The Wasteland Rewritten : The Wilderness

Once as a writing exercise I rewrote the first section of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, following his rhythms, structure, and even his method of composition. To read Eliot’s poem with the notes go here, otherwise his text is below and my rewrite follows.


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
––Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
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!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frere!”

The Wilderness

I. Funeral for the Dead

Spring is foolish for its progeny
spreading seed carelessly,
I remember when this hill was dead
and green a dream of immaturity.
Winter was logical, reasoning
dust to dust, fading
life into shades of grey.
Sunrise a shocking conclusion rising from the sea,
a little overcast, stopping in the coffeehouse,
then into a leisurely stroll along the stores,
drinking and chatting about the wares.
“I hate antiques, especially the shabby chic.”
I remember, she said, the whirlpool in the stream
as a girl, my sisters and I, would walk
along the rocks, how slick they were,
but we don’t go there anymore.
On the farm it’s peaceful even at night,
the coyotes sing before they leave.
Out of the whirlwind grasping at the wind:
What is dust? Prophet,
if you can, what rough beast slouches
Jerusalem to be born?
It screams “Peace, Peace!” when there is no peace,
its throat cracks for lack of wine. Only
dash yourself upon the rock
(many are dashed upon this rock)
and ask what
Babel gives to you.
Oh Jonah, go down, down,
down, and I will meet you there
or I will come down and grind you into dust.
alte schlechte Augen,
alte schlechte Augen,
Schäfer wird nicht
mich in frieden.*
We searched for yarrow on the summer solstice.
I called her flower-petal eater
—yet when we came back, late, from the whirlwind garden
your arms held everything, Ophelia, and wet your hair.
The river passed an unkept pit, strewn with petals.
O churlish priest, a ministering angel
will she be when thou liest howling.
Kai pempo Lazaros hina bapto
akron autos daktulos hudor**

Mavis, the twisted alchemist,
was banished, nevertheless
a crafty serpent to the promised land
acts as Minos with his tail
pointing to the dead, to Olaf glad and big
(more brave than me, more blond than you),
to Matilda, called Primavera by the pilgrim,
the lady beyond the fire.
Here is the soldier with the spear, here the Rood,
here is one like Woden with his ravens
whispering in his ear. I do not see
the quizzling, nor the ivory of his leg.
If you see the woman in the streets,
I have confessed, tell her so
and I’ll bring the sheets to wrap her in
to keep her stench back from my nose.

City of seven hills
under a canopy of a future flood,
a split ocean a people crossed, so many,
to scatter their dry bones across
the other land. Grumbling carried their exodus,
each man set his heart to dust,
up to where the Levites kept their guard,
where pooled old blood of bulls and goats
to where moon and stars kept the hours
in the dead night once the sun went dark.
There I saw one I knew and called to him, “Achen!
You who were with me at the battle of A-I,
that silver planted last week in your tent
have you reaped your fruits of it?
Might I have my cut?
but keep clear of open sepulchers,
lest you see yourself go down —that’s home to man!
you blindman, my mirror, my friend!

* Old Bad Eyes, Old Bad Eyes, the Shepherd won’t leave me alone

**and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water


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