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‘Hypocrites Traducteurs:’ on some Aspects of Italian Translations of “The Waste Land”


Stefano Maria Casella (Università IULM) provides an overview of the specific issues Italian translators had to navigate since the Italian reception of Eliot first began in the 1930s. He first probes the distinctive implications of each rendering suggested by translators for the adjective “waste” in the poem’s title (desolata, deserta, guasta, devastada). Casella then shows how Italian, as a polysyllabic language, deeply affect the translating process. Translators also had to decide whether to translate Eliot’s quotations from Dante anew or go back to the original. Eventually comparing the process of translation to that of interpreting a musical score, resulting in the interpreter-translator stressing some aspects while blurring others, Casella concludes with a musing on the criticism made possible by translations.

Stefano Maria Casella (Università IULM) présente un panorama des problèmes particuliers que les traducteurs italiens ont rencontré depuis les débuts de la réception de T. S. Eliot en Italie dans les années 1930. Il examine d’abord les implications spécifiques de chaque choix proposé pour l’adjectif waste dans le titre du poème : desolata, deserta, guasta, devastada. Puis il montre comment et en quoi l’italien, langue polysyllabique, affecte profondément le processus traductif. Les traducteurs ont dû également choisir de retraduire les citations de Dante ou de les reprendre dans l’italien de l’époque de Dante. Enfin, après comparé le processus de traduction avec l’interprétation d’une partition musicale où le traducteur comme l’interprète privilégie certains traits et en estompe d’autres, Casella conclut par une évocation des lectures critiques rendues possibles par les traductions.


Hypocrite Traducteurs: On some Aspects of Italian Translations of The Waste Land
…the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings.


In Memoriam
In devout, fond, and grateful memory of Mario Melchionda and Lawrence Rainey:
the former unsurpassed “maestro” at the University of Padua,
the latter dear and generous friend at Yale,
both great and inspiring Eliot scholars.


 I) Introduction, Chronology, and General Considerations.

“A great age of literature is perhaps always a great age of translations.” [1] If this statement, formulated in 1917 by Ezra Pound, is true (and Pound as literary critic was rarely mistaken), hence the century following the publication of The Waste Land, with so many translations of Eliot’s masterpiece in so many different languages (and from so various linguistic families) must have been a great age both for literature – which is undeniably true – and for translation as well.

This survey focuses on “some aspects of Italian translations”, which stretch over a span of time of ninety years, from 1932 to 2022.

Hence, to begin with, a brief chronology (year of first edition; Author; in brackets following editions and reprints; title) is helpful to contextualize the phenomenon:

1932: Mario Praz [1963-1970-1985]  = La terra desolata
1941: Luigi Berti [1955] = La terra deserta
1961: Roberto Sanesi [1992] = La terra desolata
1972: Elio Chinol [2022] = La terra desolata
1982: Alessandro Serpieri [1985] = La terra desolata
1992: Mario Melchionda [2015] = La terra guasta
____: Angelo Tonelli [1995]  = La terra desolata
____: Angiolo Bandinelli [1995] = Il paese guasto (La terra desolata)
2012: Massimo Bacigalupo  = La terra desolata
2018: Aimara Garlaschelli  = La terra desolata
2021: Carmen Gallo = La terra devastata
2022: Sara Ventroni = La terra desolata [2]

It all began with the ‘discovery’ of Eliot’s masterpiece in the early Thirties of the XX c. and set out in the various re-readings/re-interpretations – as in Laura Caretti’s definition: “…la varietà di traduzioni, o meglio di interpretazioni…” [3] (Caretti 1968, 44, n. 58) – of the following decades up to 2022. The succession of translations is characterized by a more-or-less constant trend: almost every decade produced its translations – the only exception being the year 1992 (70th anniversary) with three translations at the same time. In a sense, this (quasi-)regularity proves the truth both of T.S. Eliot’s statement: “Each generation must translate for itself” [4] [each decade, in this case], and of Mario Melchionda’s sharp observation: “Non una nuova traduzione: ogni traduzione appartiene al suo tempo, ed è il tempo che è nuovo. Si pensi al significato asimmetrico di vecchia traduzione: una nuova traduzione fa diventare vecchia la precedente?”  (Melchionda 2015, 981 n. 3; italics of the Author). [5] Therefore, how does “each generation…translate for itself”? [6]

Before beginning the analysis, it does not seem inappropriate to open a briefest parenthesis — to offer a further (and perhaps a challenging one) cause for reflection — suggested by the initiatory motto of the fourteenth plate of Mutus Liber – Le Livre Muet: “Ora lege lege lege relege labora et invenies”, which might – or should – be changed, as regards the “lege … relege” verb sequence, in “…verte verte verte reverte labora et invenies”. Even though one cannot expect that a translator pray (“[o]ra”) before accomplishing his/her task (the times of St. Jerome are all over), it is inescapable that he/she must read and re-read, and above all translate and re-translate, in order to achieve the (quasi-) final, more or less ne varietur text – as long as a ne varietur text is really possible, as again Melchionda much finely considers:

Alcune – la prima e classica di Praz su tutte, un “archetipo di traduzione” del poema –, hanno sedimentato, talora con la cogenza (talora con l’illusione, o la pretesa) del ne varietur, consuetudini, convenzioni, modulazioni ritmiche, parafrastiche e glossali, che hanno generato un “rumore di fondo”, o “palinsesto” di voci e di scrittura, cumulativo e costante. (Melchionda 2015, 981). [7]

And indeed some of the terms, and concepts of this reflection (“habits, conventions, rhythmic, paraphrastic, glossal modulations…‘background noise,’…accumulative and constant ‘palimpsest’ of voices and of writing”) cannot be overlooked – since they perfectly describe, summarise, and at the same time disclose (i.e. reveal in advance) the real phenomena, problems, touchstones, and ‘state of the art’ of the Italian translations of The Waste Land throughout the course of the decades (these concepts — out-and-out “guidelines” — will be discussed in synthesis at the end of this survey).

And also another unavoidable observation must be prefaced, that is the fundamental difference between English words, usually shorter, and Italian ones, usually longer; Eugenio Montale, the Italian 1975 Nobel Prize for literature, suitably defined Italian as “pesante linguaggio polisillabico” (Montale 1976: 567) (= heavy polysyllabic language): such difference (syllabic, rhythmic, and “musical”) cannot but deeply affect the art, theory, and practice of translation.

In approaching the some fifteen [8] most important official (and complete) Italian translations of The Waste Land, it is even superfluous to point out that the survey must necessarily deal with only a most limited number of aspects &/or examples and case studies. Once again Ezra Pound comes through for us, with his method of the “Luminous Details”. [9] And also T.S. Eliot’s not less famous and inescapable imperative “Analysis and Comparison” [10] is of help – even though it cannot be extensively employed/adopted (for obvious limits of space and time, being it impossible to accomplish a complete analytical comparison/comparative analysis of the Italian texts).

II) “Some aspects [of Italian translations]”

This exploration will therefore focus on a few selected aspects of the Italian translations:

1) The title

“Not only the title…” as Eliot wrote in the introductory note to the poem (Eliot 2015, 73).

The first title, chosen by Mario Praz, the earliest Italian translator of The Waste Land, was “La terra desolata” (Eng. “desolate”: “A. as pa. pple. Brought to desolation, laid waste […] B. adj. Left alone, without companion, solitary, lonely.”, OED IV: 526) and that choice has almost become the standard one: the majority of the subsequent translations (ten out of fifteen), in fact, have opted for this very same adjective. Praz’s translation has become, throughout the decades, the “archetypal” one, as stressed by Melchionda: “la prima e classica di Praz su tutte, un ‘archetipo di traduzione’ del poema.” (Melchionda 2015, 981). [12] This is mainly due to the undisputable authority of Praz, among other things the most important among the very few Italian collaborators of Criterion, as well as an intellectual, and most erudite scholar and essayist: he was lecturer and then professor of Italian Literature at the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool (Twenties and Thirties of the XX c.) and later of English literature at Università La Sapienza in Rome. Beyond being in contact with Eliot himself, Praz shared with him a deep scholarly and critical interest in the Metaphysical poets. [13]

A decade later (1942) Luigi Berti changes the title in “La terra deserta”. And in 1955 Renato Poggioli veers to “guasta” (mainly from Dante’s “paese guasto”, Inf. XIV: 94[-96]); Poggioli (who however did not translate The Waste Land) submitted his suggestion to Eliot himself, who was surprised: “So my title was mistranslated” he replied, referring to Praz’s earliest choice/option (Peron 2014, 262-264 and Melchionda 2015, 987 n. 12). Be it as it may, it is however worth stressing that in his three essays on Dante (1920, 1929, 1950) [14] Eliot never mentions the locus of the Dantescan poem where the adjective “guasto” appears: he was interested in, and attracted to, other episodes, characters, and themes of the Commedia.

The Dantescan adjective “guasto” is “officially” resumed and adopted (independently from its proposer Poggioli) at the beginning of the Nineties (1992) by Mario Melchionda [15] and by Angiolo Bandinelli, in their respective translations, both entitled “La terra guasta.”

The fourth solution for “waste” is Carmen Gallo’s 2021 “devastata” (Eng. “devastate”: “to lay waste, ravage, waste, render desolate”, OED IV: 561-562, the past participle “devastated” used as adjective is not recorded).

Therefore, the four Italian solutions for “waste” are “desolata”, “deserta”, “guasta”, and “devastata”.

* “Desolata” mainly focuses on the Biblical source, imagery and meanings, from the book of Ezekiel: “So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath…” (Ezek. VI: 14, emphasis added) and Isaiah: “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken: neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate…” (Isa. LXII: 4). [16]

* “Deserta” is Luigi Berti’s solution, arguably to distinguish his translation from Mario Praz’s cumbersome “archetype” (in a sense, a form of Bloomian “Anxiety of Influence”). “Deserta” both stresses the geo-topo-morphological character of the “land” – as in the fifth part “What the Thunder Said” with its theme and imagery (literal, literary/intertextual, and symbolic) of the “desert” even “among the mountains”, its Biblical echoes (see the prophetic texts quoted above), and – no less prophetic – Dante, Inf. XIV: 99 (where, after the tercet about “il paese guasto” one also reads the not less important/remarkable conclusion: “or è diserta come cosa vieta” (emphasis added); [17] clearly the archaic Italian adjective “diserta” recalls the modern “deserta” both with the grammatical function of the adjective “deserto/a” (past participle “deserted” used as adjective) and of the noun “deserto” (Eng. “desert”: a. 1. deserted, forsaken, abandoned. […] 2. Uninhabited, unpeopled, desolate, lonely.”, OED IV: 515).

* “Guasta”: etymologically from “waste” (“Of land: … uncultivated and uninhabited or sparsely inhabited […] fig. desolate, barren.” OED XIX: 959); mythologically and anthropologically from the Grail cycle and romances (Perceval, Perlesvaus, Parzival) also “via” Weston. [18] “Guasta” also slightly shifts the focus from the Biblical to the Dantescan interpretation, blending a highest degree of literariness with a precise etymologic and lexical source. As already recalled, both Melchionda and Bandinelli (1992) converge towards “[paese] guasto”; however, Bandinelli cautiously repeats in brackets also the standard title “La terra desolata”: “[T.S. Eliot] Il paese guasto (La terra desolata)”. [19]

* “Devastata”. After this Dantescan parenthesis (which is all but a parenthesis, being essential to the literary and semantic context of Italian translations in their relationship to “il Sommo Poeta”) the land returns “desolata” for Tonelli (1992), Bacigalupo (2012), Garlaschelli (2018) [and Ventroni (2022)] until Carmen Gallo’s 2021 original proposal “de-vastata” which, in a sense, echoes both “de-solata” (past participle) and “guasta” (from Latin “vastare” = Italian “guastare”). Carmen Gallo harks back to all the previous literary sources, but also particularly emphasizes the historical, social and psychological condition of the early Twenties of the XX c. after first world war. [20]

2) Dante’s quotations.

The way Italian translators confront/measure with Eliot’s ‘quotations’ from, or close ‘imitations’ of, Dante’s verses from the Divine Comedy.

To return to Dante, the Florentine deserves a particular attention in connection to Italian translators inasmuch as they have to come to vie with him via Eliot: for all of them the challenge is double: whether and how to translate Eliot’s English, and whether and how to quote, more or less literally/verbatim, their common master Dante and his “lingua volgare”.

Almost superfluous – but not useless – to repeat here the two most memorable passages from The Waste Land echoing the Divina Commedia:

    1. i)

Dante: “… sì lunga tratta / di gente, ch’i’ non averei creduto / che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”
(Inf. III: 55-57; “…so long a train | Of people, that I ne’er would have believed | That ever Death so many had undone.” Trans. H.W. Longfellow); the Florentine poet obviously rhymes “tratta / disfatta” in his tercet.

Eliot: “… so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many.” (The Waste Land I: 62-63). The still American (in 1922) poet recurs to the epiphora of “many”, thus “inventing” (more than re-creating) a new rhyme of his own.

Italian translators

Praz: “[La gente] … tanta / Ch’io non avrei mai creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” keeps quite close to the original of Dante;

Berti: “[La folla] … così tanta, / — Ch’io non credevo che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” changes the first verb (“credevo”) into the imperfect tense;

Sanesi: “[Una gran folla] … così tanta / Ch’i’ non avrei mai creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” – Sanesi too keeps close to Dante and translates almost like Praz, but more precisely repeats Dante’s contraction “ch’i’;

Chinol: “[Una folla] …ed erano tanti / Ch’io non credevo morte n’avesse disfatto tanti.” –Chinol distinguishes himself from Dante: he adds a new verb “erano” (which does not appear in Dante), and uses the imperfect form for the second one “credevo”;

Serpieri: “[Una folla] … tanti, / Ch’io non avrei creduto che morte tanti n’avesse disfatti.” He too keeps close to <dante, but changes the verb into plural (“disfatti”);

Melchionda: “[una folla] si lunga tratta / ch’io non averei creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”, repeats Dante verbatim;

Tonelli: “[una folla]…tanta / che io non avrei creduto che morte / tanta ne avesse disfatta.”, close to Dante too;

Bandinelli: “[una turba] …tanti / ch’io non credevo Morte tanti n’avesse disfatti.”, conjugates the verb in the imperfect tense, and capitalizes “Death” = figure of speech of personification;

Bacigalupo: “[Una folla]…tanta, / Non pensavo che la morte ne avesse disfatta tanta.”, “invents” a new rhyme through the final repetition (epiphora) of “tanta at the end of two following lines;

Garlaschelli: “[una folla]… sì lunga / Ch’i’ non averei creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” Keeps the archaic verb “averei” for modern Italia conditional “avrei”;

Gallo: “[una folla] … così tanta / Ch’io non avrei creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”, close to Dante too (but eliminates the adverb “mai”);

Ventroni: “[una folla] … così tanti / ch’io non avrei creduto che morte tanti n’avesse disfatti.”; also close to Dante, but with plural subject (and then object) = “tanti…disfatti” (also imperfect rhyme).

All these solutions are a matter of slight “variations on the theme”, but it must be recognized that the theme itself is almost “obbligato”.

  1. ii)

The second quotation is much shorter, but not less complex:

Dante: “Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma:” (Purg. V: 134-135: “Siena made me, unmade me Maremma;” Trans. H.W. Longfellow).

The most remarkable feature is the perfect chiasmus subject (toponym: “Siena”) and verb + verb and subject (toponym again: “Maremma”); furthermore both verbs are in the affirmative, but the second means the direct opposite of the first: “fece / disfecemi” (“did / undid”).

Eliot: “…Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew / Undid me.” (The Waste Land III: 293-294). He cannot re-create Dante’s chiasmus: “[Siena] mi fè, X disfecemi [Maremma]”, indeed he also has to  resort to two different (as regards form and etymology) English verbs: “bore” for Dante’s “mi fé”, and “undid” (more “faithful” to the original) for “disfecemi”. He “translates” the first verb charging it with a more precise semantic meaning: i.e. bore = “generated, gave birth to”, whereas keeps almost literal – and more faithful to the Dantescan model (“disfecemi”) the second verb “undid”.

