The Waste Land
How we cite our quotes:
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations. (49-50)
Belladonna, which means "beautiful lady" in Italian, refers in this case to the Virgin Mary. In other words, Eliot associates the image of a beautiful woman with the spiritual beauty of Christ's Mother. This is no fleeting beauty, either, but one that has a long history of being celebrated, as Eliot suggests by bringing up Leonardo da Vinci's painting, The Madonna of the Rocks. Holding true to form, Eliot in this early image draws a direct connection between the Virgin Mary's classical beauty and her moral beauty.
The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne, (77)
At the very beginning of "A Game of Chess," Eliot quotes Shakespeare's description of Cleopatra to evoke thoughts of a classically beautiful woman. For the next ten lines, the scene seems to confirm this beauty. But suddenly, at line 87, the tone of the poem shifts at the mention of "her strange synthetic perfumes." From that point on, the focus of the poem seems to be on the falseness of the woman's beauty, which is flimsily propped up by "Unguent, powde[r], or liquid" (88). Yuck. From this point on in the poem, Eliot seems to be done with his celebrations of classic beauty. Instead, his poem will turn its attention to physical (and moral ugliness), as he walks farther and farther into the waste land of the modern world. Is everyone happy yet?
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one)
I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said. (156-159)
This selection of lines might be as depressing as it gets in "The Waste Land." In this scene, a woman is telling her friend Lil that she needs to improve her physical appearance (by getting some teeth for starters) before her husband leaves her. Lil, though, says her appearance isn't her fault, since her premature aging has been caused by a bunch of pills she took to give herself an abortion. Here, Eliot draws a connection between Lil's loss of physical beauty with her choice to have an abortion. It's as if the moral universe of the poem has punished her for refusing her reproductive role, and it is important to remember that the person choosing to show us this connection is Eliot. In this instance, then, you might say that Eliot is at his least sympathetic. You could also argue, though, that the poem does show some sympathy for Lil.