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The Waste Land

The Waste Land

by T.S. Eliot

Memory and the Past Quotes Page 2

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #4

(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.) (243-246)

The blind prophet Tiresias describes the scene of the typist being seduced by the "young man carbuncular." Because Tiresias is a prophet, he's already seen or "foresuffered" everything that's about to happen, so the future is already like a memory to him. Trippy, right? Well ol' Tiresias follows these comments with a note about how he used to live in Thebes a couple of thousand years ago. By doing this, Eliot collapses the future and the past into the present of this poem, basically making all three times into one. He might do this in order to disrupt the conventional idea of time, which is all about past, present, future (and in that order), which is a classic modernist trick. He makes this disruption to show us that there are many different ways we could see the world, but we're just so numbed by our routines and habits that our minds are narrow.

Quote #5

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you. (320-321)

The speaker of "Death by Water" describes the image of the sailor Phlebas' body rotting at the bottom of the sea, and uses this image to caution readers of all religions about being too proud. Basically, the passage is asking you to think about the fact that one day you'll die so you won't feel too high and mighty. Humility is a big thing for Eliot in this poem, and there isn't much he dislikes more than people with big egos (although Shmoop must say that Eliot's own ego was not exactly Rhode Island-sized). For this reason, he's trying to get you to think about the story of Phlebas as if it were one of your personal memories. That way, you might learn from the past and not be so full of yourself.

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