Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Ariel's Song and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

The relationship between T.S. Eliot's infamous poem "The Wasteland" and Shakespeare's "The Tempest" is rich and complicated enough to fill volumes; it has, in fact. For the purposes of this website, however, let's take a brief look at the image of the pearls, since the line is lifted directly from Ariel's song:

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyant,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

Ariel's words are transported into the mouth of a psychic who the speaker addresses ironically as the wisest woman in Europe. The sailor with pearls for eyes becomes a tarot card, which Sosostris reads as an omen for the speaker to avoid large bodies of water for fear of drowning. The image haunts the various speakers of the poem, becoming a symbol of despair in the collapse of the civilized world, and a deep fear of mortality. While Shakespeare's use of the image is hauntingly beautiful, and can be read as a hopeful suggestion that all things return to nature and become beautiful, The Wasteland makes the image cheap by putting it in the tarot deck and terrifying to the listener. The return to a state of nature outlined in The Tempest becomes a nightmare for Eliot.

Return to Ariel's Song