The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot

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‘To sympathise,' is again seen in terms of a relationship failure:

I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

This image of human isolation becomes even more terrifying when we realise that the first two lines are an allusion to the Inferno where Dante describes a man named Ugolino locked in a tower and starved to death. This is not a real prison, however, but the ‘circular’ prison of Prufrock and the characters in Preludes : we think of the ‘key’ – which could free us – but the more we think about how impossible it is to turn the key, the more we are psychologically imprisoned and trapped. Blake’s ‘mind-forged manacles’ provide an analogous image. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is used as an archetype of the man ‘trapped inside himself’ – his pride and egotism lead to his isolation from society and family, though he finally succumbs to the pleadings of his mother and breaks out of the prison of his self (though only to die at the hands of his enemies).

Interestingly, Eliot externalises the meaning of Damyata , changing it from self-control to simply ‘control.’ Here we find the last image of a boat upon the waters, and can perhaps sense why this image was so important to Eliot:

The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar

It is an image of an individual in control , with a clear direction and purpose, and, crucially, able to take risks (since he is surrounded on his journey by the potential of ‘death by water’). This confidence (different to the arrogant indifference of the ‘young man carbuncular’) makes him attractive to the opposite sex, and, finally, successful in love:

your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands

Ignoring for a moment the traditional view of male dominance in this partnership, this, as much as anything, represents the achieving of the Grail, when spear and cup are united. It is the ease , implied by ‘Gaily,’ the lack of anxiety and effort that makes the picture so compelling – and so unlike most of what is encountered in Eliot’s poetry.

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T.S. Eliot