Italian translations:

Praz: “Highbury mi fe’. Richmond e Kew / Disfecemi.”

Berti: “Highbury mi fe’. Richmond e Kew / Mi disfecero.”

Sanesi: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi / Richmond e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Chinol: “Highbury mi fe’. Richmond e Kew / Disfecemi.”

Serpieri: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi Richmond / E Kew.”

Melchionda: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi / Richmond e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Tonelli: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi / Richmond e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Bandinelli: “Highbury mi fe’, Kew e Richmond disfecemi.”

Bacigalupo: “Highbury mi ha fatta. Richmond e Kew / disfatta.”

Garlaschelli: “Highbury mi fé. Disfécemi Richmond / E Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Gallo: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi Richmond / e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Ventroni: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi Richmond / e Kew.”

Also in this case Italian translators fundamentally follow the original verses (and lexicon) by Dante, and of Eliot after him, sometimes slightly changing the syntactical order, either retaining or changing the original chiasmus, or changing the verb tense (such as Bacigalupo in “fatta…disfatta”)

3) The “mock/hidden sonnet”.

The way they succeed in interpreting the “hidden/mock sonnet” [11] in the central section (“The Fire Sermon”) of The Waste Land: “The time is now propitious, as he guesses […] And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit…” (Eliot 2015, 64, ll. 235-248).

Tertium datur: the “mock/hidden sonnet” in “The Fire Sermon”; the empty (“oed”) heart of the poem, the “all-but-love-scene”, the anti-lyric parody, grotesque celebration of the missing emotion, feeling, passion, physical, psychological and spiritual communication, spiritual ecstasy and “illumination”. In Eliot’s own words “the contemplation of the horrid or sordid or disgusting” as already stressed above.

The main obstacles for the translators of this passage are Eliot’s original verse length (blank verse) and perfect mastery of the rhyming couplets – also when he infringes them in the final couplet. [21]

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 defence;
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 patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .
(Eliot 2015, 64)

Italian translators must come to terms both with “il nostro pesante linguaggio polisillabico” (as in Montale’s definition quoted at the beginning) and with Eliot’s “sonnet” rhyme scheme (Shakespearian): a really “intolerable wrestle / With words”. Each of them does his/her best to re-create the inimitable rhythm and “music” of the original: impossible to mirror its rhyming couplets and to keep to its line length.

rhymes: “apprezza/carezza”; “annoiata/bramata”; “difesa/intesa”; “indifferenza/accoglienza” [internal] […]; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length = few hendecasyllables + longer lines (12-17).

rhymes: “indesiderate/Eccitato” [internal-imperfect]; “indifferenza/accoglienza” [internal-final]; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
Line length: four hendecasyllables + longer lines (12-17).

rhymes: “difesa/intesa”; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: much longer (11-21).

rhymes: “resistenza/indifferenza…condiscendenza”
line length: 12-16.

rhymes: “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: quite long (11-15).

rhymes: “desiderato/infocato [internal]; “accosta/risposta”; “resistenza/indifferenza”; tutto/letto [imperfect]; “padrone/tentoni” [imperfect].
line length: ten hendecasyllables, the remaining four lines slightly longer (12-14) ***

rhymes: “resistenza/accoglienza…accondiscendenza”; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: few hendecasyllables, then longer lines (13-18).

Rhymes: “calore/fare” [imperfect – internal]; “prescioloso/difesa” [imperfecct – internal].
Line length: 7 hendecasyllables; then slightly longer lines (12-15).

rhymes: “respinte/esploranti” [imperfect-internal]; “tutto/divanoletto” [imperfect];  “condiscendente/spente”.
line length: 12-17.

rhymes: “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: few hendecasyllables, then loner lines (12-16).

rhymes: “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: various (10-18).

rhymes: “finite/annoiata” [internal imperfect]; “carezze/Paonazzo” [imperfect internal]; “deciso/difesa” [internal imperfect]; “tutto/letto”.
line length: various; longer lines (12-16), one hendecasyllable and one decasyllable.

III) “After such knowledge…”

It is not easy to synthetically give a precise and above all definitive definition of each translation; with a musical metaphor it might be said that each of them represents, in a sense, a different, personal and original “interpretation” of a musical score. As different directors and orchestras stress particular moments, phrases, notes, length, duration, cadences, passages of a score, so each translator stresses some aspects and blends – or blurs – others. Still in Eliot’s words, stressing the diligence and passion of all translators, they may be defined as “All touched by a common genius,” (Little Gidding III). And, still in Pound’s words, what all translators accomplish may rightfully be defined as “criticism by translation”. [22]

But let us return to — and conclude with — Melchionda’s suggestions previously mentioned/quoted:

habits” and “conventions”: from the very beginning (1932) to the present day (2022, and certainly after) they have determined and established, through their dynamics, inter-relationships and intersections, the general picture and context of both “theory” and “praxis” of the (Italian, in our case) translations; a phenomenon which has evolved and developed through “rhythmic, paraphrastic, glossal modulations” (as each individual translation unquestionably proves); and however the so-called “background noise” (ubiquitous, and not immutable) has determined an “accumulative and constant ‘palimpsest’ of voices and of writing[23]– a “palimpsest” which begins long before Eliot’s text (Vedic sacred writings in Sanskrit; Hebrew, Greek and Latin sources; English and French poetry; German operas etc.), is concentrated and condensed in Eliot’s masterpiece; and projects itself beyond it, to be continually re-newed, re-written and re-interpreted in its unequalled complexity, through its multiple sources, its (long ago) ground-breaking modernist poetics/aesthetics (now object of historical canonization, critical interpretations, and continuous going beyond and renewal.

IV) Eliot’s “…inviolable voice…”

“E però sappia ciascuno che nulla cosa per legame musaico armonizzata si può della sua loquela in altra transmutare sanza rompere tutta sua dolcezza ed armonia.” (Dante, Convivio I, vii, 14)

[Therefore everyone should know that nothing harmonized according to the rules of poetry can be translated from its native tongue into another without destroying all its sweetness and harmony (my translation)]


Italian Translations of The Waste Land (in alphabetical order).

Bacigalupo, Massimo. La terra desolata. In Il Sermone del Fuoco. T.S. Eliot. Milano: Edizioni Corriere della Sera, 2012: 32-69.

Bandinelli, Angiolo. Il Paese guasto (La Terra desolata). [1992] Bagni di Tivoli (Roma)-Trezzano sul Naviglio (Milano): Millelire, 1995.

Berti, Luigi. “La terra deserta”. Poesie di Thomas Stearns Eliot. Modena: Guanda, 1942: 59-93.

Chinol, Elio. T.S. Eliot. La terra desolata (1972) A c. di Rossella Pretto, trad. Elio Chinol. Latiano (Brindisi): Interno Poesia, 2022.

Gallo, Carmen. T.S. Eliot. La terra devastata. Milano: Il Saggiatore, 2021.

Garlaschelli, Aimara, T.S. Eliot. La terra desolata. Pisa: ETS, 2018.

Massara, Giuseppe. La terra desolata. Brescia: L’Obliquo, 2002.

Melchionda, Mario. “La terra guasta. Una Traduzione”. In Lingue e contesti: studi in onore di Alberto M. Mioni. A c. di M. Grazia Busà e Sara Gesuato. Padova: CLEUP, 2015: 963-989.

Praz, Mario (prefaz. e trad.) T. S. Eliot. La terra desolata; Frammento di un agone; Marcia trionfale. [1932]. Torino: Einaudi, 1963: 14-49.

Sanesi, Roberto (a c. di) La terra desolata. In T.S. Eliot. Poesie. Milano: Bompiani-Mondadori: 208-241.

Serpieri, Alessandro. T.S. Eliot. La terra desolata. Con il testo della prima redazione. Milano: Rizzoli (BUR), 1982.

Tonelli, Angelo. Thomas Stearns Eliot. La terra desolata. Milano: Crocetti, 1992 (then Milano: Feltrinelli, 1995).

Ventroni, Sara (ed. and transl.) Thomas Stearns Eliot. La Terra Desolata. Milano: Ponte alle grazie, 2022.



[1] Ezra Pound, “Notes on Elizabethan classicists” (1917). LE: 232.

[2] Only the complete and most reliable and authoritative translations (from the scientific, philologic, and academic or poetic point of view) of The Waste Land have been considered in this analysis. To this list there should be added at least Giuseppe Massara, La terra desolata (Brescia: L’Obliquo, 2002), a limited edition for collectors (300 copies) with a lithography by Pirro Cuniberti. Erminia Passannanti’s 2011 La terra desolata was published for the first time by The Mask Press (Oxford, 2011) and then reprinted by independent presses in 2012, 2015, and 2017. But the first publisher and publication prove unobtainable. This translation does not look particularly convincing (critically and scientifically), it skips the translation of a line from Eliot’s original text, and is imprecise/incorrect in various details of its “critical introduction” to Eliot’s life and works. Another recent translation is Martina Belelli, La terra desolata (2019).

[3] “…the variety of translations, rather interpretations…” (my translation).

[4] T.S. Eliot, “Introduction” to Selected Poems of Ezra Pound. London: Faber, l948 (1928): 15.

[5] “Not a new translation: any translation belongs to its time/days, and it is the time that is new. One should think of the ‘asymmetrical’ meaning of ‘old translation’: does a new translation turn the previous one into an old one?” (my translation). As regards Melchionda’s approach to Eliot’s masterpiece and the principles of its translation, it should here be stressed that, pace all the other “historical” as well as the most recent translators of the poem, both his first commentary (1976) and above all his final one (1992, then 2015) are the most precise, erudite (without being dreary), and most consistent with Eliot’s ideal of “impersonality” (in this case applied to translation). In other words, the Italian academic, scholar, and translator does not encumber his analysis with a self-commentary, but appropriately highlights the real, theoretical and practical, problems of translation – and of this translation in particular.

[6] Worth noticing also the fact that of the most recent Italian translations (2011-2022), five have been accomplished by women, who are also (for the majority) poetesses and scholars ([Passannanti], Garlaschelli, [Belelli], Gallo, and Ventroni).

[7] “Some [translations] – the first and classic one by Praz above all, an ‘archetype of translation’ of the poem – have settled, sometimes with the urgency (sometimes with the illusion, or the pretence/presumption) of the ne varietur, habits, conventions, rhythmic, paraphrastic, glossal modulations which have generated a ‘background noise,’ or accumulative and constant ‘palimpsest’ of voices and of writing.” (my translation).

[8] Or more, including the partial ones, which I am compelled to keep out from this recensio.

[9] Ezra Pound, “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris.” ID. Selected Prose 1909-1965. Ed. and intro by William Cookson. London: Faber and Faber, 1973: 23-24,

[10] T.S. Eliot, “The Function of Criticism” (1923), in ID. SE: 32-33. See also Ezra Pound: “Wealth comes from exchange, but judgement comes from comparison.” ID. “A Visiting Card”, SP 289, emphasis added), and Stefano Maria Casella, “Consider / Carefully the Reviewer…”. Leggere per scegliere. La pratica della recensione nell’editoria moderna e contemporanea. A c. di A. Chiurato. Milano: Mimesis, 2020: 65-100, about Eliot’s rigid practice and application of this method/formula in his activity as a literary reviewer.

[11] “Hidden” &/or “mock” sonnet is a definition of my own (for which I take the entire critical responsibility), trying to suggest/stress the fact that Eliot composed an almost perfect Shakespearian sonnet, but cunningly ‘hid’ it within the whole stylistic and thematic (and, if possible, “narrative”) context of the ‘violet hour/typist’” episode and, at the same time, used it to ‘mock’ the whole tradition of love sonnets (from Petrarch onwards) through a lyric where the most celebrated human feeling – love – is completely reversed through “[t]he contemplation of the horrid or sordid or disgusting…” (“sordid and disgusting” in particular) as in his own definition in his first essay on Dante (1920), in The Sacred Wood (SW 143).

[12] “the first classic [translation] by Praz above all the others [has become] an ‘archetype of translation’ for the poem.” (my translation).

[13] Cf. The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry by T.S. Eliot. The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926 and The Turnbull Lectures at The John Hopkins University, 1933. Edited and introduced by Ronald Schuchard. London: Faber and Faber, 1993, passim, in part. p. 58 n. 35, and p. 178 n. 48.

[14] T.S. Eliot, “Dante” (1920) in The Sacred Wood (1920); “Dante” (1929) in Selected Essays (1932 and ff.); “What Dante means to me” (1950) in To criticize the critic and other writings (1965 and ff.).

[15] Melchionda had already chosen “guasta” in his thoroughly in-depth commentary (without translation) to Eliot’s poem in 1976 (see Bibliography).

[16] See also Peron 2014, 260.

[17] Ibid., 260-261, and Melchionda 2015, 986-988. Dante’s whole passage reads: «In mezzo mar siede un paese guasto», / diss’ elli allora, «che s’appella Creta, / sotto ’l cui rege fu già ’l mondo casto. / Una montagna v’è che già fu lieta / d’acqua e di fronde, che si chiamò Ida; / or è diserta come cosa vieta. (Inf. XIV: 94-99, emphasis added). << “In the mid-sea there sits a wasted land,” | Said he thereafterward, “whose name is Crete, | Under whose king the world of old was chaste. || There is a mountain there, that once was glad | With waters and with leaves, which was called Ida; | Now ’tis deserted, as a thing worn out.>> (Trans. H.W. Longfellow, emphasis added).

[18] See J.L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance (1920). Gloucester/MA: Peter Smith, 1983: 12-13-14, 16, 21, 23, 63.

[19] See Melchionda 2015, 986; Gallo 2021, 86-88.

[20] Worth mentioning that, unlike Gallo, the immediately previous translator of Eliot’s poem, Aimara Garlaschelli (2018) insists not so much on the historical contextualization, but on the mythic-anthropological one (SOURCE)

[21] Another and more complete (and complex) example of Eliot’s knowledge and mastery of Dante’s versification is the episode of the meeting with the “familiar compound ghost” in the second section of Little Gidding (ll. 123-456) which the poet himself explains in What Dante Means To Me (1950) when he declares: “Twenty years after writing The Waste Land, I wrote, in “Little Gidding”, a passage which is intended to be the nearest equivalent to a canto of the Inferno or the Purgatorio, in style as well as content, that I could achieve […] I borrowed and adapted freely only a few phrases – because I was imitating. My first problem was to find an approximation to the terza rima without rhyming. English is less copiously provided with rhyming words than Italian…” (Eliot 1965: 128).

[22] Ezra Pound, “Date Line” (1934) in ID. “Make It New”, LE: 74. See also Melchionda 2015: “traduzione e critica formano e abitano uno spazio epistemico unico, dove ogni presa di parola disdice l’ancillarità dell’una e la parassitarietà dell’altra rispetto all’originale, di cui sono anzi alleate e complici per via della comune “mossa ermeneutica” (982): “translation and criticism give form to, and inhabit, a unique epistemic space, wherein any taking the floor breaks the ancillary position of the one and the parasitical position of the other in relation to the original, of which both are allied and complicit because of their common/shared ‘hermeneutical move’” (my translation).

[23] As regards Eliot’s “voice” one cannot omit mentioning Michael Edwards unique and thought-provoking essay “Hearing Eliot Now” in Études anglaises, Vol. 65, n. 4 (2012): 400-416.



Alighieri, Dante. Tutte le Opere. A c. di Luigi Blasucci. Firenze: Sansoni, 1992 (for La Divina Commedia and Convivio). English translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Caretti, Laura. T.S. Eliot in Italia, Saggio e Bibliografia (1923-1965). Bari: Adriatica, 1968.

