Intersectionality and translation: Monique Lojkine-Morelec’s translation of the The Waste Land.


If truth is the first casualty of war, perhaps the second casualty is love. This paper explores the portrayal of women in The Waste Land as a consequence of T.S. Eliot’s loss of his soul-mate Jean Verdenal and considers how Monique Lojkine’s translation, among other translations, carefully presents the misogyny of the poem.

Si la vérité est la première victime de la guerre, peut-être la seconde victime est-elle l’amour. Cet article explore comment les femmes sont représentées dans The Waste Land en conséquence de la perte de l’âme sœur d’Eliot, Jean Verdenal. La mysogynie du poème est parfaitement captée par la traduction de Monique Lojkine, comparée ici aux autres traductions.



Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon features plenty of sex where there is little evidence of love. Pynchon’s literary precursor for such unhappiness was T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to which he abundantly alludes. Pynchon and Eliot were writing texts about different wars, but at least on one plane, their common perception was that love—the greatest human treasure—can get lost entirely in wartime and its aftermath. Eliot lost Jean Verdenal, who was very possibly his first love, in the Dardanelles in 1915. Nancy Cunard also lost her true love to the war, Peter Broughton Adderly, and her one-night stand with Eliot (perhaps organized by Ezra Pound) was not particularly successful, but at least she was totally liberated from the sexual inhibitions that haunted Eliot until he was a senior citizen. Eliot married his second wife when he was 68 in 1957: Valerie Fletcher had been his secretary for eight years and was 38 years his junior.[1] As Eliot scholars are aware, she was an intelligent and self-sacrificing woman who was also entirely devoted to his literary reputation.[2]

Intersectionality is a term I wish to associate with the text of The Waste Land, in several ways, but not to depreciate the author, to whom some indulgence may be owed, after many have declared this poem to be iconic to the avant-garde and the summum of twentieth century poetry in English for a full century. Eliot’s social class, upbringing, and puritan roots allowed him both the things we find reprehensible (the antisemitism, the blatant racism of the early suppressed Bolo poems, and the reactionary religiosity so publicly proclaimed during his fame[3]) as well as the sexual and emotional handicap of having little freedom of mind.  No doubt his recourse to roaming the seedy sides of town in Paris and elsewhere was probably motivated as much from repressed desires as from curiosity about other people’s lives. In fact, Eliot’s poetry itself was rooted in unsatisfied desire as affirmed by Frances Dickey in 2020. In an essay about The Waste Land in 1994, Harriet Davidson stated that the poem was about « the proper and the improper”:

The poem returns again and again to ‘improper’ sexual desire, temptation, and surrender and their often tragic consequences. The poem also, in its interest in metamorphosis and use of quick juxtapositions, blurs the proper boundaries between things; different characters and voices confusingly mutate into each other; most obviously the poem questions the boundaries between poems, liberally appropriating other poets’ property as its own. […] none of this is done in the spirit of play; the overriding tone of the poem seems to yearn to be rid of improper desires, setting up a deep contradiction within the poem.[4]

Intersectionality, the term that came into being in the United States during the 1990s, describes how inequality can derive from gender, race, social class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability or any intersection of those. It is easy enough to find it at work in the way women are portrayed in the The Waste Land.[5] Their role is basically that of embodied creatures that men are able to use as they like or scorn. However, employing the term here may seem anachronistic. Not only had Eliot never heard of such a term, Monique Lojkine (to my knowledge) has never used it either.  And yet, one may consider how Frances Dickey described Harvard’s Houghton Library release of “The Love of a Ghost for a Ghost: T.S. Eliot on his Letters to Emily Hale.”:

On January 2, 2020, T.S. Eliot announced from the grave that he and Emily Hale never had sex and that marrying her would have killed the poet in him.[6]

Or, as Eliot wrote in the document itself, after having written a mere 1,131 letters to Ms. Hale:

I fell in love with Emily Hale in 1912, when I was in the Harvard Graduate School. Before I left for Germany and England in 1914 I told her that I was in love with her. I have no reason to believe, from the way in which the declaration was received, that my feelings were returned, in any degree whatever. We exchanged a few letters, on a purely friendly basis, while I was up at Oxford during 1914-1915.
Upon the death of Vivienne in the winter of 1947, I suddenly realised that I was not in love with Emily Hale. Gradually I came to see that I had been in love only with a memory, with the memory of the experience of having been in love with her in my youth.

In the same document (as well as in a well-known late poem about being in bed together, “A Dedication to My Wife”), Eliot details how his love with his second wife is all-fulfilling, implying that she was the one he sought for so many years. While that is given as a fact that can be celebrated, he also declares that the letters he received from Emily Hale were destroyed at his request, which most Eliot scholars seem to find reprehensible. Eliot effectively silenced the women who is seen as his poetic muse. And Eliot wanted her in that role, presumably, in the way Beatrice was muse for Dante. As Dickey rightly remarks, “his posthumous blast cannot cover up the story that [Hale’s Princeton] archive [of Eliot’s letters to her] tells of their lifelong relationship, her role as his muse, and the price she paid for the honor.”[7] Of course, for many years, for a rather large percentage of Eliot’s readers, it might have been even more troublesome to see Jean Verdenal as an absent muse figure. That theory was first developed by John Peter in 1952, in an article in Essays in Criticism, where the poem was presented as a lament for Verdenal — to which Eliot over-reacted with threats of a libel suit. Eliot’s homosexuality was again reiterated with some critical depth in 1977 by James E. Miller in T.S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land, after Randall Jarrell had singled out Eliot in 1962 as “one of the most subjective and daemonic poets that ever lived, the victim and helpless beneficiary of his own inexorable compulsions.”[8]

It seems clear that while Pound mourned the loss of a good friend at the front in his A Memoir of Gaudier-Brezeska (1916), Eliot in The Waste Land was acting out some form of protracted and complicated mourning (as the DSM-5 would call it), for the loss of a lover or potential lover. Today’s readers may acknowledge it, as Pound apparently did in a letter from December 24, 1921 with the poem “Sage Homme”:

These are the poems of Eliot
By the Uranian Muse begot;
A Man their Mother was,
A Muse their Sire.
How did the printed infancies result
From Nuptials thus doubly difficult?

If you must needs enquire
Know diligent reader
That on each Occasion
Ezra performed the caesarian Operation.

Garrick Davies, who quoted Pound’s letter in an article from 2016, “related that James Miller found that “‘Uranian’ was a common term for same-sex love in the late nineteenth century.”[9] Miller had written an article called “T.S. Eliot’s ‘Uranian Muse’: The Verdenal Letters,” that was published in 1998.[10] That was a mere decade after the first volume of Eliot’s letters, from 1898 to 1922 appeared, making Eliot’s correspondence with Verdenal public information.

Nancy Gish, in 2017, noted that the journeys of Aeneas and Eliot shared emotional parallels as well as war parallels, “…a map of the World war I campaign in the Mediterranean, and especially the horrific Gallipoli campaign in which Verdenal died, can almost overlap that of Aeneas’s journey…”[11] Lyndall Gordon has mentioned Verdenal’s interest in poetry by Laforgue, suggesting that his influence on the poems of early Eliot was never properly acknowledged by the author.[12]

So one may entertain the idea that The Waste Land is a poem written by a man whose passionate relationship with Jean Verdenal remained unspoken. His unfulfilling relationship with his first wife combined with his unfulfilled desire for Emily Hale combined with the Eliot couple’s financial struggles, the effects of World War I, and the stresses of his job at Lloyds bank led to a mental breakdown in 1921 and a recuperation period with Dr. Roger Vittoz in Lausanne, Switzerland, where much of the poem was written.[13] It is a poem including numerous scenes and sounds of rape, unsatisfying sex, unwanted pregnancy, and a peeping Tom called Tiresias with female breasts. Miller in 1998 suggested that Pound’s revision of the poem “tended to obscure the poem’s ‘Uranian’ or homosexual origins, diluting the personal dimensions and inflating its cultural and social themes.”[14]

*   *   *

Our concern is the notion of how a poem can best be translated.  Translators tend naturally to translate for their own specific public: one could argue that they most easily transfer and communicate a poem to people of similar background and social milieu to themselves, since quite naturally their formulations and vocabulary choices may reflect something about their background. One could therefore argue that as many translations as possible of a poem are likely to be more worthwhile to the poet and the poem than a narrow limiting of a work to only one translator. This is especially true in a poem of multiple suppressions, voicings, and meanings, such as The Waste Land. The above lines express my personal opinion, and perhaps are not completely in opposition to the position of Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Task of the Translator.” Benjamin maintains that “the concept of an ‘ideal’ receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art.” and that “No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the audience.”[15] Art transcends social class, cultural baggage, and even ignorance, he argues,  so trying to pinpoint the ideal audience is futile. However, my point is that translators can only translate what they themselves have received, and that they translate and transmit what they can, as best they can.

