 19: 524-534, in which Aedon is turned into a nightingale after accidentally killing her son Itylus. See also Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Princess; A Melody (1884): “O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying south,” and compare this with Countess Marie going south for the winter (line 18).

430. MAN OF SHADOWS. Eliot: “V. Gerard de Nerval, Sonnet El Desdichado.”

See El Desdichado (1853; tr. J. Vold): “Once Prince of Aquitaine, my tower undone...”  My full translation of The Loser:

“I’m a man of shadows, widowed, unconsoled,
Once Prince of Aquitaine, my tower undone,
My star departed; even my stellar strings
Are strummed with Melancholy’s blackened sun.

From this grave darkness, you who once consoled me
Bring me back to the mountains by the sea,
Return the flower of pleasure to my heart,
The grapevine and the rose of Italy.

Once Love and once Apollo, king and rogue,
My forehead wears the lipstick of the Queen,
My dreams have tarried where the Siren sings.

I’ve conquered Acheron to hell and back again;
I’ve resonated on these Orphean strings
From saintly sighs to pixilated cries.”

Secondary allusions abound here, to the hyancinth flower (line 36), Jean Verdenal’s death in Italy (note 42), the siren songs of Ariel and the River nymphs (note 266), the woman fiddling on her hair (note 378), the journey across Acheron (see Dante*,Inferno 3.76-78) and, in the cited line, the tower undone (note 374).  De Nerval, a close friend of Charles Baudelaire (see note 76), was also known to have fits of madness; see line 432, and see Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899):

“...with Gérard there was no pose; and when, one day, he was found in the Palais-Royal, leading a lobster at the end of a blue ribbon (because, he said, it does not bark, and knows the secrets of the sea), the visionary had simply lost control of his visions, and had to be sent to Dr. Blanche's asylum at Montmartre.”

432. HAMLET AND HIERONYMO: Eliot*: “V. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.” See Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronymo’s Mad Again (1592), 4.1-5, where Hieronymo speaks:

“Why then, I'll fit you; say no more.
When I was young, I gave my mind
And plied myself to fruitless poetry;
Which though it profit the professor naught,
Yet is it passing pleasing to the world.”

See Eliot, Hamlet and His Problems (note 417), citing Kyd’s play as a source for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In trying to interpret and understand the present poem, one might transpose what Eliot wrote about Shakespeare and Hamlet. On interpretation: “Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is nothing to interpret... for “interpretation” the chief task is the presentation of relevant historical facts which the reader is not presumed to know.”

And on understanding: “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. ...We should have to understand things that Shakespeare did not understand himself.”

Yet even in a lack of understanding there can be appreciation, and Eliot, in ceding to “the peace that passeth understanding” admits as much (see note 434). Even his final “shantih” comment, he says, is a “feeble translation” of the concept; and yet, incomprehensible as it may be, it is still something for this poet, and every poet and reader, to strive for.

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