Casella, Stefano Maria. “Consider / Carefully the Reviewer…”. In Leggere per scegliere. La pratica della recensione nell’editoria moderna e contemporanea. A c. di A. Chiurato. Milano: Mimesis, 2020: 65-100.

Edwards, Michael. “Hearing Eliot Now”. Études anglaises, Vol. 65, n. 4 (2012): 400-416.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “Dante” [1920], In ID. The Sacred Wood. Essays on Poetry and Criticism. London: Faber and Faber 1997: 135-145.

__________________. “The Function of Criticism” [1923]. In ID. Selected Essays. London: Faber and Faber, 1999 pbk. [1932]: 23-34 (Abbreviated in LE).

__________________. “Introduction” to Selected Poems of Ezra Pound [1928] London: Faber and Faber: l948: 7-21.

__________________. “Dante” [1929] in ID Selected Essays [1932]. London: Faber and  Faber 1999 pbk.: 237-277.

__________________. “What Dante Means To Me” [1950] in ID To criticize the critic and other writings. London: Faber and Faber 1965: 125-135.

__________________. The Complete Poems and Plays. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.

__________________. The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry. The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926 and The Turnbull Lectures at The John Hopkins University, 1933. Edited and introduced by Ronald Schuchard. London: Faber and Faber, 1993.

__________________. The Poems of T.S. Eliot. The annotated text. Eds. Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue. Baltimore/MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2015 (vol. I Collected and Uncollected Poems).

Holy Bible. Containing the Old and New Testaments. Translated out of the original tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty’s special commands. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. S.D. [Books of Isaiah and Ezekiel].

Melchionda, Mario. T.S. Eliot The Waste Land. Milano: Mursia, 1976.

Montale, Eugenio. “Intenzioni (Intervista Immaginaria)”. In ID, Sulla Poesia. A c. di : Giorgio Zampa. Milano: Mondadori, 1976: 561-569.

Oxford English Dictionary, prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989 (2nd. ed.) (Abbreviated OED + Volume number and page number).

Peron, Gianfelice. «Not only the title». Interpretazioni del titolo nelle traduzioni europee di The Waste Land. In “Abeunt studia in mores”. Saggi in onore di Mario Melchionda. A c. di Giuseppe  Brunetti e Alessandra Petrina. Padova: Padova University Press, 2014: 257-275.

Pound, Ezra. “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris” [1911-1912] and “A Visiting Card.” [1942 Ital., 1953 Engl.] In ID. Selected Prose 1909-1965. Ed. and intro. by William Cookson. London: Faber and Faber, 1973: 21-43, 276-305 (Abbreviated in SP).

_________ . “Notes on Elizabethan classicists” [1917] and “Date Line” [1934]. In ID. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. and intro. by T.S. Eliot. London: Faber and Faber, 1985 [1954]: 227-248, 74-87 (Abbreviated in LE).

Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance (1920). Gloucester/MA: Peter Smith, 1983.


Stefano Maria Casella teaches English and Anglo-American Literature at Università IULM, Milan, Italy. Research field: Modernism, T. S. Eliot and E. Pound ; Comparative literature: English, Anglo-American, Italian, classical Latin and Greek. Environmental literature and eco-criticism. Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall College (Cambridge), Heythrop College (London), The Bogliasco Foundation-Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities (Genoa/New York). Life Member of Clare Hall College (Cambridge), member of “Cambridge Alumni”; the “Ezra Pound International Conference”; the “International T.S. Eliot Society”; AISNA (Italian Association of North American Studies); IAWIS-AIERTI. Invited peer reviewer: Oxford University Press, Peter Lang, and other literary journals.

“The Waste Land” retranslated: a Hispano-American Way of Assimilation


This article seeks to elucidate the process through which I shaped my Spanish language rendition (published last month) of Eliot’s celebrated century-old poem. A driving factor leading to the escalation of The Waste Land’s influence among the Ibero-American literary community rests in its multi-layered, plurilingual elaboration and the varied interpretations that have surfaced, many of which explore the author’s penchant for ‘’explain[ing] the convergent form of a gravitational center through the divergent form of an axis of transversality’’ (Magaril 2014). An intuitive approach, stemming from current research for my PhD dissertation, accompanies this commentary as a method to assess the relevant correspondences and digressions that have been discovered in studies across countries like Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Peru.

Furthermore, based on recent critical work illustrating Eliot’s extensive reception as a modern literary pillar in Latin America (Boll 2012), we can reconstruct the complex network of styles and motifs present in what the poet has deemed “a heap of broken images” (The Waste Land,  I, 22) considering a downtrodden post-World War society. Following an (inter)generational ladder that is composed of the translated corpus in Spanish will help us navigate the renewed contexts that this modern English poem has come to embody.

This being true not just across vast geographical areas, but in the sense of reappropriation  in different places, of a melodious modulation that yearns to revert to aboriginal rhythms, akin to Eliot’s oft-discussed ‘mythical method’ that would later work to “purify the dialect of the tribe” (Little Gidding, II). My objective here is to gather these resonances whilst offering a high-fidelity version of the poem with respect to the rhythmic progression observed in each of the five sections, with the end notes included.

Cet article vise à élucider le processus par lequel j’ai façonné mon interprétation en espagnol (publiée le mois dernier) du célèbre poème centenaire d’Eliot. L’un des facteurs qui a conduit à l’escalade de l’influence de The Waste Land au sein de la communauté littéraire ibéro-américaine réside dans son élaboration plurilingue à plusieurs niveaux et dans les diverses interprétations qui ont fait surface, dont beaucoup explorent le penchant de l’auteur à « expliquer la forme convergente d’un centre gravitationnel par la forme divergente d’un axe de transversalité » (Magaril 2014). Une approche intuitive, issue de recherches en cours pour ma thèse de doctorat, accompagne ce commentaire comme une méthode d’évaluer les correspondances et digressions pertinentes qui ont été découvertes dans des études menées dans des pays comme l’Espagne, l’Argentine, le Mexique et le Pérou.

En outre, sur la base de travaux critiques récents illustrant la vaste réception d’Eliot en tant que pilier de la littérature moderne en Amérique latine (Boll 2012), nous pouvons reconstruire le réseau complexe de styles et de motifs présents dans ce que le poète a qualifié de « tas d’images brisées » (The Waste Land, I, 22), en considérant une société dégradée de l’après-guerre. Nous suivrons l’échelle (inter)générationnelle composée du corpus traduit en espagnol, ce qui nous aidera à naviguer dans les contextes renouvelés que ce poème anglais moderne a fini par incarner.

Ceci n’est pas seulement vrai à travers de vastes zones géographiques, mais dans le sens d’une réappropriation dans différents lieux d’une modulation mélodieuse qui aspire à revenir à des rythmes de la « méthode mythique » souvent évoquée par Eliot, qui permettra plus tard de »purifier le dialecte de la tribu » (Little Gidding, II). Mon objectif ici est de rassembler ces résonances tout en proposant une version haute-fidélité du poème en ce qui concerne la progression rythmique observée dans chacune des cinq sections, avec les notes de fin de texte.



The premise of the year 1922, known all too well as the annus mirabilis of the literary avant-gardes, has been aimed at measuring the various means in which T.S. Eliot’s chef d’œuvre has aged over the last hundred years, for the first centenary of the publication of The Waste Land, across the Hispano-American World. The account of its impact might prove more convoluted today than ever before, given the newer translations of this 433-verse poem that started to surface on the aforementioned literary stage at an astounding rate and, more precisely, since the onset of the twenty-first century, on both sides of the Atlantic.[1]

It is pertinent to inquire about a disseminating principle with which TWL has spanned across the Americas, from a geo-political standpoint that could be transposed, in relation to western civilization’s ancient and modern city centers:

“Jerusalem Athens Alexandria / Vienna London”.[2] (TWL, ll. 375-76)

to their possible Meso & South American counterparts:

“Teotihuacán Medellín Cuzco / Santiago de Chile Buenos Aires”[3]

The approximation that follows takes into account some ideas from the lectures presented during the “T.S. Eliot in Translations” International Symposium, held on October 13 & 14, 2022 at Université Paris Cité. It will examine the aspects of TWL‘s development with regard to its idiomatic variants, whilst partially embarking on post-colonial impressions and their later reception by the current reader’s panorama, toward recipients who confront the text as propitiously engaged individuals. With this in mind, reinstating the crux of the matter in TWL‘s multi-focal and multi-lingual exchange qualities could allow for the projection of a renewed understanding of Eliot’s effort at the moment of his major 1922 release in the first issue of The Criterion.

Inhabiting the Tradition from Overseas

History books have been comprehensive enough when describing the tremendous impact exerted by the Spanish settlers and colonizers on the indigenous populations of Meso-and-South America, ever since Christopher Columbus’ abrupt arrival in 1492. The assimilation carried out by the predominant oral systems, as evoked by the autochthonous tongues of the pre-Columbian era, into the written system of the imposed Spanish language —ruled by grammatical, lexical and syntactical structures set by the Academia Real de la Lengua—over to the posterior heights of literary composition, was an arduous and complicated endeavor, traced down the succeeding centuries, until it was adapted into the liberated forms of prose and poetry of the post-Romantic era. These at last came to a global crossroads in the first decades of the twentieth century. As one of the keenest Mexican critics from the following period puts it:

The similarity in the evolution of Anglo-American and Hispano-American literatures originates from both of them being literatures written in transplanted languages. Between us and the American land, a vacuum of space opened that we had to populate with strange words. Even if we are indios or mestizos, our language is European. Our literatures’ history is the one of our relationships to the American space, though equally with the space where the words we speak were born and raised.[4]

In the geographical context, TWL’s sizeable number of interpretations and successive critical reactions within the Hispano-American world have elicited a slew of transpositions, due in part to the environmental factors of the locations where the text was being transmuted, from its original version into proliferating varieties of castellano[5], ranging from the Northern renditions in Mexico, all the way down to its Southern representations, such as the ones crafted in the Argentine diction. Taking into consideration the increased variability in idiomatic expressions from one country to the next (even neighboring ones) is a task that requires an extensive linguistic apparatus in order to decipher each distinct turn of phrase or colloquial statement chosen by a particular wordsmith. Here are just a few of these well-known translations produced by the authors of the following nationalities:

  • Puerto Rico:
    Ángel Flores, Tierra Baldía, Editorial Cervantes, 1930.
  • Chile:
    J. C. Villavicencio and B. Fernández, La tierra baldía, Descontexto Editores, 2017.
  • Argentina:
    Alberto Girri, La Tierra Yerma, Fraterna, 1988.
    Rolando Costa Picazo, The Waste Land, Academia  Argentina de Letras, 2012.
    Walter Cassara, La tierra baldía, Huesos de Jibia, 2013.
  • Dominican Republic:
    Fernando Vargas, La tierra baldía, UASD, 1989.
  • México:
    Manuel Núñez Nava: Tierra yerma, UNAM, 1978.
    José Luis Rivas, La tierra baldía, Universidad Autónoma de México, 1990.
  • Perú:
    Ricardo Silva-Santisteban, La tierra agostada, Lucerna Editores, 2015.
  • Colombia:
    Harold Alvarado Tenorio, La tierra baldía, Arquitrave Editores, 2005.
    Jaime Tello, La tierra estéril, Visor, 2009.

Nicolás Magaril and Pablo Ingberg both discuss the conundrum translators have been facing since TWL‘s appearance, and they propose an actual combination of the Castilian versions to create a decidedly universal text: “There being more than a dozen available translations, one could assemble, without betraying the poem’s spirit, a kind of translation-patchwork by choosing the average of the best solutions, according to each person’s mood”[6]. A curious example worth evaluating is the interpretation resulting from the word “carbuncular”, which refers to the aspect of the young employee in “The Fire Sermon”, and has been translated as disparately as: “carbunculoso” (hispanization of carbuncular), “granujiento” (pimple-ridden) though the young man’s ailment is more than acne, “carbuncoso” (another hispanization), “forunculoso” (boil-ridden), “salpicado de carbuncos” (peppered with boils), “puruliento” (purulent), “lleno de caspa” (full of dandruff)[7]. In a manner, this purposeful diversity of versions highlights Eliot’s own penchant for multi-referentiality within the body of his creation. As Nicoletta Asciuto delves into a principal undertone for the word just rendered so variedly:

 By referring to a precious stone similar to a ruby, the adjective ‘carbuncular’, apart from potentially alluding to the young clerk’s facial skin, suggests a light shining in the dark. Meanwhile, this rich luminosity is corrupted and undercut by its grotesquely pustular source. In running the two senses of ‘carbuncular’ against one another, Eliot is also following Shakespeare. Shakespeare was aware of the distinction between a ruby and a carbuncle, and of the latter’s common designation for both a precious stone and a boil[8].

In this manner shown, the Italian critic suggests that Eliot’s interaction with tradition is rooted in recalcitrant allusions to his literary masters by way of their interpretive power, despite the hidden associations that proliferate, later expounded upon through the endnotes Eliot added to the poem[9]. Similar examples spring up incessantly once further textual analyses pinpoint other possible sources, ancient and coetaneous, to the elaboration of the drafts. By way of perusing the facsimile edition published on TWL‘s fiftieth anniversary, it is manageable to collate the initial drafts with those portions undergoing the erasures prompted by Ezra Pound in the final stages of preparation, subtending the aura of the work-in-progress in constant quest for assemblage. This project, in turn, ontologically rearranges that “heap of broken images” (l. 22) for the adventurous reader, and branches out the exegetic possibilities.

As Magaril argues, these renditions in the Spanish tongue take such diverse considerations because their translators hail from miscellaneous backgrounds amongst a broad ethnographic set of the Latin American population, which in essence constitute these divergences by way of their enunciation techniques. Furthermore, lengthening the scope of meaning and lexical acuity of the verses each translator has to treat entails: “to make a variorum edition of all the Castilian translations of TWL, [which] would require a page of more than one meter wide, in order to lay them out next to each other”[10]. If not more than one kilometer wide, the paper utilized to corroborate this mounting interest in TWL‘s reception maintains its foothold throughout contemporary world literature.

The Spirit of the Age projected over the avant-gardes

To be able to fairly approach the expansiveness of Eliot’s self-fashioned persona in terms of its historical conditioning during this annus mirabilis, it’s essential to explore the back-and-forth motion of a literary network that found a simultaneous coming-of-age as well as resolution in bifocal fashion, given the highly dynamic intersections in all planes of civilizational progress, a motion in unison, making its way up and down the Americas, in counterbalance to the effervescent European avant-gardes which were propelled by futurism, imagism and dadaism from its stronger ranks.

1922 also saw the gestation of aesthetic movements aiming to represent a newly modernising Latin America, reacting to improved technological infrastructure, rapid urbanization, and massive immigration. Political reforms were underway throughout the continent, inflected by a galvanizing university reform movement, radical politics of an international flavor, revisionary nationalisms in the context of centennial celebrations, and new attention to present-day indigenous and marginalized populations[11].

In the organizational and structural sense, Eliot’s referral to the “mind of Europe,” brought up in his seminal essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) could be established as an appropriate axis that develops in regard to a portrayal of TWL‘s universal scope, moving across the extensive fields of literary history it covers by way of hint and quotation. The constant textual shifts effected by the number of wanderings within its composition—ranging from its initial Ancient Greek & Latin quotations, to the Laforguian innuendoes, passing on to its Cockney parlance in the last part of “A Game of Chess”—encapsulate a holistic vision that magnifies the cultural outreach of the verbal ensemble when seen in its entirety. This outtake, so to speak, achieves unraveling once its nested references are elucidated, albeit partially, in the end notes Eliot adds.