Let us postulate that a poet’s reach may be extended if a poet does not limit who translates their text. Of course, a poet may enter into a special relationship with a translator (here one may be permitted to mention Geoffrey Hill’s correspondence with René Gallet for three decades); and after all, a translator may devote much of their working energy to translating one specific poet’s work and come to be somehow associated with the poet. A translator graced with a poet’s correspondence may obtain a privileged position of legitimacy, especially if the poet has answered the translators’ questions about the text. But even so, to what degree should other translations be blocked or forbidden?

Michel Leyris obtained exclusive rights to translating Eliot’s poetry in France for the long period of British copyright (amounting to 70 years in this case). And he also obtained notes on the poem from John Hayward. What that meant was that while you could certainly translate Eliot’s poetry privately, you were not authorized to publish your translation in a volume. The only authorized copyright for Eliot’s poems in France belonged to Michel Leyris.  The first edition of the Leyris translation of The Waste Land was published in 1947 as La Terre Vaine. By that time Eliot was largely recognized as a religious poet, thanks to his poetry of the 1930s and of course Four Quartets. To what extent was the Leyris translation a way of doctoring up Eliot’s earlier, cruder poems and downplaying any homosexual elements? Despite the exclusivity Leyris’s translation enjoyed — or perhaps because of it, there are in fact many extant published translations of The Waste Land into French. Some are more difficult to locate than others.

Jean de Menasce’s translation appeared before Eliot officially entered the Anglican Church (1926, republished in 2021) first as La Terre Mise à Nu, and then as La Terre Gaste.[16] Michel Vinaver’s version, La terre vague was published in Po&sie in 1984.[17] Vinaver completed his text in 1946-47, and then discovered that the Leyris translation had just appeared. There was the artfully produced translation by Michèle Pinson, which was handwritten and accompanied by typographical art work, suggesting a feminine response to the text (published 1996).[18] There is an unpublished translation that is now available on line by the psychoanalyst Guy Le Gaufey, La Terre Devastée (1921-1922), who worked on the text beginning in spring 1995 and finished it within the year.[19] Benoît Tadié’s excellent translation, La Terre devastée, was published in Po&sie in 2020.[20] There may be other translations into French and may those translators pardon their absence from this listing. Monique Lojkine-Morelec’s translation, Terre en déshérence, was published in Arts of War and Peace 4.1, Modernist Reconstructions (2022).

Monique Lojkine-Morelec wrote her doctoral thesis on Eliot and taught Eliot for the agrégation in 1992.[21]  After working as a maîtresse de conférence for the greater part of her career she became Professor at Paris Sorbonne (Paris IV) in 1990, where she often included work on Eliot in her Master’s seminar.[22] The project for her own translation may have started while she was still teaching, but she was not able to devote time to it until she retired in 1999. She apparently spent more than a decade, working on and off to perfect and meditate on the translation itself, thinking about how to render the ambiguities of the text in the translation. I remember conversations about some of her choices at various times, though my French was inadequate to be of good counsel. How should one translate “dirty ears” or “the hyacinth girl,” or the “lean solicitor,” so as to maintain the multiple meanings and ambiguities of the original text? Such points were long pondered. Questioned about her work in Autumn 2022, she was unable to pinpoint the exact beginning or ending date for her translation, but she did send me her final version January 5, 2021.

After The Waste Land was on her Agrégation program as a student, and feeling that some of the notes to the Leyris translation had sent her off on the wrong path, she decided to write her doctoral thesis on the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Her initial research work was ground-breaking. She consulted the original manuscripts of Eliot’s earliest poems at the New York Public Library (which were later edited by Christopher Ricks) and also the original manuscripts for The Waste Land (before the facsimile edition was published in 1972). She was quite aware of the Emily Hale story before it was well known. She saw and wrote about the misogyny, racism, and antisemitism in her T.S. Eliot, Essai sur la genèse d’une écriture (1985). She was perfectly informed about the restrictions of studying Eliot, and particularly (in her case) from a non-Christian viewpoint. In a sense, having been frustrated in her earlier research on Eliot (unable to write some materials down when consulting them, unable to quote from letters), and then knowing that Leyris had exclusive copyright to the translated versions of the poems, she may have become discouraged with yet another hurdle to deal with. She came to realize that only well after her retirement would Eliot’s correspondence finally be made available and would Leyris’s control of Eliot’s poems in French be broken. She did once attempt to get her translation published as a book, but the editor refused, declaring fidelity to the Leyris translation. She became convinced her translation could never be published, even though other translations had already appeared in periodicals, and even though she was perfectly aware of Claude Vigée’s published translation of Four Quartets. But one may also consider that Vigée’s translation dated to 1944, and was only published almost 50 years later in 1992, by Menard Press in Britain (it was not a French edition, so to speak, and therefore not bound to respect the Leyris copyright). Lojkine never attempted to have her translation published in a periodical until two years ago.

When I mailed her a copy of the Tadié translation of The Waste Land, early January 2021, she responded (Jan 24, 2021):

… thank you for forwarding Tadié’s translation, which does not greatly differ from mine, except on those passages that I found most ambivalent in meaning and that he did not really consider from that double point of view; but what I really appreciated was his choice of unsophisticated words and the way he managed the Lil passage quite fluently without as much distortion as I did and this was in perfect accordance with Eliot’s intention as stated in the margin of his manuscript.

Another essential difference is that what Tadié offers is what is usually expected of a translation, that is a bare text with a good introduction, whereas mine is a translation meant for students and researchers, pointing out the untranslatable and discussing the possible choices.

Lojkine and Tadié both felt that the Leyris translation was inadequate for the text, and could not reach contemporary readers.[23] Tadié has expressed this eloquently:

Sa traduction est belle, mais elle émousse complètement le texte : on ne voit plus que c’est un poème moderne. On voit une sorte de Valéry, avec ici et là quelques libertés, mais on n’arrive pas du tout à comprendre en quoi c’est moderniste, si on redonne un peu de force à ce mot. On manque surtout le fait que la poésie plus tardive d’Eliot l’est beaucoup moins : ça s’aplatit à partir des Quatre quatuors. Dans l’édition de Leyris, on ne voit pas qu’il y a eu ce moment assez révolutionnaire suivi par un moment d’institutionnalisation.[24]

Tadié, who first translated the poem in 2007-2008, said he ignored other translations while completing his own (which is no doubt a very sane thing to do).[25] I was under the impression that Lojkine always had Leyris to hand to scrupulously consider where he glossed over the text and embellished it, smoothing its rough-edges, prejudices, and rampant sexuality. She confirmed to me that this was the case, saying that she had looked at Leyris at every turn, attempting to be different and more accurate, and that she had chosen to translate line for line (avoiding taking words from one line and putting them in a another).[26]

Turning now to the poem and its translations, several places where intersectionality is present in the text will be considered. Two lines from section two offer an interesting start for a poem that many (including me) have often declared to be a war poem:

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
(lines 115-116)

de Mennasce :
Je pense que nous sommes dans la ruelle aux rats
Où les morts ont perdu leurs os.

Je pense que nous sommes dans l’impasse aux rats
Où les morts ont perdu leurs os.

Je pense que nous sommes dans l’allée des rats
Où les morts ont perdu leurs os.

Je crois que nous sommes dans l’impasse aux rats
où les morts ont perdu leurs os.

Le Gaufey:
Je pense que nous sommes dans l’allée aux rats
Là où les morts ont perdu leur os.

Je pense que nous sommes dans la tranchée des rats
Où les hommes morts ont perdu leurs os.

