Eliot is known for quoting, alluding to, and sometimes borrowing from other literary and historical sources. His favorite source for borrowed expressions and ideas is the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy. Tracking down every single allusion in a poem is often a pointless task – the poem itself is what matters – but there are a few important connections you might want to know about.
- First Epigraph: The first epigraph is a quotation from Joseph Conrad's novel about Western imperialism, Heart of Darkness.
- Second Epigraph: The second epigraph is a version of an expression used by English school kids to ask for money to buy fireworks to blow up straw dolls the represent the traitor Guy Fawkes. The "Old Guy" may also represent Charon, the ferryman who would take souls across the Acheron into the realm of death if you gave him a coin.
- Lines 15-16: In Canto 3 of Dante's Inferno, a large group of soul's has been excluded from Hell because they were not "lost" or "violent" enough. They can't take sides in the battle between Good and Evil. We know from other poems like The Waste Land that this canto really resonated with Eliot.
- Line 60: The river is most likely Acheron, a branch of the mythical River Styx. Acheron and the ferryman Charon also appear in Canto 3 of Dante's Inferno.
- Lines 68-71: The italicized song lyrics are a variation of the children's ditty, "Here we go round the Mulberry Bush."
- Line 77: "For Thine is the Kingdom" alludes to the ending of the Lord's Prayer, sometimes known as the "Our Father." The full ending goes: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever."
- Lines 95-98: The end of the poem modifies a different part of the "Mulberry Bush" song.