The impact this author’s output had on Latin American writers has long since become pervasive, slowly after the first appearance of TWL in both The Criterion and The Dial. The main challenge faced would be to convey how firmly Eliot’s creation has stood the test of time, despite its de facto association with the “1922 event”. Similarly, Eliot’s entry into the European canon could be better appreciated in retrospect, through the projection of a ladder of influence over his authorial successors, likewise playing the role of interpreters, from Spanish-speaking countries. The translator’s main task has thus been to reestablish Eliot’s sense of brokenness, hereby portrayed by the “Spirit of the Age,” a post-Great War mood, and postulate a dynamic of union and separation between the North, Central, and South American lands. Are these territories really that far apart, or could they be considered a unified landmass despite differences in registers, declensions and their (ultimately) dialectical inclinations? And this harkens back to of one of the final verses in the poem: “Shall I at least set my lands in order?” (l. 426) Magaril continues to reveal with theorical consistency:

At the margin of the symbolic derivations and the volumes of reality, history, geopolitics and literature implied in this specific triangulation (amongst the dozens of styles possible along the poem), the fact is that Eliot explains the convergent fashion of a center of gravity through the divergent shape of an axis of transversality. One could say that The Waste Land behaves as Saussure said language behaves, such similar to a “system that doesn’t know more than its own order”. Its elements are situated over a double axis of simultaneity and succession.[12]

Based on this condition, let’s directly examine the textual interphases assigned by the following translators from geographically and temporally distinct settings, exclusively united by the commonality of a Pan-American Spanish language.

Comparison of 3 different translations[13] from “A Game of Chess” (ll. 77-96)

An assimilatory enterprise for the 21st century

The Waste Land hence becomes the blueprint for modernity’s imprint through the extensive fields of knowledge it covers (anthropological, geographic, literary, etc.). Its construction, a historical crunch down of a plethora of world traditions, styles and customs is never constrained by preconceptions of scholastic grandeur, despite a handful of critics believing the appended notes to be an ill-conceived tactic to instill controversy and confusion.  In the same vein, the author’s raison d’être is intrinsic to a purpose of international literary circulation and could nicely fit in with the process of Latin-America’s renovation of the Lyric during the first third of the 20th century, which included the avant-garde waves of creacionismo, ultraísmo and estridentismo. This array of transmissions is expressly situated as coetaneous to TWL‘s release, so as to offset the antiquated models of poetic transference. A similar paradigm shift took place in the last couple of decades of the 19th century, in which Hispanic modernismo, championed by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, relegated the Parnassian and Symbolist schools, once back then in their apex of influence, to outdated literary currents.

The case with TWL is that it produced tremors which soon “tsunamied” across the Atlantic and reverberated along Eliot’s formative territories of New England and Missouri, down to the progressively unified lands of Spanish-speaking America. Most of these regions had gained a degree of political autonomy, roughly one century after their “liberation” from Spanish conquest in 1820-21. Expressions of such varied extent were bound to establish a network of correspondences, through a re-acquisition of the foundations from their native tongues, thereby considered as a matrix for a larger mode of enunciation; namely, the admixture of colloquial and formal speeches, which reached an unprecedented landmark, as represented by Eliot’s scriptural procedure.

In the verse “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” (l. 431), Hispanic America can be considered one of the most appropriate recipients containing a public that has taken up the challenge of deciphering the text through its intimations. Alongside the variations triggered by large territorial breakdowns and perceived cycles of civilizational downfall & prosperity, the different factors evaluated throughout this text have left Spanish-speaking readers with a sensation of overall destabilization in their states of consciousness. It is propitious to also take into account the background of military intervention and intermittent dictatorial regimes this group of countries has undergone over the course of the last century. In that respect, the idea of an encounter leaning toward happenstance could serve as a target for the core of this exploration. If a baseline comprehension is to be attained, the words of Gabrielle McIntire regarding Eliot’s scope for his then-nascent literary review are most helpful:

Eliot’s [Criterion] does what it took decades of criticism for modernist scholars to grasp: it assumes that a transnational pastiche of writers was writing under shared aesthetic aspirations to reinvent previous beliefs about literary form, style, aesthetics, and content. Eliot was therefore insisting that modernist writing did not occur in a vacuum, but in a rich and ongoing international dialogue.[14]

The international dialogue found its resolution through the continuous contribution by some of the most renowned authors of the era, over the next 17 years: almost the entirety of the interwar period. The quest alluded to at the onset of this investigation resonates and ties back the loose ends of a Pan-American network, comprised of interrelated disciplines, and coalescing beyond the aspect of a single momentous year (1922) to extend the artistic impact through the geographical regions that may have neglected its affective reach. TWL is aesthetically relevant if regarded as a universal literary artifact.

A Peruvian Waste Land?[15]

 The fullest expression of such geographical arrangement reaches its zenith when two unsuspectedly connected publications are placed side-by-side in the manner of a comparative reflection. Going back to another subtle perspective from the Mexican essayist:

In 1919 López Velarde publishes Zozobra, the central collection of Spanish American post-modernismo, that is, of our anti-symbolist symbolism. Two years earlier, Eliot had published Prufrock and Other Observations. […] Boston and Zacatecas: the conjunction of these two names makes us smile as if it were one of those incongruous associations that so pleased Laforgue. Two poets write, at almost the same time, in different languages, and without either being aware of the other’s existence, two different, and equally original versions of some poems that some years earlier a third poet had written in another language.[16]

I would extend Paz’s commentary above to focus on Eliot’s 1922 masterpiece correlating to César Vallejo’s Trilce, which was also published in the same month of the same year. This time around though, it’s the pairing of London and Lima, two metropolises enveloped by the same “brown fog of a winter dawn” (l. 61) and frequented by the same sort of bohemian characters, though from differing social statuses. The offsetting of established early twentieth century poetic norms caused by such works has been described by Benoît Tadié in an interview after the publication of his French version of the poem:

With The Waste Land, Eliot takes a leap forward by transitioning to a long poem, manufactured in reality from a set of short poems, producing an effect, for that period, of extraordinary polyphony, of dissonance, of difference, of stylistic break, of tone, of persona, which make for a lot of people in 1922, despite Pound’s active propaganda and a circle around him, it was something in the range of an ovni (UFO) that they had difficulty recognizing as belonging to poetry.[17]

The above commentary succinctly echoes Ina Salazar’s stance on Trilce‘s history:

[Vallejo’s] second poetry collection, which would later be considered a major focal point of the Hispano-American avant-garde, even though it had no reception whatsoever upon having just been published, was an unidentified verbal object (ovni) in the horizon of expectations from 1920s Lima, foreign still to the avant-garde gestures that were penetrating the Latin American milieu[18].

Following is an attempt to bring together, through a translation process that goes in reverse to the direction so far observed in the previous sections: currently from Spanish toward English, allowing for the illustration of the close links held between two simultaneously released poetic creations, hinted at by contemporary critical discourse and strongly allied by a common philosophical attitude, showcased to a certain degree by other artists of the epoch who were experimenting freely by detaching themselves from the anachronistic practices of late Romanticism and the usage of Symbolist tropes.


Perhaps Eliot is hinting at the translator’s task when later evoking Tiresias’s qualities: a personality demonstrating adaptability, longevity, insight, and detachment. This turns out to be a means of fragmentation carried out by way of Ezra Pound’s collaboration, which he conducted while editing certain portions of the first TWL manuscript back in late 1921: the so-called Caesarean intervention. The sort of schizophrenic split, showcased in the spectral character of the lady’s intermittent questioning: “What shall [I/we] [ever] do [now/tomorrow]?” (ll. 131,133-4), gets accumulated to a point of chronological saturation, where a reader could lose the guiding thread if it weren’t for the emphatic replies (hot water, closed car if it rains, ll. 135-6) accentuating the exact times (at ten, at four). Similarly, Vallejo conditions his return: a century rather than a millennium, given the appropriate weather patterns and extensive time intervals, which for some might sound like an eternity. Ensuing from the earlier passage, the next verses from the conversation at the pub nearing the end of the same section hold an uncanny rapport with the last stanza of Trilce LII:

You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner to get the beauty of it hot- – –
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME                                                   

(TWL ll. 162-69)

For purposes of maximizing the parallel identifications, baldío has been transposed as wasteland, retroactively appropriating the title of Eliot’s oeuvre from its most common rendition in Spanish, in order to exemplify the eponymous transversality of both works. A more recent Mexican researcher identified those equivalences, with a remark elicited from the same Vallejo poem (LII), to base her argument on a philosophical basis that commenced with Henri Bergson’s conceptualization of the élan vital to a subsequent shift to “Heidegger’s idea of evincing a desolation of place and time, not of a being relegated toward nothingness, but of a being toward death[19]”:

Once again, we find clues which allow for the formation of certain communicating vessels between Trilce and The Waste Land, which does not imply that [both authors] had read each other, but does place those readings that preoccupied a generation in relation, bringing forth a criticism of the western tradition, which had left modern man excised by the introduction of reason as the only path to knowledge.[20]

The main correspondence is situated in the treatment of the fragmented subject, directing speech in a colloquial manner, usually in homely scenes that include food sources and meals to be attended, as shown in the above passages. These connections became evident during the Trilce translation process, taken up in tandem last year whilst preparing for the centenary commemorations.[21] Moreover, the set of perceptions that gain focus within the textuality of both verbal constructions is further complemented by N. Asciuto’s final observations:

Both Eliot and Vallejo apply, but differently, an idea of time as ‘simultaneous’, following Henri Bergson’s definition of simultaneité, with different applications. For Vallejo, simultaneity is key to his own private happiness [… His] time is personal, made up of his own everyday memories. For Eliot, the necessity of a time which is simultaneously past, present and future is only partly prompted by nostalgia for his childhood. His desire for a simultaneous time breaking the chronological order arises from a need to create a new kind of poetry, which is also a collection of simultaneities, gathered from the most disparate literary traditions and epochs.[22]

The comparative advantage of placing concurrent publications side-by-side is that it allows us to create new bridges for the reader, who in turn proceeds to associate what could have seemed as two disparate techniques of creative literary alignment. A thought for the readers to come springs from the utility of remaining proactive with the text. Such an approach endeavors to hold its message as a revelation in view of its formulations about our current condition in the world.

The transatlantic network of interpreters mentioned earlier is simply one half of the team. A kind of programmatic structure, pondered at in the beginning, resurfaces with a greater force when stating the next civilizational ties: “Jerusalem/Teotihuacán”, two of the main hubs for Judeo-Christian and Aztec cultural and religious development, respectively. “Athens/Medellín”, two cities where a golden age of mankind was observed: for the former, a cradle of Western thought and politics, and the latter a region generally associated with the legendary El Dorado. “Alexandria/Cuzco”, paired because they resonate with Trilce XXVI, for its provenance “from moribund alexandrias/from moribund cuzcos” reconfigures the focal points of two ancient knowledge centers and asserts the hegemony of civilization’s rise-and-fall as an ever-perfectible cycle. The last two pairings highlight the modern landscape of four major populations: “Vienna/Santiago de Chile” and “London/Buenos Aires”, important nowadays since they geographically represent the creative effervescence triggered by the intertwining in music and literature.

Consequently, after having weighed in on these different translations and their techniques, the reader is able to participate in the illuminative process head on, so as to shed further light on their attributes, managing to experience “[that] awful daring of a moment’s surrender/which an age of prudence can never retract” (ll. 403-4), which is, as severe as it sounds, a necessary step to communicate beyond the ephemerality of words and heed the rumbling voice of the thunder in the jungle.



[1] Translations produced in Spain and Brazil’s Lusophone region fall out of the scope of this analysis, even though a few great renditions of TWL (from here on abbreviated as such) have been produced in the last couple of decades: namely, Juan Malpartida’s (Círculo de Lectores, 2002), Jose Luis Palomares’ (Cátedra, 2005) and Andreu Jaume’s (Lumen, 2015).

[2] T.S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950. 1st ed., Harcourt, Brace & World, 1971.

[3] Geographically speaking, this set of 5 cities would correspond to the ones stated in Eliot’s vision of Part V: “What the Thunder Said”. Moreover, this configuration should make sense by the article’s end.

[4] Octavio Paz, “El ocaso de la vanguardia”, Los hijos del limo, Seix Barral, 3rd edition 1990, p. 199. Unless otherwise stated, all translations are my own.

[5] This variety of Spanish was the most widely spoken in Latin America, for many of the settlers and conquistadores during the 16th-to- early 19th century kingdoms hailed from the Castilla y León region. Castilian, therefore, is used interchangeably in every-day speech when referring to the Spanish language by the general population there.

[6] Nicolás Magaril, “La tierra baldía traducida”, Hablar de Poesía, nº 29, July 2014.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Nicoletta Asciuto, “T. S. Eliot’s ‘Young Man Carbuncular’: Precious Gemstone or Infected Sore?” Notes and Queries, Oxford University Press, vol. 64, n° 4, December 2017, p. 642.

[9] Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec highlights this point when commenting Monique Lojkne-Morelec’s French translation of TWL in her paper “Hidden translation and Intersectionality”. The above translator focuses on the possible references to the word carbuncular, where it could likely point to the character of Blazes Boylan in Joyce’s Ulysses: “’Blazes’ could be attributed to the spark in the eyes and ‘Boylan’ to his bubbling fieriness, but also, in the Eliotian imaginary to furuncles, ‘boils’” (Note 46 to the translation).  

[10] Pablo Ingberg, “La tierra baldía fecunda en castellano”, El Trujamán: Revista Diaria de traducción, Oct. 2015. Coincidentally, his Centennial translation was just published in November, in a bilingual edition with prologue and extensive notes (Cuenco de Plata, 2022).

[11] Michelle Clayton, “Hispanic Watershed: 1922 in Latin America”, 1922: Literature, Culture, Politics. Jean Michel Rabaté (editor), Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 169.

[12] Nicolás Magaril, “La tierra baldía traducida”, Hablar de Poesía, nº 29, July 2014.

[13] As can be seen above, the words in italics denote the adjectives, the ones in bold point out the verbs, and the underlined ones indicate the nouns. The above passage comprises the beginning of “A Game of Chess”, chosen here because it is one of the sections in TWL that most profusely illustrates a diversity in sensorial input that evokes a greater capacity of representation when transferred to another language. The richness of texture in both visual and odoriferous signs lends itself to an intimate rendering on a syntactical level. When looking at the first verb “glowed” (l. 78), their infinitives in Spanish “relucir/refulgir/resplandecer” connote a similar action but at different intensities, while the next one “doubled” (l. 82) receives a much more distant appreciation by the corresponding “reproducir/doblar/duplicar”. Focusing on the nouns, there is a parenthetical approach with “glitter” and “jewels” (l. 84) being translated as “destello/brillo/fulgor” and “alhajas/joyas”, respectively. “Smoke” (l. 92) was rendered into either “humo” or “incienso”, implying a switch to a concentration in fragrance. Perhaps the most significant noun of the excerpt is captured by “pattern” (l. 93), which was translated as “diseño/arabescos/motivos”. Retranslating these back to English, we get “design/arabesques/motifs”, exemplifying the malleability of semantic representation held in account when introducing the next key adjective “coffered” only finds direct agency in Núñez’s version through “artesonado”, whilst the other two transformed the word into nouns: “cielo/encofrado.”

[14] Gabrielle McIntire, “Uncanny Semblables and Serendipitous Publications: T.S. Eliot’s the Criterion, and The Waste Land and James Joyce’s Ulysses”, 1922: Literature, Culture, Politics, Jean Michel Rabaté (editor), Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 223.

[15] This section is part of a larger work-in-progress: a doctoral dissertation delving into the work of two writers through comparative textual analyses of their poetry collections as they were chronologically published. The Trilce edition used here is the one with abundant critical commentary compiled by Julio Ortega initially published in 1991, by Cátedra, Madrid, 7th ed. 2021.

[16] Octavio Paz, “Literatura y Literalidad” (1970). Cf. Tom Boll, Octavio Paz and T. S. Eliot. Modern Poetry and the Translation of Influence, MHRA & Routledge, 2012, p. 43.

[17] Chloé Thomas and Benoît Tadié,  “Retraduire The Waste Land : entretien avec Benoît Tadié,“ Transatlantica [On line], 1, 2021 (my emphasis).