Je pense que nous sommes dans la venelle aux rats
Là où les morts ont perdu leurs ossements

Isaac Rosenberg’s “Trench Poems” as they were called, a set of two poems: “Marching” and “Break of Day in the Trenches,” had already appeared in Poetry (December 1916) a mere eighteen months after Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” had been published there (June 1915), so we can assume that Eliot might have read Rosenberg, and noticed the “droll rat” and its “cosmopolitan sympathies.” Most translations of these lines do tend to focus on words that allow for or even evoke the trenches, and rightly so. What I find interesting about Lojkine’s translation specifically is the choice of a word like “venelle.” With it, she has made a conscious choice to also invoke antisemitism. Venelle, while it does not exclude the topography of trenches, might also suggest the small medieval streets of ghettos, where Pogroms took place.

Sections two and three are quite linked in the poem, by their images. The presence of death, no doubt invoking such bodies from World War I — in “A Game of Chess” recurs in “The Fire Sermon”: “White bodies naked on the low damp ground / And bones cast in a little low dry garret” (lines 193-195). Eliot may be describing the paleness of those who here have drowned, and the words may also evoke for the reader a scene after battle, but in that case, the description leaves out all the numerous colonial fighters, for example the Moroccan brigades that were present and fighting on the day that Charles Péguy lost his life in 1914.[27]

Is the poem so utterly determined by World War I, that one should one feel that all allusions to sexuality in the poem are framed by war?  Certainly the gossipy pub scene would suggest it. Eliot may have been a prude, a Prufrock, or a Sweeney himself in “Mr Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service” (1918), but he was well aware that rape was a tactic of war as well as civilian life. He knew too about social pressures on women: soldiers who had sacrificed their lives would return home feeling entitled to let women satisfy them, and also feeling entitled to return to the places they had left to women who in their absence had entered the workforce. When Albert returned from the front, it was normal that he would expect to have a good time, and that his wife would be an attractive woman with whom he could.

He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time, And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said
Oh is there, she said. Something o’that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look
(lines 148-152)

de Menasce:
Qu’a été au front ces quatre ans, il voudra rigoler un peu
et si c’est pas avec toi, y en aura d’autres, que j’dis..
Ah ! c’est comme ça, qu’elle dit.; Un peu ! que j’dis.
Et ben, j’saurai à qui je dois ça,, qu’elle dit, et m’regard’ de travers,

Donne-z-i du bon temps, ça fait quatre ans qu’i sert.
Si c’est pas avec toi, ça s’ra avec une aut’.
—Oh! c’est comme ça, qu’elle dit. —Ça m’en a l’air, que j’dis.
J’saurai qui r’mercier, qu’elle a fait en m’regardant dans l’blanc des yeux

Ça fait quatre ans qu’il est dans l’armée, il voudra un peu s’amuser,
Et si c’est pas avec toi, ça sera avec une autre, que je lui ai dit.
Ah, c’est comme ça? qu’elle a dit. Ouais, c’est comme ça, que je lui ai dit.
Bon, bien je saurai qui remercier, qu’elle a dit, en m’envoyant un de ces regards.

Quatre ans sous les drapeaux, i’veut s’donner du bon temps
Si ça t’dit rien, ça dira à d’autres.
Ah, c’est ça, qu’elle me dit; et moi: que’chose dans l’genre.
Alors j’saurai pas qui r’mercier, qu’elle m’a dit en m’regardant droit dans les yeux
M  E  S  S  I  E  U  R  S        O  N       F  E  R  M  E

Le Gaufey:
Ça fait quatre ans qu’il est dans l’armée, i veut avoir du bon temps
Et si tu lui en donnes pas, d’aut’ l’feront, j’te le dis.
— Ah, tu crois ça, qu’elle a dit. et comment ! que j’ai dit.
Ben, j’saurai qui r’mercier, qu’elle a fait en m’regardant droit dans les yeux.

Quatre ans à l’armée, il lui faut du bon temps,
Et si tu lui donnes pas, d’autres le feront, j’ai dit.
Ah oui ?  elle a dit ; Faut croire, j’ai dit.
Alors je saurai qui remercier, elle a dit, en me regardant droit dans les yeux.

Ça fait quatre ans qu’est à l’armée, i voudra s’prendre du bon temps,
Et si c’est pas toi qui y’en donne, y’en aura d’aut’ pour l’faire, qu’j’y ai dit.
Alors c’est comme ça ! qu’elle a dit. A peu près qu’j’y ai dit.
Alors j’saurai qui r’mercier, qu’elle m’a dit et elle m’a r’gardée droit dans les yeux.

Here I find Tadié’s translation fluid and preferable, but perhaps there is something of the French I don’t register as it tries to render a cockney accent as something a titi parisien might have once said. No doubt Lojkine, Le Gaufey, Pinson, Leyris, and de Menascé are projecting an accent of lower class Parisians in the 1920s. This is the accent Eliot would have heard during his wanderings on the seedy side of town.… Obviously the popular Parisian accent has evolved since, to such a degree that the “ouais” of Vinaver and the “Faut croire” of Tadié sound just right to me. In this passage Le Gaufey’s translation is very pointed: “(Ç’aurait été son cinquième, et elle avait failli claquer avec le petit George.)” — and claquer seems a judicious choice. Tadié says “failli mourrir” which is fine, and Lojkine says “elle a bien failli y rester” which is also perfect. (There must be a case for publishing every known French translation of The Waste Land together in one volume as a kind of extravagant translation study and study guide to the poem for students…)

But what have we discovered about Lil here? She’s no longer a lily of the valley to be sure, and does the poem also imply that the working classes can basically be dispensed with? Without birth control, and being at her husband’s disposal, she has born five children already at age 31. And having taken lead tablets to induce a miscarriage (in lieu of an illegal and dangerous abortion surgical procedure), her teeth are now ruined from saturnism. It is obvious that this woman has had more than one set of hurdles to climb over, with the intersectionality of gender, social class, and access to proper medical care — including also perhaps not having access to more empathetic friends. Yet, in the poem Lil’s side of the war story is barely presented: what war-time sacrifices did she make, and how did she care for and nourish her large family alone? Was she part of the women’s workforce, replacing men away at the front? The Waste Land does not say.

Eliot’s insistence in the poem is, you will recall, that this gossipy friend was present when Albert gave Lil money and advised her to “get a nice set” of teeth.  Her friend scolds her for looking “so antique,” and Lil responded (according to her gossipy friend):

It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(line 159)

de Menasce:
C’est ces cachets qu’j’ai pris pour l’faire passer, qu’elle dit

C’est ces cachets qu’j’ai pris afin de l’décrocher.

C’est ces pilules que j’ai avalées, pour le faire descendre, qu’elle a  dit.

C’est ces cachets qu’ai pris pour l’décrocher.

Le Gaufey:
C’est leurs pilules que j’ai pris pour le faire passer. (Ç’aurait été son cinquième, et elle avait failli claquer avec le petit George.)

C’est ces pilules que j’ai prises, pour le faire passer, elle a dit. (Elle en déjà a eu cinq, et failli mourir du petit George).

C’est les cachets qu’j’ai pris, pour l’faire passer, qu’elle a dit. (elle en a d’jà cinq, et pour le p’tit Georges elle a bien failli y rester.)

Should one separate the Philomel story from the Albert and Lil story or the story of the typist and the Clerk in section III?   He do the Police in different voices. Isn’t the poem all one story in multiple facets? What is Eliot policing?? It is the story of Eliot’s frustrated love on some level, but also of women’s suffering in and out of war. (Or perhaps it is the story of Eliot suffering as a woman?)

It is basically impossible to separate section III “The Fire Sermon” from section II “A Game of Chess,” due to the way women are portrayed and the sounds of rape occurring in both sections. Described in the opening lines of section II is a luxurious interior with a beautiful woman, and her perfumes. A painting is displayed above the mantel:

The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.
(lines 99-104)

Tadié :
La métamorphose de Philomèle, par le roi barbare
Si rudement outragée ; mais là le rossignol
Emplissait tout le désert d’une voix inviolable
Et toujours elle criait, et toujours le monde poursuit,
« Tireli tirela » dans des oreilles sales.

note (line 99) Tadié:
Ovid, Métamorphoses, VI, Philomèle.