[18] Ina Salazar, “Los cuerpos de la posguerra en la poesía de César Vallejo,” Catalonia, vol. 19, 2016, p. 19. The play on words here has to do with the fact that verbal is equated with volador (flying).

[19] Diana R. Sánchez, “1922: Acercamiento a los contextos y alrededores de Trilce”, Valenciana, nº 10, 2012, p. 198

[20] Ibid, p. 200-01

[21] (anonymisé pour le peer-reviewing)

[22] Nicoletta Asciuto, “Bergsonian Memory and Simultaneity in the Poetry of T. S. Eliot and César Vallejo”, Forum for Modern Language Studies, vol. 52, n° 1, 2016, p. 55


César E. Jumpa Sánchez is an author and visual artist hailing from Trujillo, Peru (1989). He moved to New York in his early teens, shortly after the events of 9/11. His initial work includes the poetry collections Viracocha Borealis (2012) and Grizal (2015), both in Spanish. During this period, he attended various literary readings with the collective Poetas en Nueva York, a crew of itinerant Latin-American writers. He emigrated to Europe in 2016, first to Barcelona, then to Paris, where he has been living and carrying out his research. He currently works on a dissertation in Comparative Literature at the University of Paris Nanterre, whilst producing articles for academic journals like Espergesia and translating and commenting texts by Modernist-era writers, in collaboration with the digital magazine Vallejo & Company, for which he produced a new translation of Eliot’s The Waste Land.



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.

T.S. Eliot in Translations

I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought[1].

As his old persona Gerontion acknowledged in 1920, T. S. Eliot did not fight in World War I which at its outbreak found him stranded in London, nor would he later fight in World War II because he was too old to be enlisted. As an American citizen at the time of the first war, he nevertheless tried – in vain – to enlist in the US Navy in the months leading to the Armistice despite his poor physical condition, which “had made active service impossible, though he felt sure that he had something to offer military intelligence[2]”.

He did not use his poetry either as a language weapon against the enemy or as a patriotic enhancement, or as a vector of hope as the French poets of the Résistance did during the years of Occupation in World War II,[3] and made his case about not doing so in “Poetry and Wartime.[4]” In this short piece broadcast on BBC Sweden in July 1942 as a reply to those who were wondering about the silence of “war poets,” Eliot first distinguishes between “patriotic poetry, poetry which expresses and stimulates pride in the military virtues of a people [and] asking poets to write poetry arising out of their experience of war.” About the former he reminds readers, “very little first-rate poetry of this kind there is in any language and how little of that has ever been written in the middle of a great war”. For that matter, he exemplifies Homer’s Iliad which was not written during the Trojan war and where the Greeks “appear rather more unpleasant than the Trojans.” And when “poetry of patriotic intensity can be inspired by the awareness of a foreign threat to native liberty or by sorrow at defeat or by indignation at oppression,” as in Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” he remarks that “there is no first rate poem about the victory over the Armada or the Battle of Trafalgar.”

About the latter, that is, the poets expected to poetize their war experience, Eliot suggests that such an experience cannot be understood “with the kind of understanding needed for writing poetry (…) while you are in the midst of it, (…) and after it is likely to bear fruit in something very different from what during time of war people call ‘war poetry’.” That stated, Eliot distinguishes between the duty of the poet as a man and as a poet, the former being that of any citizen towards his country, the latter being “towards his native language, to preserve and to develop that language […] And the artist who will do the most in this way for his own people, will be the artist great enough, like Shakespeare, to give something precious not only to his own country but to the whole of Europe.[5]” The same could hold to the other side of the medal. In Eliot’s aesthetics, poetry isn’t an ‘art of peace’ either. One could even reverse his quip on “where are the war poets”: if the question has eventually vanished, it might be, Eliot suspects, “that those who asked [it] were not the sort of people who take an intelligent interest in poetry in time of peace.” And vice-versa, for very few people have ever wondered where the ‘peace poets’ are.

If there are poems by Eliot that encapsulate his reasoning, “Gerontion” would be one of them, with the poet suggesting “the impossibility of heroism[6]”, siding with those who were too old, feeble, wretched or disowned to take part in the violence and who mostly couldn’t but endure it. The Waste Land, whose 100th anniversary was celebrated last year, would certainly pertain to all three points made by the poet as far as “war poetry” is concerned: not written in the midst of the war, not dealing with patriotic emotion, nor with the war as such, but certainly reaching at preserving and developing his native language, and beyond, by giving ‘something precious not only to his own country but to the whole of Europe’: a dramatic, polyphonic, ironic, aching verbal picture of a fractured conscience, a dismantled continent and a ruined culture. The same could be said of Four Quartets, Eliot’s poetic testament in the form of a long and ample meditation on language and the use of poetry, dealing incidentally with World War II.

Deeply embedded in his verse, from his visible foreign quotes in ‘’The Waste Land” to his hidden ones in the four “Quartets”, and in his philologic struggle with language throughout his poetic career, lies Eliot’s interest in having his poems translated in foreign languages. Or, to paraphrase and quote Walter Benjamin, it would rather be Eliot’s poems that are calling for translation:

“Translation is a mode. In order to grasp it as such, we have to go back to the original. For in it lies translation’s law, decreed as the original’s translatability. […] if translation is a mode, then translatability must be essential to certain works. […] Translations that are more than transmissions of a message are produced when a work, in its continuing life, has reached the age of its fame. (…) In them the original’s life achieves its constantly renewed, latest and most comprehensive unfolding[7].”

And maybe Eliot would have intuitively agreed with Benjamin:

“Poetry is a constant reminder of all the things that can only be said in one language and are untranslatable. […] But I have also found sometimes that a piece of poetry, which I could not translate, containing many words unfamiliar to me, and sentences which I could not construe, conveyed something immediate and vivid, which was unique, different from anything in English – something which I could not put into words and yet felt that I understood. […] So in poetry you can, now and then, penetrate into another country, so to speak, before your passport has been issued or your ticket taken[8].”

Thus, it is to this voyage – passports and tickets free – into T. S. Eliot’s language and its translations in other tribes’ idioms, that we invite Arts of War and Peace readers by means of this collection of essays originally prompted by an International Conference held in Paris in October 13-14th, 2022, as part of the “The Waste Land” anniversary celebrations, to assess whether Eliot’s poetic œuvre has “reached the stage of their continuing life [Fortleben]”[9].

“Gerontion” is also the starting point of Chloé Thomas’ quadrilingual exploration of the afterleben of what has now become an elotian famous trope – the ‘wilderness of mirrors,’ as a feature of the modernist Western fractured conscience, which she tracks down from Swiss writer Max Frisch’s Gatenbein to American James J. Angleton’s use of modernist poetry in his work as chief of counter-intelligence for the CIA during the Cold War, crossing to “The Waste Land”, via Matthew’s desertum, Chateaubriand’s American “desert”, Curtius’ wüste Land  and Dino Buzzati’s Il Deserto dei Tartari, reminding us incidentally of the acquaintance between poetry and investigation, Eliot being, besides the world renowned poet, dramatist and critic, a detective stories fan and a regular of “The Baker Street Irregulars” – A Sherlock Holmes’ London dining club – “Every writer owes something to Holmes[10]”, he famously said while reviewing The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories for The Criterion. Every translator “looking for the right balance between the hackneyed and the hapax, [is] as ever […] walking in forest dark” echoes Thomas.

Translations are hardly disconnected from the ethos of the translators and from the historical backdrop against which they were worked and reworked. The context in which poetic pieces are translated brings insights into the reception of the poet by the cultural and linguistic area to which it is transferred. This is what Natalia Carbajosa Palmero and Dídac Llorens-Cubedo demonstrate by showing how the censors of Franco’s regime approached Eliot’s plays and how translators have designed authorial strategies to dodge the regime’s censorship. Dean Slavic adopts a similar approach, paralleling the various translations of “The Waste Land” with Croatia history, from the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to its newly regained full independence. This process of contextualization becomes all the more interesting when set in a post-colonial framework as César E. Jumpa Sanchez explores “The Waste Land” translations beyond the surface of Latin-American modernismo and seemingly beyond the various ‘castellano’, the variations of castillan spoken in Hispanic America, in which the poem has been translated. Another post-colonial reading of “The Waste Land” is Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec’s study of Monique Lojkine-Morelec’s new translation []  (the first one in French by a woman), insofar as gendered and intersectional approaches are part of a general and wider process of decolonization of (white male) Western culture – and as such T. S. Eliot becomes a gigantic monument to deconstruct.

However, despite Eliot’s fondness for France and the deep effect its poetry had on his own, there is only one – very incomplete – collection of his poems dating back from the late forties though regularly revised through 1969 by its translator Pierre Leyris[11].  Whereas, there are as many as fifteen translations of “The Waste Land” in Italian – a patent homage of Dante’s country to a poetry that owes so much to its miglior fabbro – which allows Stefano Maria Casella to make a thorough comparison of the main ones, showing their “improvements” decade after decade.

Translation isn’t only about linguistic languages. And though Eliot was rather reluctant to have his poetry translated into visual forms, visuals artists did find visionary inspiration in his poems, adding to the ongoing question of losses and gains in translation whether linguistic or medial. Steve Dixon went as far as translating “The Waste Land” not only into a movie but into a pedagogical tool to introduce his Asian students to the epitome of European culture, and in the process building bridges with their own culture.  Mohit Abrol and Norbert Gacek, both study graphists attempts to transfer Eliot’s poems into comic or graphic books. Abrol explores how Martin Rowson’s “Wasteland “(1990) and Julian Peters’ “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (2018) revisit “the emotional articulateness and inarticulateness present in Eliot’s poetry and focuses on how they both foster an active sensory connection between the reader and the book considered as a material object rich with visual, tactile, audible, and even olfactive and gustative stimulations[12],” Gacek first uncovers Neil Gaiman’s references to “The Waste Land” in his graphic novel titled “The Sandman,” and then demonstrates how the artist commented on and interacted with these references with a transformative effect as he turns the poet’s “handful of dust” into “a regenerative, promise-bearing handful of grain and later of yarn[13],” bearing on the solar side of the poem.

For all his melancholy, Eliot himself had a solar side, writing so-called “light verse” – The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – that were eventually turned into Cats, one of the bestselling musicals ever, and which maybe exemplify and anticipate best his long lasting quest for a style of “writing [that] may eventually become popular. From one point of view, the poet aspires to the condition of the music-hall comedian[14]”. Similarly, translation may be a solitary, lumbering, low-profile task, but it has also a solar side which Ester Díaz Morillo explores in showing how Spanish-speaking translators tap funnily into Hispanic pop culture (such as José Escobar’s comics, Zipi y Zape) to achieve their cultural (re)creations of Eliot’s cat characters.

Pascale-Marie Deschamps*


[1] T. S. Eliot, « Gerontion » I 3-6, The poems of T.S. Eliot, ed. Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, London: Faber & Faber, 2015-2016, p. 31-33.

[2] Matthew Hollis, The Waste Land. A Biography of a Poem, London: Faber & Faber, 2022, p. 19.

[3] Pierre Seghers, La Résistance et ses poètes, 2 volumes, Paris, Éditions Seghers, 2022.

[4]T. S. Eliot, “Poetry and Wartime”, The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, Volume 6: The War Years, 1940-1946, ed. David E. Chinitz and Ronald Schuchard, The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd, 2015, p. 326-328.

[5] Ibid., p. 327. Eliot will develop this idea in “The Social Function of Poetry” (1943), reprinted in On Poetry and Poets, 1957, CP6, p. 436-446.

[6] Mervyn W. Williamson, “T. S. Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’: A Study in Thematic Repetition and Development”, Texas Studies in English, 1957, Vol. 36 (1957), p. 112.

[7] Walter Benjamin, “The Translator’s Task” (1923), trans. Steven Rendall, in TTR : traduction, terminologie, rédaction, vol. 10, n° 2, 1997 (151-165), p. 152 and 154.

[8] T. S. Eliot, “The Social Function of Poetry,” in CP6, op. cit. p. 444.

[9] Walter Benjamin, op. cit., p. 153.

[10] The Criterion, VIII, 32 (April 1929) in T. S. Eliot, The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, Volume 3: Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927-1929, ed. Frances Dickey, Jennifer Formichelli, Ronald Schuchard, The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd., 2015, p. 605. See also Priscilla Preston, “A Note on T. S. Eliot and Sherlock Holmes,” The Modern Language Review, vol. 54, No. 3 (July 1959), p. 397-399.

[11] Premiers poèmes, éd. bilingue, trad. Pierre Leyris, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1976. There are also two translations of  “The Waste Land” published in a literary review: « La Terre vague », traduction et présentation de Michel Vinaver, Po&sie, 1984, n°31 ; « The Waste Land, suivi des notes de l’auteur », traduction de Benoît Tadié, Po&sie, 2020, vol. 4, n°174, p. 119-138. Le Seuil has also published two collections of essays by T. S. Eliot and his major plays, all translated by Henri Fluchère.

[12] Lise Chenal, « T.S. Eliot in Translations: Exploring T.S. Eliot’s Afterlives », Transatlantica, 2, 2022, p. 3.

[13]  Lise Chenal, ibid.

[14] T. S. Eliot, “Lecture I, Introduction,” inThe Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, Volume 4: English Lion, 1930-1933, ed. Jason Harding and Ronald Schuchard, The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd., 2015. p. 590.





By way of a foreword, we are pleased to present the recording of a roundtable with prominent translators of “The Waste” Land in French (Benoît Tadié), Italian (Carmen Gallo), Spanish (Andreu Jaume) and German (Norbert Hummelt) who offer a masterclass in the workings of their craft. The session closes with a multilingual reading of the beginning of part V of the poem “What the Thunder Said”, including Polish (Magda Heydel), Croatian (Dean Slavic), Flemish (Ruth Alison Clemens), and Peruvian (César Jumpa Sanchez).



Chloé Thomas
‘A Wilderness of Mirrors’: Eliot, Max Frisch and the CIA

Natalia Carbajosa Palmero and Dídac Llorens-Cubedo
Few and far between: Translations of T. S. Eliot’s Drama in Spanish

Dean Slavic
“The Waste Land” in Croatia

César E. Jumpa Sanchez
“The Waste Land” retranslated: a Hispano-American Way of Assimilation

Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec
Hidden translation and Intersectionality: Monique Lojkine-Morelec’s translation of “The Waste Land.”

Stefano Maria Casella
‘Hypocrites traducteurs:’ on some aspects of Italian translations of “The Waste Land”

Steve Dixon
Ontological conundrums: translating The Waste Land into a film

Mohit Abrol
Exploring Eliot’s lyric personae, their traumatic encounters and transmedial afterlives

Norbert Gacek
Hope in a handful of stories. T. S. Eliot’s « The Waste Land » and Neil Gaiman’s « The Sandman »

Ester Díaz Morillo
Ad-Dressing the Playful Translation of Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”


A Conversation with Pierre-Yves Macé and Joris Lacoste, by Pascale-Marie Deschamps on their translation of “The Waste Land” in concrete music and French (with an excerpt of their concert-installation shown in London, Paris, and Toulouse for the 100th anniversary of T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece).


Pascale-Marie Deschamps
What is in a title? ‘The Waste Land”, A biography of a Poem, by Matthew Hollis


* Pascale-Marie Deschamps is a PhD student at LARCA, Université Paris Cité. Her dissertation supervised par Pr. Antoine Cazé deals with the problematic reception of T. S. Eliot in France. She organized the « T. S. Eliot in Translations » Conference from which stems this special issue of Arts of War and Peace.


Home page illustration : T.S. Eliot, UK Royal mail stamp, 2006 (reproduction of a painting by Patrick Heron (1949), the National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Waste Land in Croatia



In Croatia The Waste Land translations began in the 1950s thanks to Ivan Slamnig and Antun Šoljan, two budding poets who became central 20th century Croatian authors. However, in the 1950s, Croatia was a part of communist Yugoslavia, which hindered the reception of Eliot’s work. Dean Slavić offers a diachronic overview of the improvements (both semantic and poetic) that the poets strove to achieve in their joint translations and in Šoljan’s final 1991 translation. He highlights their difficulties with the most obscure passages of the poem (such as “the Shakespeherian Rag” line) as well as their success in producing a Croatian translation sonorous with rhythms and rhymes. Slavić also reports of the sometimes dismissive academic responses triggered by their translations, from the 1970s onwards while pointing out the limited space Eliot’s poetry can occupy in a formerly communist country. He finally describes how Eliot’s technique and sense of wasteness influenced 20th-century Croatian poet Dubravko Hovatić; the best Croatian metaphysical poet Nikola Šop share with Eliot the same Christian background and modernist attitude.


En Croatie Les traductions de The Waste Land ont commencé dans les années 1950 grâce à Ivan Slamnig et Antun Šoljan, deux poètes en herbe qui sont devenus des auteurs croates centraux du XXe siècle. Cependant, dans les années 1950, la Croatie faisait partie de la Yougoslavie communiste, ce qui entravait la réception de l’œuvre d’Eliot.  Dean Slavić  propose un aperçu diachronique des améliorations (à la fois sémantiques et poétiques) que les poètes se sont efforcés d’obtenir dans leurs traductions communes et dans la traduction finale de Šoljan de 1991. Il souligne leurs difficultés avec les passages les plus obscurs du poème (comme le vers « The Shakespeherian Rag ») ainsi que leur succès dans la production d’une traduction croate sonore avec des rythmes et des rimes. Slavić rapporte également les réactions académiques parfois dédaigneuses déclenchées par leurs traductions, à partir des années 1970, tout en soulignant l’espace limité que la poésie d’Eliot peut occuper dans un pays anciennement communiste.  Il décrit enfin comment la technique et le sens du gaspillage d’Eliot ont influencé le poète croate du XXe siècle Dubravko Hovatić ; le meilleur poète métaphysique croate Nikola Šop partage avec Eliot la même origine chrétienne et la même attitude moderniste.



This paper sets out to verify the hypothesis that there has been a constant interest of Croatian philologists and writers in the TWL, starting from the 1950s. The methods of analysis and comparison will be deployed in researching the translations, academic reactions to translations, interpretation of the very poem TWL, and echoes in the poems written by Croatian poets in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Precise evidence can be produced when the literary texts have used TWL motifs and Eliot’s main literary techniques. On the other hand, the common Christian background is the reason for the similarity of the symbols in the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Nikola Šop. The same could be said for the Croatian Creationists who show similarities in respecting and preserving Christian values. The concrete motifs of the dead will be discussed.

1. Translations

First Attempts and Developments

Ivan Slamnig and Antun Šoljan published an anthology entitled The American Lyric in 1952. A Game of Chess appeared in the book, and this is the first translation of a section of the poem into Croatian. Two years later the same translators published the complete poem in the journal Circles (Krugovi). The authors themselves later said that they were sometimes carried away by free transpositions (Šoljan 1972: 341). Some of their choices might seem odd or really faulty but most of the passages are correctly translated, and the music is at certain points congenial to the original. Considering the difficulties of the source text, some of which were properly explained only at the beginning of the 21st Century, and bearing in mind the translators worked behind the Iron Curtain, without the convenience of the Internet, the translation is quite successful.

Slamnig and Šoljan improved their work in T.S. Eliot: Selected Poems, published in Sarajevo in 1962. According to Doyle, the notion of fidelity is the moral and operative heart of the translation enterprise; and it encompasses both the source language and the target language (14). The Croatian language itself is also bettered in the fifth part: stali bi – stali bismo (we would stop). The translators chose the Croatian standard pokrivajući (covering) instead of the previously used vernacular pokrivajuć’ in The Burial of the Dead. However, some words and inflections that are not standard Croatian remained in the Sarajevo version: talas instead of val (deep sea swell); and vratiju instead of vrata in What the Thunder Said.

Antun Šoljan published the anthology The Golden Book of American Poetry in 1980. TWL appeared without Eliot’s notes. Šoljan’s final cut, if I may borrow the film expression, appeared in 1991. The 1980 translation differs only in two or three details from the 1991 version. Notable are verses from the end of The Fire Sermon O Lord thou pluckest me out. The version from The Golden Book goes O Bože ti me vadiš  (O Lord you are taking me out) in Croatian. The final Šoljan version says O Lord you are saving me ( O Bože ti me spašavaš).


In 1954 Ivan Slamnig was a 24-year-old student of Croatian language and literature and an unknown poet.  However, he built a prodigious career in his later years. He was a university professor in the Department of Comparative Literature, at Zagreb University. Slamnig was widely regarded as one of the best poets of the second part of the 20th century in Croatia. His poetry is full of light humour, sometimes in the vein of John Betjeman. Slamnig achieved the highest recognition when he became an academician, i.e. a full member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Antun Šoljan was only 22 in 1954. He was then a student of English and German, but before long he also became famous. His poetry is today present in each and every Croatian anthology. His best poems show a fine mixture of tragic and relaxed motifs, which might have been influenced by Eliot. Šoljan was also an academician.

How to Render the Meaning Correctly?

I will compare five characteristic passages from the first (1954) and the latest (1991) translation, in order to show progress in delivering the source meaning.

1) Lines 20 – 21 (…) Son of man / You cannot say or guess (…)

The 1954 translation had it Sine čovječji / To nisi u stanju saznat. If we set the translation in English, it would be: Son of man / You are not in the state to find it. “Guess” is omitted in the 1954 translation. In 1991 Šoljan offered the following version: Sine čovječji / ne znaš, i ne naslućuješ. In English, it would be: Son of man / You do not know and do not guess. The verb „ne naslućuješ“ is close to do not guess. But, the problem is the fact that the verbs „do not“  and „cannot“ have different meanings.

2) Line 128 O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag

The line caused confusion in the first translation. It is amusing to hear the Croatian O O O O ta šekspirska kapa, which means O O O O that Shakespearian cap. In 1991 Šoljan improved it to O O O O taj šekspirski šlager, O O O O that Shakespearian hit. The distorted Shakespeherian is still not present, and the translated šlager is not just the same as Rag, because there is no reference to ragtime.

3) Line 233  One of the low on whom assurance sits / As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire

Šoljan and Slamnig tried to create a rhyme in 1954. So, the lines sound in Croatian: Jedan na kome osiguranja jašu / Ko skupi šešir na milijunašu. In English, this would be One on whom insurances ride / Like an expensive hat on a millionaire.

“Insurances” are not assurance, but even Ernst Robert Curtius chose the same word in his German translation when he used Versicherung (59). The German word is at least singular. Italian translators Roberto Sanesi and Alessandro Serpieri used la sicurezza (269) and la sicumera (105), respectively. Carmen Gallo also rendered it correctly using l’impudenza (55), which might be the best choice.

The 1991 version renders the small house agent’s clerk somehow differently from the 1954 text: drski prostak kom samouzdanje paše / ko svilen cilindar nad ratnim bogatašem. If we translate it back into English, this would sound like an insolent simpleton on whom self-confidence sits (“fits”) / like a silk hat on a war profiteer.

Insurance is now improved and replaced by self-confidence (samopouzdanje). Still, Eliot’s one of the low is not necessarily an insolent simpleton, and the phrase is not present in the original. The town of Bradford – which was the centre of the wool industry, and therefore the home of some war-profiting persons during the Great War – is not mentioned in the translation.

4) Line 115  I think we are in the rats’ alley

The first translation reads rats’ alley as the rats’ tree alley. The final version reads the rats’ blind alley, which is closer to the original meaning. Translators were probably not aware of the slang used by British soldiers on the Western Front during WWI. The rat’s alley was a trench filled with corpses and rats feeding on them.

5) Lines 420 – 422 are important regarding the ambiguity of the quest’s outcome. No happy end is achieved, but the future possibilities are also not utterly ruled out: The sea was calm, your heart would have responded / Gaily, when invited, beating obedient / To controlling hands.

The first chance was missed, which does not mean there will be no other opportunities. There is no secure claim telling that the quester will be given yet another chance. The English sentence brings a mixed conditional build of past unreal conditional (would have responded) and present unreal conditional (when invited). The 1954 translation has a Croatian future tense, expressing no condition at all: tvoje će se srce pokoriti / Dragovoljno, kad ga pozovu. If translated back into English, the thought would say: Your heart will obey / Willingly when they invite it.

The 1991 translation renders English past conditional with Croatian first conditional, which does not express past: i tvoje bi se srce pokorilo means and your heart would obey. The translator should have used the Croatian second conditional: tvoje bi se srce bilo pokorilo.

In the second part of the sentence, the translation uses the future, expressed in Croatian present tense: kad ga pozovuwhen they invite it. The use of the word pokoriti, to submit, is also dubious because Eliot has shown more respect by writing responded, which could be easily rendered in Croatian with bilo odgovorilo, would have responded.

Excellent Choices

I have already pointed up that the Šoljan and Slamnig translations offered some excellent choices. Amongst them is the translation of the famous lines 199 – 201, O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter / And on her daughter / They wash their feet in soda water. Šoljan and Slamnig showed the skill in preserving both the meaning and the music, by adding extra words:

O, sjajan mjesec nad gospođom Porter brodi
i njenoj kćeri godi
pa one peru noge u soda vodi

In English it would sound like this:

O the bright moon is sailing over Mrs. Porter
And pleases her daughter
So they wash their feet in soda water.

The verb brodi, is sailing, has been added to create a rhyme with godi, pleases. The additional meaning does not betray the original.

Lines 247 – 248 Bestows one final patronising kiss, / And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit also show an understanding of the general meaning and music in the translation. The verses from the agent and the typist passage in Šoljan’s translation sound like this:

Naposljetku, pokroviteljski je ljubi
i po neosvijetljenim stubama se gubi…

In English, it would be:

At last, he patronisingly kisses her
And disappears down the unlit stairs.

The changes are not relevant: the adjective patronising was replaced by the adverb pokroviteljski. The rest is practically the same. One could miss the meaning of the verb to grope, but the change is not really important. The Croatian translation uses assonance and alliteration in repeating the syllable /po /: naposljetku, pokroviteljski, po neosvijetljenim. The music reminds us of the original sound repetition: final, patronising, finding; and also final, finding.

There are many other examples of the translator’s skills, and I would like to mention the lines from the very beginning of the poem. The Croatian language does not allow the usage of the gerund in the context posed by the original text, so Šoljan used presents.  The verbs rađa (bears) and miješa (mixes) are related by the assonant rhyme in Croatian.

Comparing the 1954 and the final 1991 versions, it is noteworthy to observe the obvious improvements in the Croatian language. The line Shall I at least set my lands in order was rendered O da li ću barem uredit svoje zemlje? in 1954. The latest version has it Hoću li barem urediti svoje zemlje? The first choice is typical of the Serbian language in using Da li, while uredit might be the Croatian dialect. Eliot used no dialect in the discussed verse. There are other examples, such as solicitor: advokat – odvjetnik; deep sea swell: duboki morski talas duboke morske valove; April: April – travanj.

Genzler claimed the pre-deconstruction translation theories depend upon some notion of equivalence, which could encompass the same aesthetic experience, linguistic structures, literary function, and formal correlation governed by social acceptability in the target culture (cf. 145). Bearing the definition in mind, we could conclude that Šoljan improved his work through the decades.

Jozo Mršić

Jozo Mršić published his Pusta zemlja, The Waste Land, in the weekly “Hrvatsko slovo,” “Croatian Letter” in 1996. The reader of this curious text should decide whether he or she will read it as a translation or as a new work of art. If the first perception is applied, then there are too many mistakes, and the translation is lower in quality than Šoljan’s work. The latter’s apprehension of the text could be regarded as a new genre, using four components: translation, free adaptation, parody, and maybe even self-parody. In this case, the work is interesting, but it cannot be enjoyed without a good knowledge of Eliot’s poem.

Here is an example with the lines from the pub scene, or to say properly from Albert and Lil’s home: Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon, /And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot –

Jozo Mršić transmitted to get the beauty of it hot with uveličati besmislicu. In English, it would be And they asked me into lunch, to magnify the nonsense. The author made a pun using the double meaning of the word gammon. Or, he was seduced by the double meaning, because gammon could denote smoked ham, and it could also designate nonsense. Eliot was able to express both meanings in a word, but a Croatian translator must decide.

Eliot’s lines Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves /Waited for rain, while the black clouds /Gathered far distant, over Himavant were also challenging. Here is the Mršić choice, rendered in English: The thundering voice was silenced, and the limping man is taking a rest / Waiting for rain, from the black clouds / Gathering from the distant, over Himavant.

The Jozo Mršić text could spark a discussion regarding the well-known intentional fallacy as described by Wimsatt and Beardsley (3, 21). It is worthwhile though to recall Hirsch’s claim: “Evaluation is constantly distinguishing between the author’s intention and accomplishment.” (12). The translated text could not be assessed without measuring it against the source text. Mršić’s text posed also the question of its own intention.  When regarded as a new work of art, the text gives the reader considerable pleasure if he or she bears in mind Eliot’s TWL. Otherwise, it will appear as seriously damaged work. Robert Douglas wrote on machine translations saying there was “something in our makeup, in the human spirit if you like, that demands freedom, imaginative alternatives, and the liberty to experiment with them in the real world.” (191). TWL is a text encouraging the versatility of translation, but it also poses many hidden boundaries. One has to study not only the poem and Eliot’s complete work but also the culture and the civilizational background.

A Short Comparative Insight

A short insight into the Italian world of TWL translations could show the scarcity of Croatian renderings. The first complete Italian translation by Mario Praz appeared in 1932 (Caretti: 119).[1] Italy celebrated the 100TH anniversary of the poem with the 2021 translation by Carmen Gallo.  The latest translation, by Sara Ventroni, appeared in September 2022. The Italian language produced some fifteen complete translations, while Croatian has three translators of the complete poem.

2. Criticism of Translations

Dunja Detoni Dujmić

Dunja Detoni Dujmić submitted a Ph.D. thesis to Zagreb University in 1976. The title was English and American 20TH Century Poetry in Croatian and Serbian Translations, with a Special Emphasis on T.S. Eliot. The title stressed Eliot’s importance, putting him ahead of Yeats. The text contains harsh criticism of the Slamnig and Šoljan translations of TWL. According to Detoni, the reasons for the unsuccessful translations were of a philological nature and were caused by the poor English grammar knowledge of the young poets. The author also mentioned our undeveloped language (285). She had in mind the Croatian language of the time, or maybe even the Serbian language. Detoni however claimed Eliot’s poetry suited our demands at the level of poetic sensibility. The phrase “poetic sensibility” is very handy, but it should be specified. I think it shared a civilization based on Christianity and old Greek literature and mythology. Still, the reader must be aware of the fact that Eliot’s Anglo-American world and Croatia are different now, and the differences were even greater in Eliot’s times. We could of course point up the same roots, but England was a dominant part of the mighty British Empire, and Croatia was almost a colony inside Austro-Hungary and later on in Yugoslavia. England enjoyed a relatively free democratic system, while Croatia was tortured by different types of oppression, including both fascism and communism. Eventually, the English language became the world language in the 20th century. The Croatian language was recognized as an independent language inside Croatia only after the fall of communism in 1990. The very notion of wasteland has been different in Croatia and in England. Henry Staten said the attempt to know the cultural other would either treat this other as an object, “stripping her of her subjectivity”, or “treat it as the mirror of our own.” (113). Márta Lesznyák and Mária Bakti defined the intercultural competence of translators and interpreters as the “combination of aptitudes, knowledge, and skills necessary for an effective and appropriate linguistic mediation between members of different cultures.” (366) The poets influenced by a foreign artist, as well as critics presenting a foreign writer, should possess similar skills.