Lojkine :
La métamorphose de Philomèle, par le roi barbare
Si brutalement forcée ; là pourtant le rossignol
Emplissait tout le désert d’une voix inviolable
Et toujours elle criait, et toujours court le monde,
« Et yo! et yo! » pour des oreilles mal tournées.

note (31) Lojkine:
L’anglais « Jug jug » est bien le cri attribué au rossignol dans cette langue, mais les oreilles à la fois malpropres  et lubriques l’entendent comme le « jig-jig » que proposent les prostituées à d’éventuels clients. On se souviendra à ce propos que l’équivalence rossignol/prostituée se trouvait déjà dans un poème écrit en 1918, « Sweeney Among the Nightingales » (Sweeney parmi  les rossignols). Le « tio tio » du rossignol français ne permettant pas un retournement aussi évident du sens de la plainte de Philomèle vers sa cause lubriquement contemplée, j’ai d’abord pensé y substituer un « coït coït » qui en est un quasi palindrome, mais cette figure risquait d’échapper au lecteur et les mots eux-mêmes de lui apparaître trop brutalement explicites en même temps que de sonorité difficile à confondre avec le «  tio tio » du rossignol, là où, chez Eliot, la brutalité va toujours masquée derrière l’écran de l’ambiguïté (comme ici dans le double sens, à la fois physique et moral, des « dirty ears » qui leur permet de mal entendre et d’entendre à mal tout à la fois); j’ai finalement préféré une allusion au mouvement du yoyo, renforcé par les points d’exclamation qui renvoient à la brutalité de l’acte, car ce qu’entendent en fait les oreilles salaces, ce n’est pas tant l’appel à l’acte sexuel que la ‘gigue’ que dansent hardiment deux corps accouplés, d’où la tentation, finalement repoussée d’ajouter un « gigue la gigue » à mon moins explicite yoyo, ajout calqué sur le « twit-twit, jug-jug » de la section suivante.

The problem of how to translate “jug jug” preoccupied Monique Lojkine for a certain length of time, as her note to the translation demonstrates. Le Gaufey did not translate it, leaving it in English.

The rape of Philomel in section two (and perhaps also of Lil, if one chooses to interpret Lil’s repeated unwanted pregnancies as a result of Albert’s forcing himself upon her) are re-lived by the repetition of their sounds in section three (lines 203-206).

Here Eliot allusively, yet crudely suggests a relationship sought by Sweeney with Mrs. Porter’s daughter by incorporating a line from Verlaine’s sonnet “Parsifal”… in a passage that opens with a rewritten line from the beginning of the second stanza of Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress”

But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!   

             Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forced
(lines 196-206)

Eliot’s use of Andrew Marvell could be amusing: it keeps an enjambed line breaking on the same verb (“hear”), but it is not “Time’s winged chariot” so much as the sounds of modernity that are heard, even though the appeal of sex is unchanging.  But sex with a man or a woman? Verlaine’s poem can be read both ways…

Rereading this passage I wondered if it was Eliot’s poem or Verlaine’s behind the choice of a name for the famous Montparnasse restaurant “La Coupole” that opened in 1927, where so many of Paris’s avant-garde went to sing and dance on tables…![28] (lines 197, 198,  201)!  And while Verlaine is the French symbolist that Eliot quotes from here, the decadent Laforgueian influence is very present as well. For Lahsen Benaziza such influence extended from Prufrock to The Waste Land but then ended: it is not at all present in Four Quartets.[29] Laforgue favored the mythical and literary allusions, the use of nursery rhyme and popular song alongside opera lyrics, the ironic effect that is produced from the juxtaposition between seriousness and playfulness, and the repeated structuring motifs of the poem.[30] So Eliot’s lament for Verdenal is written in a style that would have pleased Verdenal himself….

Lojkine’s note (34) about the “game of chess“ (line 137) clarifies that one should refer to the game of chess in Women beware Women (1657) by Thomas Middleton, which allows for a continuous rape.  And her note (41) for Sweeney reads:

Sweeney apparaît, assorti d’images de bestialité, dans deux autres poèmes, « Sweeney Among the Nightingales », (Little Review, V,5, Sept. 1918) où les rossignols sont associés à des prostituées interlopes, un couvent du Sacré Cœur et l’assassinat d’Agamemnon, et « Sweeney Erect », (Art and Letters, II,3, été 1919) où se trouvent juxtaposées, un peu comme dans « Une partie d’Echecs », deux scènes de désolation liées à la défloration et à l’abandon d’une femme, la première dans la belle langue du mythe mettant en scène Aspasie (The Maids Tragedy de Beaumont et Fletcher) et Ariane  abandonnée par Thésée, dans un paysage de désolation,  de stérilité et de fuite et la seconde une femme hystérique se tordant sur un lit de garni, sinon de bordel, après le retrait d’un Sweeney plutôt cynique. Sweeney reparaîtra plus tard dans Sweeney Agonistes.

Lojkine’s notes leave no doubt about the plight of women in the poem.

de Menasce:
Le bruit des trompes et des autos qui conduiront
Sweeney vers Mrs. Porter au Printemps.
O the Moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They bathe their feet in soda water
Et ô ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole !

Twit, Twit, Twit,,
Djag, djag, djag, djag, djag, djag,
Si brutalement forcée

Le bruit des trompes et des moteurs qui mèneront
Sweeney vers madame Porter au printemps
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et Ô ces voix d’enfants chantant dans la coupole !

But at my back from time to time I hear
Mais derrière moi de temps en temps j’entends
Le bruit des cylindres et les l’axons
Qui uniront Portion
A M’ame Godille quand viendra le printemps.
O comme la lune brille sur M’ame Godille
Et sur sa fille
Elles lavent leurs pieds
Dans l’eau de sellez et ça pétille
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole

Tuï Tuï Tuï
Cri Cru Cri Cru Cri Cru
Si brutalement forcée

Le bruit de trompes et des moteurs qui mèneront
Sweeney à Madame Porter, en avril.
Comme la claire lune brille
Sur Madame Porter et sa fille,
Se lavent les pieds dans l’eau qui pétille.
Et, O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole !

Tuit tuit tuit
Gring Gring Gring Gring Gring Gring
si rudement forcée

Le Gaufay:
Mais derrière moi de loin en loin j’entends
Le bruit des trompes et des moteurs, qui conduiront
Sweeney vers Madame Portille au printemps.
Ô la lune brillait fort sur Madame Portille
Et sur sa fille
Elles se lavent les pieds dans l’eau qui pétille
Et ô ces voix d’enfants chantant dans la coupole !

Twit twit twit
jug jug jug jug jug jug
Si rudement forcée.

Mais derrière moi de temps à autre j’entends
Un bruit de cornes et d’autos, qui porteront
Sweeney à Mrs. Porter dans la source.
O la lune brillait sur Mrs. Porter
Et sa fille
Elles se lavent les pieds dans l’eau gazeuse
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole !

Cui cui cui
Tireli tirela tireli trela
Si rudement outragée.

Mais de temps en temps derrière moi j’entends
Le son des trompes et des moteurs qui, au printemps,
Conduiront Sweeney chez Mrs Porter
O la lune d’un vif éclat brille
sur Mrs Porter et sur sa fille
Elles se lavent les pieds dans l’eau qui pétille
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole !

Twit twit twit
Tio tio tio tio tio
Si brutalement forcée

In the manuscript version of “The Fire Sermon” large sections from the beginning describing a woman named Fresca were cut following Pound’s suggestion. One of the missing sections reads:

Fresca was baptised in a soapy sea
Of Symonds—Walter Pater—Vernon Lee.
The Scandinavians bemused her wits,
The Russians thrilled her to hysteric fits.
From such chaotic misch-masch potpourri
What are we to expect but poetry?
When restless nights distract her brain from sleep
She may as well write poetry, as count sheep
And on those nights when Fresca lies alone,
She scribbles verse of such a gloomy tone
That cautious critics say, her style is quite her own.
Not quite an adult, and still less a child,
By fate misread, by flattering friends beguiled,
Fresca’s arrived (the Muses Nine declare)
To be a sort of can-can salonniere.
But at my back from time to time I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.[31]

This does not sound like a portrait of Eliot’s first wife, nor of Emily Hale. François Buot suggested that it is none other than Nancy Cunard, whose poetry collection Out Laws was published in 1921.[32] Eliot was also, of course, familiar with Cunard’s poetic contribution to Wheels, edited by Edith Sitwell, whom he also mocked in his short fiction piece “Eeldrop and Appleplex” published in two installments by the Little Review in 1917. But Sitwell had never been a romantic interest and here the digs are more vicious. Was Eliot re-living a night he would choose to forever forget (and regret) when a few lines earlier, the same Fresca took a bath, and with perfume had disguised her “hearty female stench”?[33] Pound may have barred Eliot’s experience with Cunard from the text, but he could not erase the misogyny…
Thus, perhaps behind Mrs. Porter and her daughter the reader may find Lady and Nancy Cunard? The insistence on the daughter, with the shorter line that stands out, could highlight that, and in any case, it certainly hints at sex with the daughter. And soda water during the prohibition era (which began in 1920 in the U.S.) likely signals somewhat more than sparkling water; it was most likely champagne or a spiked water, possibly gin and tonic. Lojkine’s notes for this section also clarify:

[42] Eliot dit ne pas connaître l’origine de cette ballade qui lui fut envoyée d’Australie. Savait-il que le texte n’en était pas, semble-t-il,  « They wash their feet », mais « They wash their arse » (Elles se lavent le cul) ? Cet usage d’un double référent relevant l’un du sexuel et l’autre du sacré (hérité d’une tradition perpétuée par Shakespeare) n’est pas étrangère au poète. (NT).

[43] V. Verlaine, « Parsifal ». (NP) Ce texte n’est pas lui-même sans ambiguïté. (NT)

In fact, Parsifal corresponds to what Eliot is and is not. He is seeking a poetic grail, but he has not met his beautiful woman (or anyone at all) to fill Verdenal’s shoes… Consider the sonnet that was published in Verlaine’s collection Amour (1888) and dedicated to Jules Tellier:

Parsifal a vaincu les Filles, leur gentil
Babil et la luxure amusante — et sa pente
Vers la Chair de garçon vierge que cela tente
D’aimer les seins légers et ce gentil babil ;

Il a vaincu la Femme belle, au cœur subtil,
Étalant ses bras frais et sa gorge excitante ;
il a vaincu l’Enfer et rentre sous la tente
Avec un lourd trophée à son bras puéril,

Avec la lance qui perça le Flanc suprême !
Il a guéri le roi, le voici roi lui-même,
Et prêtre du très saint Trésor essentiel.

En robe d’or il adore, gloire et symbole,
Le vase pur où resplendit le Sang réel.
— Et, ô ces voix d’enfants chantant dans la coupole !

This is the story of Perceval from Wales, who wants to become a knight but makes a fatal error from obediently not inquiring at a crucial moment, by not asking the important question, thereby bringing about tragedy, as the death of his mother occurs, and the King’s illness is not healed. This results in guilt toward his mother and in the French version of the story, no fertility for “la Terre gaste,” — the title given to the second printing of Jean de Menasce’s translation. Indeed, the Perceval story, the quest, is linked to the title of the poem. Lojkine explained her choice of title, “Terre en déshérence” this way:

[1] Le titre, « The Waste Land », fut repris par Eliot d’un poème de Madison Casein, publié dans Poetry, à Chicago en 1913 alors que le manuscrit avait longtemps porté le titre, emprunté à un personnage de Dickens dans Our Mutual Friend : « He Do the Police in Different Voices », « Il joue la police à plusieurs voix » dont on retrouvera l’esprit dans la note concernant Tirésias (note 43). Il n’est pas inintéressant de garder à l’esprit cette idée d’une investigation à plusieurs voix, sans omettre le son et le rythme de ces « voix d’acteur » en quelque sorte, toutes néanmoins issues d’un même locuteur sous différents masques. […]
« Gaste » est un mot d’ancien français issue de la même racine que « waste », mais serait-il encore compris, hormis des érudits? Quant à « vaine », il se rattache, par le latin, à l’autre terme, « vanus », vide, vain, en concurrence avec « vastus », inoccupé, désolé, qui a donné « dévasté »;spave le mot est joli, mais il me semble tirer le texte un peu trop du côté de l’Ecclésiaste.
Le titre que j’ai choisi, pour ma part, joue un peu sur les mots, comme le fait d’ailleurs, bien que différemment, le mot anglais « waste ». « Waste » suggère en effet, par-delà le sens d’un lieu stérile et désolé, aussi celui d’un gâchis; « déshérence » quant à lui signifie l’absence d’héritier, ce qui peut aisément s’induire de la stérilité, mais à cela s’ajoutent les mots « désert » et « errance » que l’on peut entendre, toute étymologie oubliée, derrière ses quatre syllabes. Ce sera, je crois, le seul mot un peu recherché qu’à la différence de Leyris je me permettrai pour rendre un mot appartenant au vocabulaire commun qu’Eliot a systématiquement privilégié (à l’exception de « carbuncular » qu’en revanche je ne reprendrai pas; voir note 46).

While Lojkine does not insist on the Parsifal link to the title in the prior note, she did teach it. Vinaver’s introduction to his translation, La terre vague, emphasizes this point as well as the difficulties of translating the title:

Un mot enfin sur le titre. « The Waste Land » n’est pas une expression inventée par le poète, mais une citation et pas n’importe laquelle : celle d’une nomination. Le terme apparaît maintes fois, et toujours avec valeur d’appellation, à l’intérieur du cycle arthurien de romans en prose des XIIe et XIIIe siècles, comprenant des œuvres écrites d’une part en français, d’autre part en anglais. Dans La Queste del Saint Graal, ed. Albert Pamphlet (Classiques français du Moyen Âge, Paris, 1923, p.204) on lit : « Si en avant si grant pestilence et si grant persecucion es deus roiaumes que onques puis les terres ne rendirent as laboureors lor travaus, car puis n’i crut ne blé ne autre chose, ne li arbre ne porterent fruit, ne en l’eve ne furent trové poisson, se petit non. Et por ce a len apelee la terre des deux roiaumes la Terre Gaste, por ce que par cel doloreus cop avoit esté agastie. »
« Gaste » = « gâtée », mot qui jusqu’au XVIIe siècle a conservé le sens premier de « ravagée », « dévastée ». Le « waste » de l’anglais du Moyen Age est la transposition de son contemporain français « gaste », et « the waste land » voulait dire littéralement « terre dévastée ». Mais « waste » dans l’anglais d’aujourd’hui est resté un mot vivant, et même des plus communs, ce qui fait que « the waste land » aux oreilles actuelles ne manque pas de résonances familières (terrain vague, poubelle et déchet, gaspillage et gâchis). D’évidence en français il n’y a aucun équivalent à l’ensemble formé par ces trois mots. J’ai hésité longtemps entre La terre vague, La terre gâtée et La terre gaste.[34]

Benoît Tadié decided not to explain his choice of title, La Terre Dévastée in a note or in the introduction. However he did discus it in an interview with Chloé Thomas a few months after his translation was published:

… je pensais que les mots comme « vaine », « inculte » ou « gaste », qu’on emploie habituellement, ne fonctionnaient pas pour différentes raisons. Par ailleurs, « dévasté » a le mérite d’avoir la même racine que « waste » comme « gaste », mais aujourd’hui plus personne ne sait ce que ça veut dire, « gaste », il faut un dictionnaire d’ancien français. […]

If one chooses to interpret the poem as a lament for Verdenal, and the opening lines referencing Eliot’s memory of Verdenal approaching him in the Luxembourg gardens holding lilacs, then perhaps the title as translated by Lojkine, Terre en déshérence, would best represent Eliot’s view of his own body as a waste land without the beloved.

Among lines Pound left unchanged and uncut in “The Fire Sermon” are those evoking Mr Eugenides, where Eliot’s antisemitism is perhaps close to hand. Eugenides is the Smyrna merchant (in line 209), and as foreigner is not an attractive figure. John Xiros Cooper suggests that Eliot’s Maurassien leanings are visible here, and that Eliot was representing British conservative upper class bourgeois values, reflecting a closing of British society, where the amplification of anti-foreign sentiment following the Aliens Bill of 1905 “reached a crescendo just after the Great War,” when antisemitic literature was also on the rise.[35] Newspapers such as the Daily Mail (apparently Eliot’s favorite newspaper in 1923), the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, and the Morning Post “persisted in campaigns of vilification and innuendo against foreigners more generally right up to the beginning of the Second World War.”[36]

However, is the fact that Eugenides issues letters of credit an immediate incrimination, even as Eliot’s own participation in the London Banking system is also a source for the passage? Had Eliot met someone like Eugenides? Had he been invited to a weekend out (or did he merely fantasize about that)? In conversation Lojkine told me about “Captain Eliot” in his rented apartment, and the Metropole which was considered a gay hotspot.[37] Even if you do not see this passage as the description of a “gay pass” it does read as Mr. Eugenides, a foreigner, moving pretty swiftly along from a luncheon date to a weekend—

Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.
(lines 209-214)

de Menascé:
M. Eugénidès, marchand à Smyrne,
Mal rasé, la poche plein de raisins secs,
T et AP Londres, documents à vue,
M’invita en français démotique
À déjeuner au Cannon Street Hôtel
Suivi d’un weekend au Métropole.