Diana Maršić

The author wrote an MA thesis entitled On Croatian Translations of T.S. Eliot’s Poems The Waste Land and The Four Quartets (2001). Maršić claims Šoljan’s translations were improved over time (69), though she noticed the same “emotional resonance” even in the first version. The author insists on grammatical accuracy, and she rightly noted the absence of the word “perilously” in the early versions – which is related to the Grail legend and the perilous chapel. Maršić lampooned Mršić’s translation, listing serious differences with the original poem.

3. Important Croatian Critics Writing on TWL

Miroslav Beker

Miroslav Beker was an adviser to Dunja Detoni Dujmić’s Ph.D. thesis. He published the paper Fifty Years of Eliot’s The Waste Land in the journal “Forum”, in 1972. His text is succinct and clear, full of information, and useful in naming such critics as Edmund Wilson and F.R. Leavis. It is probably the best Croatian introductory essay to the poem. The author’s keen sense of perception is evident from the comment in the first passage of What the Thunder Said: “Already the short lines, sometimes built by a word only, and the broken syntax and incoherent sequence of pictures, tell of the panicked state of the frenzy caused by the heat with no water.” (981) Beker also noticed hallucinations and apocalypse that characterize the parts depicting the city bursting in the air and the falling towers. Miroslav Beker praised Eliot’s concise poetry and his slices of life, portraying persons in their own settings. He stressed the value of the poem, which shows human beings in a time of deep personal crisis – which is the crisis of civilization as well (976). The author has also written on the transtemporal and temporal aspects of TWL.

Živan Filippi

Živan Filippi published the study Seven Anthropological Structures in Contemporary Literature in 1985. The book was based on his thesis submitted to the University of Zagreb in 1981. Filippi interpreted chosen postmodern works of literature based on the thematic and spatial determinants from The Waste Land.  The author described the following substructures: a) the barren rock, b) the sunbeam, c) the polluted canal, d) the mute plain, e) the dark hut, and f) the impotent ruler. He also examined the Grail quest, the feast related to the pleasures of earth, water, fire, and air, identification with animals, the acts of positive and negative magic, and the ritual killing of the divine king. Filippi discusses the named substructures from TWL calling them self-contained pictures, reducing ego to nothingness (60). Among the interpreted works are Golding’s Pincher Martin (a), Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (b), Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam (c), Beckett’s Comment C’est (d), Fowles’ The Collector (e), and Barth’s Chimera (f). The Waste Land is a poem searching for its own order, and in Filippi’s study, influenced by Jung also, it becomes a work offering order and structure to the vast panorama of postmodern literature.

Sonja Bašić

The author wrote about T.S. Eliot on several occasions, and the data are present in the Works cited. English readers could be especially interested in Bašić’s presentation of Eliot’s reception in Croatia. Though Sonja Bašić does not use accurate pieces of evidence, her generalizations regarding how the Croatian poets received Eliot’s work sound very sober: “Eliot’s work meant a turn from fierce romanticism and its degeneration into sentimental superficiality and declarative utilitarianism. He offered one of the possible strategies against populist primitivism, parochial boundedness, and pretended indigenousness. For many young writers from the 50s, Eliot represented intelligence, the integrity of art, a window through which to look into the world beyond national boundaries, intellectual discipline, the way towards necessary, ironical distance, and eventually, the way towards modern urban expression.” (1991: 10). Although her metaphors might seem a bit exaggerated, the picture presenting the Croatian attitude towards three important poets is at least interesting: Eliot is a giant, to whom Pound is only a squire, while Williams is an anonymous backstage messenger.

T.S. Eliot and Nikola Šop

A Ph.D. thesis entitled A Comparative Analysis of the Divine, Human, Animal, Vegetative, and Mineral Motifs in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot and Nikola Šop was submitted to Zagreb University in the year 2000, while the book was published in 2011. Nikola Šop (1904 – 1981) was a major Croatian and distinctively Christian poet. He was completely banned during the first 10 years of Communism (1945 – 1955). Šop was not present in Croatian school books until 1991, and the collapse of Communism. Although Šop was a Roman Catholic, in his art as well as in his life, his poetry was not well received in all Catholic circles at first. The reason was the fact that he portrayed Jesus as a man, without a single trace of vulgarity – but God was also present in the depth of his person. The thesis researches and compares biblical presence in Eliot and Šop, although the two poets had, in all probability, never read each other.

Regarding TWL, and Eliot’s poetry in general, the author stressed the importance of the number five. The uncertain and nervous Eliot of 1922 might have been unaware of the Christian symbolism present in the number five, so the five-part structure could have been at that time of lesser importance to him. The converted Eliot who wrote East Coker, and especially the wounded surgeon lyrics, certainly understood the meaning of the number. The five quintains of the poem allude to Christ’s five wounds on the cross, so the five parts of each movement in The Four Quartets are not an accident. The Hollow Men and Gerontion, according to John Crowe Ransom, also have five parts (138). Raymond Preston related the five-petalled rose to the five wounds, but he did not mention either the quintains in the Good Friday lyrics or the five-part structure of each movement in the Four Quartets and in TWL (35). According to the author of the thesis, the wounded surgeon lyric is the structural heart of the whole of Eliot’s poetry. The number five is the important link connecting Eliot’s major poetical works. The information could be corroborated by the fact Eliot highly praised Dante, whose Divine Comedy is marked by the presence of the number three, and its Christian meaning.

The author of the book also tried to explain the neglected meaning of the word nothing in TWL. The word occurred six times in the notable Tom and Viv conversation. The Elizabethan meaning of the phrase “an O thing”, similar to “nothing” is also important to the passage and to the poem in general. In a work imbued with eroticism, a private part of the female body, which was the old meaning of “an O thing” (Williams: 219) could be telling also – in addition, of course, to the philosophical and theological layers of meaning.

Tomislav Brlek

Tomislav Brlek is the best Eliot scholar in Croatia. He wrote the thesis T.S. Eliot in the Context of Contemporary Literary Theory in 2006. The part on The Waste Land bears the title Wasted. Tomislav Brlek researched how the poetic voice from the poem builds its own identity. The answer was that the identity was composed of many other voices. Brlek also highlighted the hidden meaning of the poem related to the hero who is a Poet seeking his expression. The awakening “has not yet begun, except as a premonition, mixing memory and desire. The voice of the poet comes into being through the working of both of these faculties. How this voice acquires identity and what the poet will have to say once he has found it, is what the poem may be said to be „about.“ (200) Brlek did not fail to understand the importance of pain in the process of acquiring an identity and the right voice (201). The identity in TWL was not found once and for all. The Poet will continue to search for his own identity throughout the whole of the poem: “The assured manner of the first seven lines will die out having only just begun. The pattern will be abandoned as soon as it starts to be recognised as a pattern. Rhythms, dictions, and accents will continue to shift, change, and mingle, reverberating, complementing, and contrasting one another for the rest of the poem.” (201). The true hero of TWL is, therefore, a Poet whose task is to express the inexpressible (204). Brlek has seen the reader as an accomplice of the poet. He is an unknown Other, but referred to as “one I knew.” The reader is at liberty to choose for himself any of the innumerable possible interpretations but is also constrained by his own self (210).

The author also pointed up the importance of the word ‘nothing’, explaining the philosophical and linguistic meanings of the word. “For it is one single word designating all that is outside the boundaries of language, itself remaining this side of the dividing line.” (212). The troublesome word “nothing” and the experience with nothingness is common to the reader and to the Poet or Author: “But the negative capability of facing Nothing should also infest the mind of the reader if the mystery is to be unravelled.” (213). Words, says Brlek, after such knowledge, are few indeed. The complete poem seems to be a proper answer imposed by the mighty word nothing, which faced both the identity and the way of speech. The problem is similar to Heidegger’s question related to being and nothing (Seiendes / Nichts; cf. Heidegger: 6 ff.)

Tomislav Brlek edited the book The Waste Land and Other Works (Pusta zemlja i druga djela, 2009). TWL is present in the title of the book, so the key importance of the poem in the context of the complete work of the poet is stressed. The essay pointed up the complex nature of the poem and its indeterminacy regarding the dominant thought and the major theme. Deconstruction of poetical, interpretative, and epistemological hypotheses is expressed straightforwardly and directly (447). The changes in versification are explained too, with the presence of the common everyday speech with four beats in the verse and unrhymed iambic pentameter (447). The author named the jazzy rhythms, biblical verse, and hexameter as well (447). There is no dominant metrical scheme in the poem, and the scenes are often not connected. The world of TWL is defined by the absence of any “essentialist centre.” (447)

4. TWL Echoes in Croatian Poems

It is impossible to list and comment on all of the traces and possible traces of TWL in Croatian poetry in the scope of the present paper. We can provide some basic information, and Dubravko Horvatić’s poem will be discussed more in detail because is paradigmatic in the use of Eliot’s motifs and techniques.

The symbols that are at least similar in TWL and in some Croatian poems could be divided into two major classes. The first stems from the sharing of the  Christian tradition and from the intimation of the impending downfall of the West, and indeed of a particular nation. The second is partly the same as the first but accompanied by the direct presence of TWL motifs and techniques.

Dunja Detoni Dujmić also published the paper titled T.S. Eliot Amongst Us in 1976. The paper explains the influences of Eliot on the Croatian poets Slamnig, Šoljan, Golob, and Ganza. The paper researched motifs and poetical procedures possibly introduced by Eliot. Dunja Detoni emphasized everyday phrasing, imperative constructions, and the use of dialect. It is possible that the listed traces entered Croatian poems due to Eliot’s influence and were not primarily the aftermaths of the Croatian tradition. Still, everyday phrasing was present in Croatia in the poetry of Šimić or Cesarić, way before Eliot’s translations. Boro Pavlović is also important in this respect, and he might have influenced Ivan Slamnig. The dialect has been a strong mark of Croatian poetry since the beginning of the 20th century. Imperative constructions probably hit the mark regarding the 20th-century situation, although the notable Šimić poem The Warning (Opomena) uses imperatives throughout the short text.

Dubravko Horvatić

The prose poem by Dubravko Horvatić, entitled The Iron Angel, is a part of the book of poetry The Fever, published in 1960, six years after the first complete translation of TWL. The rat, the canal, the bottles, the dead being, and the vegetation motifs are common to Eliot from The Fire Sermon and to Horvatić. The use of accumulation and naming of the motifs in absentia are also recognizable common features.

An iron angel lies close to the canal, the broken bottles, and rats, the peel of an orange, close to where old barrels are rotting, close to where snipped planks are rotting; there he lies after his last flight. His wings are semi-rotten and wrinkled, and tough plants sprout through his torn throat, through the cut on his cleaved bosom. No flies, no maggots, no dog barking, just the damp, and destructive vegetation. The iron angel just lies there, after he recognized the uselessness of every flight, the unworthiness of his own smile. Here he lies, after his very self.

The iron angel could represent a great variety of objects from what was a reality in the 60s. Communism seemed to be very much alive then but was rotten as a matter of fact. Horvatić was a poet of patriotic inspiration, and Croatia was almost dead when he wrote the poem, but resurrected some 30 years later, in 1990. The patriotic stance is not overtly present in TWL, but is a remarkable element in  Horvatić’s art.

The iron angel could connote Christ, caught in a protracted state between death and resurrection. The angel from the poem could also be a crashed airplane. Ambiguity, so mightily present in TWL, finds its expression in the interpreted poem also. TWL’s motifs and techniques produced an authentically Croatian poem, which means that Eliot’s writing is capable of inspiring new and genuine works of art.

T.P. Marović

TWL influenced several Croatian poets later on, and Tonči Petrasov Marović is among them. The common procedures in TWL and in the poem Hembra (1976 in the form of a book) were explained by Tomislav Brlek in his essay from the book with Marović’s selected poems. Fragmentation and vague but still visible order marked Marović’s poem. One of the poem’s narrators even mentioned Eliot, using distorted orthography and the dialect: Nisan štila elijota, štila san galijota ( I did not read Eliot, I read a galley slave).

The Creationist Poetry Group

Croatian Creationists published their early poetry books in the mid-70s and in the 80s. Croatia was not free, and Communism seemed to be strong at the time. The most prominent members of the group were Neven Jurica, Drago Štambuk, Ivan Tolj, and Božidar Petrač. They share with Eliot a respect for the tradition and the Christian heritage. Direct quotations from Eliot are not very prominent.

Neven Jurica wrote on “adoration of monuments of human culture in all fields because the content of that culture is always the human search for the Absolute in different forms.” (Jurica 1982: 12). It is not necessary to recall the importance of the tradition for Eliot, and his Christian stance is a dominant feature of his complete work.

Eliot used the motif of hooded hoards swarming over endless plains in the fifth part of TWL. The Communist revolution was at least a part of the reason for the troubled situation. The dead body planted in the garden is a well-known motif from the first part of the poem, and symbols of death and life mark an important question in the whole of the text.

Croatian Creationists wrote when Communism was still a living danger. It was impossible to write openly about the Communists’ crimes and to have the book published in those times in Croatia. Neven Jurica used the symbols of sad corpses flying above us in his poem The Autumn Feast (1983). Ivan Tolj wrote a poem on dead victims entitled Iskopnice (1983). The word is a neologism and is hard to translate into English, but the notion is related to what was dug out.

Božidar Petrač wrote: Let us stay here / together / close to the church of Saint Mark / the only light / in the blacked-out city / while the great Snake / wishing to devour/prepares for her jump (Ovdje ostanimo / zajedno / uz crkvu svetoga Marka / jedino svjetlo / u zamračenom Gradu / dok velika Zmija / žderanja željna / sprema se na skok). The church which is an isle of light and a shelter appears in TWL in Saint Magnus the Martyr. Eliot celebrated inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold. Petrač’s motif of the snake is closer to the Eliot of The Rock, than to that of TWL. The poem was entitled January 24, 1991, which means it depicts the pre-war time filled with danger. The situation is somehow similar to Horvatić’s because Jurica, Tolj, and Petrač bear in mind Croatian victims also; and the danger threatening to destroy the complete nation. Eliot stressed the importance of England in The Four Quartets when his adopted homeland was in jeopardy during WWII.


Croatia got the first translation of the most important English poem of the 20th Century in 1954. The translation was improved through decades by Antun Šoljan, which means the poem remained a permanent inspiration to him. The critical responses were also prominent, producing interesting scholarly interpretations of the post-modern prose by Živan Filippi, and a first-class introduction to the actual poem by Miroslav Beker. Tomislav Brlek proved an author does not have to live in an English-speaking land to be well-informed and to deliver a fine text discussing many responses to the poem. TWL motifs are present in Croatian poems written by translators, but the best response is probably produced by Dubravko Horvatić. Not only the motifs of death and decay but the very techniques, are obviously similar. Yet the Horvatić poem is a new and fine piece of art. His iron angel has several meanings and could compete with Eliot’s motifs in the field of ambiguity. The poem depicts the Croatian situation in the 60s in an excellent manner.

Christianity is a common background in Eliot’s poetry and in the poetry of Nikola Šop, probably the best Croatian poet of Christian inspiration of all time. It is a pity nobody introduced Eliot to the great Croatian man of letters.

The similarities between Eliot and Croatian Creationists show the land had set out on the way of freedom for Christians. Yet, their language had to remain very circumspect in depictions of the numerous victims of the Communist regime.

Eliot, especially in TWL remains a vivid inspiration for literary production even after the named Creationists group – which could be the subject of some different paper.


Works cited

Bašić, Sonja: Eliot jučer i danas, Književna smotra, br. 50, 1983.

Bašić, Sonja: Thomas Stearns Eliot 1888 – 1965., in Antun Šoljan: 100 pjesnika svijeta, Mladost, Zagreb 1984.

Bašić, Sonja: Pogovor, in Antun Šoljan: T.S. Eliot Izabrane pjesme, Grafički zavod Hrvatske, Zagreb 1991.

Beker, Miroslav: Pedeset godina Eliotove Puste zemlje, Forum, 12 / 1972.