Monsieur Eugénidès, négociant smyrniote
Mal rasé, la poche pleine de raisins secs
C.A.F. London : documents à vue

Monsieur Eugénides, négociant de Smyrne,
Mal rasé, la poche pleine de raisins de Corinth,
Franco de port et d’emballage jusque’à Londres

Monsieur Egénidès, marchand smyrniote
Mal rasé, la bouche pleine de raisins secs
C.I.F. LONDON: Documents à vue,

De Gaufey:
Monsieur Eugénides, négociant smyrniote
Mal rasé, la poche pleine de raisins de Corinthe
« C.i.f. London » : ses papiers bien en vue
Me demanda en français démotique
De partager so déjeuner au cannon Street Hotel
Puis son week-end à l’Hotel Métropole.


Mr. Eugénides, le marchand de Smyrne
Mal rasé, avec une poche pleine de raisins secs
C.a.f. Londres : paiement à vue


Mr. Eugenidès, le marchand de Smyrne
Mal rasé, la poche pleine de raisins sec,
C.A..F., Londres, effets à vue
M’invita en français démotique
A un déjeuner au Cannon Street Hotel

If Eliot is making some allusion to personal experience in the Mr Eugenides passage, he could very well still be commenting on it through the next section with the typists and the clerk. There Tiresias observes the scene of the clerk with his uninterested lover, or as Wendy Cope so aptly rendered section III in her parody “The Waste Land Limericks” —

The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep —
A typist is laid
A record is played —
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.[38]

Marie Blaise argues that throughout the poem different masks are used, and that Tiresias’s appearance in the third section and his “vision” of the sordid scene is disconnected from and contrasts with the quarrel between Juno and Jupiter regarding pleasure. She concludes that this “repeats one of the principal motifs of The Waste Land: the absence of desire and false pleasure.”[39]

Lojkine’s interpretation in her published book-length study of Eliot, T.S. Eliot: Essai sur la genèse d’une écriture (1985), remarks on the homosexual attitude of Mr Eugenides, and notes that Tiresias, in masculine body, identifies with the woman: “(And I Tiresias have fore suffered all / Enacted on this same divan or bed…)” and that: “Tiresias plays both the part of the woman and of the peeping Tom (voyeur) in this scene, like Bloom, who also imagined the amorous lovemaking between Blazes Boylan and Molly.”[40] She also suggests that the homosexuality of Tirésias in the text corresponds to “the consequence of incestuous desires toward a castrating mother”[41]

Is Eliot stereotyping a working class couple’s lovemaking in lines 220-256: At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives… to And puts a record on the gramophone, or does he attempt to be somewhat sympathetic with them or with one of the partners? “The young man carbuncular” is characterized as “One of the lows on whom assurance sits” which is definitely a class marker, and does not sound particularly flattering, especially given the way he acts in the passage. One might speak also of the intersectionality faced by the woman in this passage. She cumulates the disadvantages of her class and gender, and makes allowance by letting something she does not feel excited about happen anyway…
Lojkine’s translation of the passage, including her notes (NP standing for a note by the poet, and NT standing for a note by the translator) manage to do it justice.


A l’heure violette, où les yeux et le dos
Se lèvent du bureau, où la machine humaine attend
Frémissante comme un taxi qui attend,
Moi Tirésias,(note 45) bien qu’aveugle, palpitant entre deux vies,
Vieil homme aux mamelles ridées, je vois
A l’heure violette, l’heure vespérale qui chemine à grand peine
Vers sa demeure, et ramène chez lui le marin de la mer,
La dactylo chez elle à l’heure du thé, débarrasse les reliefs du matin, allume
Son poële et dispose des conserves sur la table.
A grand péril suspendues à sa fenêtre sèchent
Ses combinaisons qu’effleurent les derniers rayons du soleil,
Sur le divan (sa couche le soir venu) sont empilés
Bas, pantoufles, cache-corsets et corset.
Moi Tirésias, vieil homme aux mamelles ridées,
Ne manquai pas de percevoir la scène et d’en prédire la suite —
Moi aussi je guettai le visiteur attendu.
Visage en feu, il arrive, le boutonneux, (note 46)

Petit employé d’agence immobilière, au regard effronté,
De ce bas peuple à qui sied la hardiesse
Comme chapeau de soie à millionnaire de Bradford.
Le moment est propice, à ce qu’il pense,

Le repas est fini, elle s’ennuie, elle est lasse.
Il tente de l’entraîner dans des caresses ;
Sans le moindre désir, pourtant elle ne les repousse.
Plein de fougue, résolu, aussitôt à l’assaut il se lance ;
Ses mains baladeuses ne rencontrent aucune résistance ;
Sa fatuité, qui ne requiert nulle réponse
Se satisfait de simple indifférence.
(Et moi Tirésias j’ai déjà tout subi
Ce qui s’est joué sur cette même couche, ce même divan ;
Moi qui suis resté sous les murailles de Thèbes
Et qui ai marché tout au fond des Enfers parmi les morts.)
Il la gratifie d’un dernier baiser protecteur,
Et s’en va à tâtons, trouvant éteinte la lumière de l’escalier …

Elle se détourne et, un instant, se regarde dans la glace,
A peine consciente du départ de son amant ;
Son cerveau ne s’autorise qu’une pensée à peine esquissée:
« Ça y est, c’est fait, et tant mieux c’est fini.»
Lorsque femme exquise fait une sottise (note 47)
Et, une fois seule, arpente à nouveau sa chambre,
Elle lisse ses cheveux d’un geste machinal
Et place un disque sur le gramophone.

(note 45) Tirésias, quoi qu soit ici simple spectateur et point du tout un personnage, n’en est pas moins la figure la plus importante du poème, celle en qui s’unissent toutes les autres. De même que le marchand borgne, vendeur de raisins secs, se confond avec le Marin Phénicien, et que celui-ci, n’est pas entièrement distinct de Ferdinand, Prince de Naples, de même toutes les femmes ne sont qu’une femme, et les deux sexes se rencontrent en Tirésias. Ce que Tirésias voit est en fait la substance du poème. Tout le passage, chez Ovide, est d’un grand intérêt anthropologique. (NP).

Suit alors une longue citation des Métamorphoses où Ovide raconte comment, chargé de trancher entre Jupiter et Junon sur la question de savoir qui de l’homme ou de la femme éprouvait le plus de plaisir dans l’union sexuelle, Tirésias frappa de son bâton deux serpents accouplés et se trouva transformé en femme ; sept ans plus tard il frappa à nouveau les deux serpents et retrouva son sexe initial ; il annonça alors que le plaisir était, comme l’avait dit Jupiter, du côté des femmes ; ce dont il fut puni par Junon qui lui ôta la vue ; en compensation, il reçut alors le don de voyance.
Dans Ulysse de Joyce c’est Bloom qui change de sexe dans l’épisode de « Circé » qui se passe dans le bordel de Bella Cohen. (NT)

(note 46) Dans le texte d’Eliot, où il est introduit comme « the young man carbuncular », le qualificatif « carbuncular » peut renvoyer à deux choses : d’abord, dans un sens actuellement peu usité, à l’éclat du grenat, comme dans notre mot « escarboucle », sens qu’avait utilisé Milton, pour décrire l’éclat à la fois séducteur et diabolique des yeux de Lucifer, brillant comme des charbons ardents, dans Le Paradis Perdu, IX, 500 , « carbuncle his eyes », en ayant probablement à l’esprit les yeux de Pyrrhus, « With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus », dans la pièce dans la pièce , dans Hamlet (II,ii, 468) ; mais surtout, en son sens moderne, aux boutons d’acné, comme l’atteste d’ailleurs le manuscrit du poème où le jeune homme était d’abord décrit comme « A youth of twentyone, spotted about the face », « Un jeune homme de vingt et un ans, au visage boutonneux », avant de reparaître, huit vers plus loin, sous la forme « He, the young man carbuncular »( The Waste Land a facsimile and transcript of the original drafts, ed. Valérie Eliot p. 33) . En associant implicitement ces deux sens du mot, Eliot peut avoir, plus ou moins consciemment, songé au Blazes Boylan de Joyce, le séducteur de Molly Bloom dans Ulysse, où « Blazes » pourrait renvoyer à l’éclat des yeux (et, par métonymie, à l’ensemble du personnage) et « Boylan » à sa fougue bouillonnante, mais aussi, dans l’imaginaire éliotien à des furoncles, «boils». Le génie d’Eliot a superposé les deux sens dans le seul « carbuncular » dont je n’ai su trouver d’équivalent en français, car un mot tel que « rutilant » ne m’aurait pas pour autant permis de faire l’économie de « boutonneux », ce qui eût introduit une hésitation sur le statut de nom ou d’adjectif de ce dernier mot , d’où mon recours, certes un peu faible, au « visage en feu », qui peut néanmoins implicitement inclure et les boutons et les yeux de braise. (NT)

(note 47) V. Goldsmith, la chanson du Vicar of Wakefield. (NP)


It is important to notice that the translation opens on the violet hour, and it could be the Tiresias figure that is leaving the office. If Eliot sees himself as Tiresias, the bank’s office as the office, and the taxi throbbing, one might do well to remember that the violet hour evokes the end of the day, and of course, violet is also the color of lilacs. The repetition of throbbing in two successive lines of the text is translated by “frémissante” and then “palpitant.”

Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
(lines 217-218)

De Menascé:
Comme un taxi attend battant
Moi, Tirésias, encore qu’aveugle battant entre deux vies,
Vieillard aux seins ridés de femmes, j’ai pu voir

Comme un taxi attend, battant,
Moi Tirésias, aveugle mais battant entre deux vies,
vieil homme aux seins de femme ridés, je vois

Le Gaufey:
Comme un taxi qui attend vrombissant,
Moi, Tirésias, bien qu’aveugle, vrombissant entre deux vies,
Vieil homme aux seins de femme ridés, je peux voir

Comme un taxi qui palpite en attente,
Moi, Tiresias, bien qu’aveugle, palpitant entre deux vies,
Vieillard aux seins de femme ridés, je vois

Frémissante comme un taxi qui attend,
Moi Tirésias, bien qu’aveugle, palpitant entre deux vies,
Vieil homme aux mamelles ridées, je vois

It is slightly strange to see how Tiresias is both watching and participating in the scene, having “foresuffered all.” It is a section of iambic pentameter with crossed rhymes, such that in 14 lines, the text is only one rhyme shy (“kiss/unlit”) of being a Shakespearian sonnet. Eliot seems to have deliberately crafted a modernist un-romantic scene that counterpoints the hidden sonnets of Romeo and Juliet (such as The Prologue or in Act I, Scene 5, when Romeo and Juliet first kiss, beginning “If I profane…”), but here with no love and no humor.

The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defense;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(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.)
Bestows one final patronizing kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit …
(lines 235-248)

Le Menascé:
L’instant, il le devine, est maintenant propice.
Le repas est fini, elle est lasse et s’ennuie,
Il entreprend de l’engager par des caresses
Qui, sans être appelées, ne sont pas repoussées.
Excité, résolu, il attaque au plus vite.
Rien nee vient s’opposer au progrès de ses mains ;
Sa vanité n’exigea point de réciproque,
Et de l’indifférence se fait un bon accueil
(Et moi, Tirésias, j’ai d’avance éprouvé
Tout ce qui s’est passé sur ce divan ou lit,
Moi qui me suis assis au pied des murs de Thèbes
Et qui ait pénétré au plus profond des morts),

Le moment lui paraît au plus haut point propice :
Le repas se termine, elle est lasse, elle s’ennuie ;
Il amorce l’affaire au moyen de caresses
Qu’elle ne désire guère et ne repousse pas.
Avec fougue aussitôt il se lance à l’assaut.
Ses mains s’aventurent sans heurter de barrière ;
Son ardeur n’éveille, en elle, aucun écho,
Il ne demande rien mieux que l’indifférence,
(Et moi, Tirésias, avec douleur, ai pressenti
Tout ce qui s’est passé sur ce divan ou lit ;
Moi qui avais siégé à Thèbes devant les murs,
Erré parmi les plus profonds d’entre les morts),

L’instant est propice, il le croit,
Le repas est fini, elle lasse, bassinée,
Il essaie de l’attirer par telles caresses,
Nullement désirées, jamais repoussées.
Enflammé, résolu, sur le champ il agresse :
Aux mains aventureuses nulle résistance
Sa vanité se passe bien de l’échange,
Et prend pour bienvenu l’indifférence.
(Quant à moi Tirésias ai pré-souffert
Tous les actes sur ce divan même, ou lit
Moi qui me suis assis au pied de Thèbes,
Ai côtoyé les morts les plus enfouis).

Le Gaufey:
Comme il s’en doute, le temps lui est maintenant propice,
Le repas est fini, elle est fatiguée et s’ennuie,
Il entreprend de l’attiser par des caresses
Jamais bien réprimandées quoique non désirées.
Enflammé et résolu, il monte aussitôt à l’attaque ;
Ses mains baladeuses ne rencontrent aucune défense ;
Sa vanité n’exige pas de réponses,
Et fait de l’indifférence bienvenue.
(Et moi, Tirésias, j’ai souffert à l’avance tout
Ce qui s’est joué sur ce même divan, ou lit ;
Moi qui fus assis au pied du mur de Thèbes
Et ai marché au milieu des morts les plus vils.)

Tadié :
L’heure est maintenant propice, devine-t-il,
Le repas est fini, elle est morose et lasse,
Il l’entreprend de caresses
Qui ne sont pas repoussées, quoique non désirées.
Rouge et décidé, il attaque aussitôt ;
Ses mains explorent sans rencontrer de défense ;
Sa vanité ne recherche aucune réponse
Et prend pour une bienvenue cette indifférence.
(Et moi, Tiresias, j’ai d’avance souffert tout cela
Joué sur ce même divan ou lit ;
Moi qui me suis assis sous le rempart de Thèbes
Et qui ai marché parmi les morts le plus bas.)

Le moment est propice, à ce qu’il pense,
Le repas est fini, elle s’ennuie, elle est lasse.
Il tente de l’entraîner dans des caresses ;
Sans le moindre désir, pourtant elle ne les repousse.
Plein de fougue, résolu, aussitôt à l’assaut il se lance ;
Ses mains baladeuses ne rencontrent aucune résistance ;
Sa fatuité, qui ne requiert nulle réponse
Se satisfait de simple indifférence.
(Et moi Tirésias j’ai déjà tout subi
Ce qui s’est joué sur cette même couche, ce même divan ;
Moi qui suis resté sous les murailles de Thèbes
Et qui ai marché tout au fond des Enfers parmi les morts.)
Il la gratifie d’un dernier baiser protecteur,
Et s’en va à tâtons, trouvant éteinte la lumière de l’escalier …


The reader should give this set of translations a sound and form test. Does the turning of the sestet happen? Do we sense Eliot depicting the most revolting love scene possibly, with the hidden wink at Shakespeare’s witty depiction of Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, where Juliet’s words conclude the sonnet, “You kiss by th’book” referring humorously at once to the Bible and to Romeo’s talent at kissing? When reading the entire passage in the Lojkine translation out loud, it is poetic. There is careful attention to the many sounds. Eliot was making music, and so does the Lojkine translation: she is particularly strong in her use of alliterations and assonances. Like most of the translations, a parenthesis serves in the ninth line to signal the break of octave and sestet.

It may seem ironic to conclude after this very text, leaving Eliot and the translators deep in hell, but Tiresias walking among the buried dead is also perhaps Eliot walking among the dead to find Verdenal again. The routine and unhappy sex could then stand in contrast with memories of other feelings of love, that were at that point, for Eliot, physically inaccessible.

I wish to end this paper by emphasizing that the Lojkine translation is devoid of any Christian bias, and is highly attentive to the sexual innuendoes of the text. It is a translation that leaves the possibility open that the real muse of the poem could well have been Jean Verdenal. The quality of the translation is no surprise, given the way Pierre Lagayette praised Monique Lojkine’s critical study, T.S. Eliot: Essai sur la genèse d’une écriture (1985): “la qualité du regard porté ici sur les stratégies créatrices du poète mérite admiration … car ce regard est pur, modeste, et remarquablement perçant.“[42]

As you well know, Eliot died a happily married man, not an LGBTQ activist. That wasted body of the poet in mourning changed into a land of milk and honey with his second marriage. He inscribed a copy of the first edition of The Waste Land to his wife:

This book belongs to Valerie, and so does Thomas Stearns Eliot, her husband. He could not give her this book, for he had no copy to give her. She had wanted the book for many years. She had possessed the author for over a year, when the book came. She had made his land blossom and birds to sing there.[43]

The Eliot of the 1950s would likely be enraged at the novel about him that came out in 2020: The Wasteland by Harper Jameson[44] (and perhaps rightly so). That notwithstanding, freer discussion—and acceptance—of Eliot’s bisexuality is an angle that can precipitate a renewal of general appreciation for this sometimes irritating but also extraordinary poet whose poem from 1922 remains news.



[1] Valerie Fletcher of Leeds became Eliot’s secretary at Faber and Faber in 1949, the year after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and two years after his first wife died in a sanatorium. The year after they were married, Eliot’s last play, The Elder Statesman (1958), was first performed.

[2] Esme Valerie Eliot (1926 Leeds-2012 London). T.S. Eliot (1888 Saint-Louis, Missouri-1965 London).

[3] particularly in After Strange Gods (1934) and The Idea of a Christian Society (1939).

[4] Harriet Davidson, “Improper Desire: Reading The Waste Land” in A. David Moody (ed), The Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot. Cambridge: CUP, 1994, 122.

[5] For a complete description and discussion see Myriam Boussahba, Emmanuelle Delanoë, and Sandeep Bakshi, Qu’est-ce que l’intersectionannalité ? Dominations plurielles : sexe, classe et race (2021).

[6] Frances Dickey, “Give, Sympathise, Control: T.S Eliot and Emily Hale,” Modernism/Modernity, 5.2 September 28, 2020, online.

[7] Dickey, Ibid.

[8] All sources cited by Garrick Davies, “What to Make of T.S. Eliot?” Humanities 37.4 (Fall 2016), online.

[9] Davies, ibid.

[10] James E. Miller, Jr., “T.S. Eliot’s ‘Uranian Muse’: The Verdenal Letters.” ANQ, 11.4 (1998) 4-21.

[11] Nancy K Gish, “Eliot and Virigil in Love and War” in John D. Morgenstern (ed), The T.S. Eliot Studies Annual, v.1, Clemson University Press, 2017,  187.

[12] Lyndall Gordon, The imperfect Life of T.S. Eliot. Revised Edition. London: Virgo, 2012, 53 and 134.

[13] Eliot apparently spent 4-6 weeks in Lausanne with Vittoz. He left London on November 18 and returned to London in early January 1922. He had written his brother Henry on December 13 that he was working on a poem, and showed Pound a manuscript of 19 pages upon his return. See Valerie Eliot, Introduction, The Waste Land, A Facsimile and Transcript…, p. xxii.  Henry Ware Eliot, Jr., the poet’s brother, recorded that Eliot had said of his finished work: “Various critics have done me the honour to interpret the poem in terms of criticism of the contemporary world, have considered it, indeed, as an important bit of social criticism. To me it was only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; it is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling.” — But of course that could be the excuse one makes to family for a work that does not conform to their values. Valerie Eliot, Introduction, The Waste Land, A Facsimile and Transcript…, p. [xxxiii].

[14] James E. Miller, Jr., “T.S. Eliot’s ‘Uranian Muse’: The Verdenal Letters.” ANQ, 11.4 (1998) 4.

[15] Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” [written 1921, published 1923 in German, tr. Harry Zohn] in Benjamin, Selected Writings, v.1, 1913-1926,  ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge: CUP, p.253.

[16] de Menasce also translated some of Eliot’s prose, including an essay published in Chroniques 3 (1927) 149-174: T.S. Eliot, “Deux attitudes mystiques : Dante et Donne” (149-174).

[17] Michel Vinaver,  T.S. Eliot, “La terre vague,” Po&sie 1984, translated 1946-47.

[18] Michèle Pinson, T.S. Eliot, La terre gaste, Editions Adélie et la Tailleur d’Images, 1996 (cf. microfilm at BnF).

[19] Guy Le Gaufey, La Terre Dévasstée (1921-22), an unpublished translation that is now online. Le Gaufey responded quickly to my question about the date of his translation, saying that he had worked on the text between 5-7 in the early mornings during the spring of 1995, working on it for months, and finally finishing it. He mentioned alluding to the translation while giving a recent conference on Lacan’s style, because Lacan was so interested in Eliot’s poem, and also wished to translate it. (e-mail in French, 10-11-2022, my translation and paraphrase).

[20] Benoît Tadié, “La Terre dévastée / The Waste Land,” suivi des notes de l’auteur, Po&sie 2020/4 (N°174), 119-138. The translation was undertaken in 2006-2007.

[21] According to the SAES document by Alice Michel, Eliot has been on the Agrégation program multiple times: The Waste Land (1953), Collected Poems (1963, 1969, 1978, 1992), Murder in the Cathedral (1984).

[22] in 1999, among other years.

[23] See introductory remarks in Monique Lojkine, “T.S. Eliot, Terre en Déshérence / The Waste Land (1922)” Arts of War and Peace 4.1 (March 2023).

[24] Benoît Tadié and Chloé Thomas, “Retraduire The Waste Land : entretien avec Benoît Tadié” Transatlantica 1 (2021), Line Breaks in America: The Odds and Ends of Poetry 2021, on-line, Open edition.

[25] Tadié said, in his interview with Chloé Thomas, “j’ai choisi d’ignorer le fait qu’il y avait d’autres traductions, dont une publiée dans Po&sie aussi, certaines parues entre temps et celle de Leyris, qui est quand même assez ancienne et qui est celle qu’on trouve en exclusivité dans le commerce. Je me suis tenu à l’écart parce que je ne voulais ni faire la même chose, ni me forcer à faire autre chose si par hasard j’avais la même idée.” (2021, Transatlantica).

[26] Phone call, October 12, 2022.

[27] The Moroccan Brigades arrived at the front in mid-August 1914, and the first waves of colonial conscripts perished anonymously as those troops were not given identification tags listing name and number. The Moroccans were followed by other colonial troops enlisted by France and Britain, from Africa and from Asia.

[28] That would only be fitting, given that his one-night stand with Nancy Cunard would have made him aware of the place after the fact: she would later go there, and so would many of her lovers, including Louis Aragon.

[29] cf. Lahsen Benaziza, Jules Laforgue dans la Poésie de T.S. Eliot, Étude d’une influence. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2021.

[30] Lahsen Benaziza, Jules Laforgue dans la poésie de T.S. Eliot, 2021, 189, 221.

[31] Valerie Eliot (ed), T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, London: Faber and Faber, 1971, 41.

[32] François Buot, Nancy Cunard, Paris: Pauvert/Fayard, 2008,  electronic text, end chapter “Une entrée en littérature.”

[33] Valerie Eliot, op.cit., 39.

[34] Vinaver, 1984, p.5.

[35] John Xiros Cooper, “The Foreigner as pollutant in TS. Eliot’s The Waste Land” (, p.3. He noted: Arnold White, The Hidden Hand (1917); John Henry Clarke, England under the Heel of the Jew (1918); [Henry H. Beamish], The Jew’s Who’s Who (1920); and Hilaire Belloc’s The Jews (1922), among others.

[36] Cooper, ibid, p.5.

[37] (October 12, 2022).

[38] Wendy Cope, “Waste Land Limericks” in Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, London: Faber, 2001.

[39] Marie Blaise, Terres Gastes : fictions d’autorité et mélancolie, Montpellier: Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2005, ch.12, 311-339, on Open Edition.

[40] Monique Lojkine-Morelec, T.S. Eliot, Essai sur la genèse d’une écriture, Paris: Klincksieck/Sorbonne, 1985, p.118, my translation.

[41]  Lojkine, ibid., p.118.

[42] Pierre Lagayette, “Monique Lojkine-Morelec. T.S. Eliot: Essai sur la genèse d’une écriture” in RFEA 29, May 1986, Pensée et écriture engagées aux Etats-Unis, 345-347.

[43] Dedication quoted by Anthony Lane, “Shock and Aftershocks of ‘The Waste Land’” New Yorker, 9-26-2022.

[44]  Harper Jameson, The Wasteland, Jamul, California: Level 4 Press, Inc, 2020.

Une réflexion sur « Intersectionality and translation: Monique Lojkine-Morelec’s translation of the The Waste Land. »

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