Brlek, Tomislav: T.S. Eliot in the Context of Contemporary Literary Theory, Ph.D. thesis, unpublished, Zagreb 2006.

Brlek, Tomislav: Pogovor T.S. Eliot: Kritika poezije, in T.S. Eliot: Pusta zemlja i druga djela, biblioteka Vrhovi svjetske književnosti, Školska knjiga, Zagreb 2009.

Brlek, Tomislav: ProstoRazgovor, in Strah od slova: T.P. Marović izbor iz poezije, edited by Tomislav Brlek, Hrvatsko društvo književnika, Zagreb 2014.

Caretti, Laura: T.S. Eliot in Italia, Saggio e bibliografia (1923 – 1965), Adriatica Editrice, Bari 1968.

Curtius, E.R.: T.S. Eliot: Das wüste Land, Englisch und Deutsch, Übersetzt von Ernst Robert Curtius, Mit Einem Vorwort von Hans Egon Holthusen, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1975.

Detoni Dujmić, Dunja: Engleska i američka poezija XX. stoljeća u hrvatskim i srpskim  prijevodima s posebnim obzirom na T. S. Eliota., Ph. D. text, unpublished, Zagreb 1976.

Detoni, Dujmić Dunja: T.S. Eliot među nama, „Književna smotra“. 25/ 1976.

Doyle, Michael Scott: Translation and the Space Between: Operative Parameters of an Enterprise, in Larson, L. Mildred: Translation: Theory and Practice Tension and Interdependence, State University of New York and Binghampton, 1991.

Filippi, Živan: Sedam antropoloških struktura u postmodernoj književnosti, August Cesarec, Zagreb 1985.

Gallo, Carmen: T.S. Eliot:  La terra devastata, il Saggiatore, Milano 2021.

Genzler, Edwin: Contemporary Translation Theories, Multilingual Matters Ltd, Clevedon, Buffalo, Toronto, Sydney, 2001.

Heidegger, Martin: Gesamtausgabe, II. Abteilung, Vorlesungen 1923 – 1944, Band 40, Einfürung in die Metaphisyk, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1983.

Hirsch, E.D.: Validity in Interpretation, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1967.

Jurica, Neven: Kreacionistička slika svijeta, in Dubrovnik, 5.6 – 1982, SSRNH Dubrovnik, 1982.

Maršić, Diana: O hrvatskim prijevodima T.S. Eliotovih poema Pusta zemlja i Četiri kvarteta, MA thesis text, unpublished, Zagreb 2001.

Mršić, Jozo: Pusta zemlja, Hrvatsko slovo, 30 August 1996. pp 10 – 11

Lesznyák, Márta and Bakti, Mária: Intercultural Competence from the Perspective of Translation Agencies, in Zybatow, Lew N.; Stauder, Andy; Ustazsewski, Michael (eds.): Translation Studies and Translation Practice, Proceedings of the 2nd International TRANSLATA Conference, 2014, Part 1, Peter Lang Publisher, Frankfurt am Main 2017.

Preston, Raymond: Four Quartets Rehearsed, Sheed and Ward, London 1946.

Ransom, John Crow: Gerontion, in T.S. Eliot The Man and His Work, Chatoo & Windus, London 1967.

Robinson, Douglas: What is Translation, The Kent State University Press, London 1997.

Sanesi, Roberto: T.S. Eliot: Poesie, A cura di Roberto Sanesi, Bompiani, Milano 1985.

Serpieri, Alessandro T.S. Eliot: La terra desolata, introduzione, traduzione e note di Alessandro Serpieri, Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, Milano 1982.

Slavić, Dean: Sveta knjiga i dva pjesnika, Komparativna raščlamba božanskoga, ljudskoga, animalnoga, biljnoga i mineralnoga svijeta u pjesništvu T.S. Eliota i Nikola Šopa, Hrvatska sveučilišna naklada, Zagreb 2011.

Staten, Henry: Tracking the Native Informant, in Berman, Sandra, and Wood, Michael: Nation, Language and the Ethics of Translation, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2005.

Šoljan, Antun and Slamnig, Ivan (A.Š., I.S.): Eliotova Pusta zemlja, Krugovi, 1954. /5.

Šoljan Antun and Slamnig, Ivan: T.S. Eliot: Izabrane pjesme, Veselin Masleša, Sarajevo 1962.

Šoljan, Antun: Kako smo prevodili Gavrana, in Zanovijetanje iz zamke, Znanje, Zagreb 1972.

Šoljan, Antun: Zlatna knjiga američke poezije, Nakladni zavod Matice hrvatske, Zagreb 1980.

Šoljan, Antun: T.S. Eliot: Izabrane pjesme,  Grafički zavod Hrvatske, Zagreb 1991.

Williams, Gordon: Shakespeare’s Sexual Language, a glossary, Continuum, London 1997.

Wimsatt, W.K. : The Verbal Icon, Methuen and Co Ltd, London 1970.  (Copyright 1954. The University of Kentucky Press).


[1] I am very grateful to Stefano Maria Casella who sent me the Caretti text; he also provided additional information regarding TWL in Italy.


Dean Slavić is born in Rijeka, Croatia, in 1961. He is currently teaching at The University of Zagreb in the department for Croatian language and literature. His field of interest are relations between the Bible and literature, classical works of world literature and methodology of teaching literature. Dean Slavić obtained his PhD comparing T.S. Eliot and Croatian 20TH century poet Nikola Šop, and he recently prepared the new translation of The Waste Land in Croatian, along with exhaustive commentaries.

Few and Far Between: Translations of T. S. Eliot’s Drama in Spanish


S. Eliot is recognized in Spain as a referent of modern poetry, but comparatively little known as a dramatist. Translations of his poetry into Spanish and the other languages of Spain have been published since the 1930s up to the present day. Not surprisingly, given the secondary status conferred upon them even in English, there are fewer translations of Eliot’s plays. We propose to examine their history, context, and specificities.
Murder in the Cathedral is exceptional in having been translated into Spanish numerous times, and as recently as 2016. The reputed translator José Méndez Herrera produced a prose version of The Cocktail Party, destined for a 1952 stage production. Rosa Chacel and Carmen Conde, prolific authors associated with the “Generación del 27”, both translated or adapted The Family Reunion, also in the 1950s. They attempted to find equivalents for Eliot’s dramatic verse in the patterns of Spanish contemporary poetry; fascinatingly, their versions involve an unsolved enigma that we will attempt to unravel. The most recent translations of Eliot’s “modern English society” comedies (The Confidential Clerk, The Elder Statesman) appeared in the 1960s. Those produced by the Argentinian translator Miguel Alfredo Olivera deserve special attention because of their quality.
The remoteness from our times of most of these translations, however, seems to call for new Spanish versions, alert to Eliot’s verse cadences and incorporating the latest scholarship. Because of our involvement in such a project (a forthcoming critical edition in Spanish), we will also share our experience as translators of Eliot’s verse drama.

The present text has three main aims: to trace the history of T. S. Eliot’s drama in Spanish translation as an aspect of his general reception, to consider the practical challenges faced by past and present translators, and lastly, to reflect on our own experience as translators and editors of these texts, in the context of a recent translation and research project whose main result has been a comprehensive and critical edition of Eliot’s plays.[1]

T. S. Eliot est reconnu en Espagne comme un référent de la poésie moderne, mais il est relativement peu connu en tant qu’auteur dramatique. Des traductions de sa poésie en espagnol et dans les autres langues d’Espagne—Catalan, Basque, Galicien— ont été publiées depuis les années 1930 jusqu’à aujourd’hui. Il n’est pas surprenant qu’il y ait moins de traductions des pièces de théâtre d’Eliot, étant donné le statut secondaire qui leur est conféré même en anglais. Nous nous proposons d’examiner leur histoire, leur contexte et leurs spécificités.
Meurtre dans la cathédrale a la particularité d’avoir été traduite en espagnol à de nombreuses reprises, et pas plus tard qu’en 2016. Le traducteur réputé José Méndez Herrera a réalisé une version en prose de The Cocktail Party, destinée à une mise en scène en 1952. Rosa Chacel et Carmen Conde, auteurs prolifiques associés à la « Generación del 27 », ont toutes deux traduit ou adapté La réunion de famille, également dans les années 1950. Elles ont tenté de trouver des équivalents au vers dramatique d’Eliot dans les modèles de la poésie espagnole contemporaine ; de manière fascinante, leurs versions impliquent une énigme non résolue que nous tenterons d’élucider. Les traductions les plus récentes des comédies de la « société anglaise moderne » d’Eliot (The Confidential Clerk, The Elder Statesman) sont apparues dans les années 1960. Celles du traducteur argentin Miguel Alfredo Olivera méritent une attention particulière en raison de leur qualité.
L’éloignement de notre époque de la plupart de ces traductions semble toutefois appeler de nouvelles versions espagnoles, attentives aux cadences des vers d’Eliot et intégrant les dernières recherches. En raison de notre implication dans un tel projet (une édition critique en espagnol à paraître), nous partagerons ici notre expérience en tant que traducteurs du drame en vers d’Eliot.


The story of Eliot’s verse drama starts with the unfinished fragments of Sweeney Agonistes (1926). Almost a decade later, Eliot wrote and saw his two commissioned religious plays – the pageant The Rock (1934) and the successful Murder in the Cathedral (1935) – staged. Along the way, he had converted to Anglo-Catholicism and was ready to project his transcendent ideas onto the stage.

While T. S. Eliot’s translations and influence on Spanish literature both as a critic and as a poet have been amply documented and discussed, there has not been, to this date, a parallel scholarly interest in the traces left by his theatrical career in the Spanish world. This circumstance amounts to a critical void in Eliot studies in Spain, all the more inexplicable since – as Anglo-American scholars have already pointed out – only through the connections of Eliot’s poetry and criticism with his drama can we render the full dimension of the artist.

The critical attention granted to Eliot’s drama therefore arises from the acknowledgement of a premise previously ignored: a full portrait of his artistic and critical significance in contemporary Western literature cannot overlook such a relevant facet of his mature work. The traditional critical neglect of Eliot’s drama has been thus partly remedied by the contributions of Carol Smith, Randy Malamud, and David Chinitz, among others. These scholars emphasize the constant and close relationship between the three facets of Eliot as an essayist, a poet, and a playwright. From his early essays, such as “A Dialogue on Dramatic Poetry” (1928) and “The Need for Poetic Drama” (1936) to the later “Poetry and Drama” (1951), Eliot the essayist never ceased to inquire into the connections between poetry and the stage. From his early major poems onwards (The Waste Land, “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock,” “Gerontion”), Eliot the poet introduces dramatic monologue and dialogue that resembles conversation, while he reflects upon these practices in essays such as “The Music of Poetry” (1942) and “The Three Voices of Poetry” (1953). Finally, after a successful career as a poet and a critic, Eliot actually runs the life-long cherished risk of writing and staging a variety of verse drama with commercial aspirations. He undertakes this self-imposed artistic task in an attempt to connect with large, contemporary audiences on their own terms; Eliot was aware of the fact that the kind of poetry that had given him fame would never have the same large appeal for a mid-century, middle-class citizen as the stage.

Although Eliot’s drama was less influential than his poetry and criticism, his plays were translated and produced outside the United Kingdom and the United States, and their international reception is a fascinating object of study. The present article has three main aims: to trace the history of T. S. Eliot’s drama in Spanish translation as an aspect of his general reception, to consider the practical challenges faced by past and present translators, and lastly, to reflect on our own experience as translators and editors of these texts, in the context of a recent translation and research project whose main result has been a comprehensive and critical edition of Eliot’s plays.[1]

Translation and Publishing History of Eliot’s Plays in Spanish

Murder in the Cathedral, and the Comedies

About a decade after the first performance of Murder in the Cathedral (1935) in Canterbury, Eliot responded positively to the prospect of a Spanish translation. Arrangements were made with a strong publisher, Editorial E.P.E.S.A., which commissioned Francisco de A. Carreres, a professor at the University of Valencia, to translate the text. As he expressed in a letter to Carreres, Eliot was satisfied with the edition, which was eventually published in 1949 with an introduction and an author’s prologue. Eliot introduced Asesinato en la Catedral to a Spanish readership and wished for a favourable reception: “I venture to hope that it may receive some commendation in Spain: where, if the subject is unknown, the spirit of the play will seem familiar, and the form, perhaps, may not seem strange” (2018a, 463-64). Although this is not always easy to ascertain by reference to contemporary reviews, we may presume that most of the earliest productions of Eliot’s play in Spain used Carreres’s translation.

A second edition of E.P.E.S.A. and Carreres’s Asesinato en la Catedral appeared in 1961. In 1978, Alianza Editorial published the first edition of Eliot’s Poesías reunidas. 1909-1962, with translations by the poet and academic José María Valverde. It included the experimental, unfinished play Sweeney Agonistes (1926-27), as well as Choruses from ‘The Rock’ (1934), extracted from a largely unknown pageant that combined verse and prose. With fellow scholar Fernando Gutiérrez, Valverde published a translation of Murder in the Cathedral in 1984, which was subsequently reprinted (in 1985, 1997, and 2009). Completing the task with Eliot’s best-known play seemed only inevitable, thus confirming its special status as a natural dramatic transposition of Eliot’s poetic language and his religious commitment. Apart from such continuity, both in time and poetic vision – best exemplified by Murder in the Cathedral and “Burn Norton” (1936) – Malamud sees in Eliot’s plays of the 1930s a transitional quality between his later poetry and his later drama: they “hover uneasily, interestingly, between pure poetry and drama” (2014, 239).

More recently, in 2016, Lumen included Murder in the Cathedral – as part of its poetry collection – in Cuatro cuartetos, precedido de ‘La roca’ y ‘Asesinato en la catedral’, where Eliot’s early dramatic texts are presented as creative precedents leading to Four Quartets and illuminating the process of their composition. In his introduction, the translator and editor Andreu Jaume convincingly argues for the existence of a productive cross-fertilisation between the poetry of Four Quartets and Eliot’s verse drama up to The Family Reunion (1939): “Dramatic writing had made him cultivate a poetic style made up of various strands. On the one hand, Eliot was already highly experienced and skilled as a poet, . . . but on the other, he was also a poet trying to experiment with another genre as well as trying to find a new metre for it” (2016, 11).[2] The versification patterns and diction of Murder in the Cathedral, reproduced by Jaume in translation, are closely linked to those of Four Quartets – both products of these liminal years.

The second most successful play by Eliot was The Cocktail Party (1949), the first of his drawing-room comedies, unique because of their protagonists’ spiritual aspiration to transcend the natural world. The play was first translated into Spanish in 1950 – only one year after its première in Edinburgh, which suggests that Eliot’s drama did have a contemporary international popularity. The translator was the Argentinian author Miguel Alfredo Olivera, associated with Victoria Ocampo’s renowned literary journal Sur. The publisher was Emecé Editores (based in Buenos Aires), and Cocktail Party – Olivera retained the English title, dropping the article – was included in the collection “Teatro del mundo” (“World Theatre”). To translate Eliot’s lines – originally bearing three or four accents on either side of a caesura – Olivera chose to loosely follow the Spanish tradition of syllabic verse, making most of his lines alejandrinos[3] (i.e., fourteen-syllable lines, easily divisible into two balanced halves) and adjusting the number of syllables by means of dieresis or synaloepha when necessary. The resulting lines are conveniently close to the original in length and rhythm:

It may be that even / Julia is a guardian.
Perhaps she is my Guardian. / Give me the spectacles.
(Eliot 2004, 383)

Puede ser que la misma / Julia sea un guardián.
Tal vez sea mi Guardián. / Dame esos anteojos.
(Olivera 1950, 83)

Olivera’s text was later included in an anthology of British contemporary drama, Teatro inglés contemporáneo (published by Aguilar in 1959, and reedited in 1961 and 1970); the curious selection was made up of recent successful plays by J. B. Priestley, Noël Coward, Terence Rattigan, Peter Ustinov and Graham Greene – as well as Eliot.

In 1952, José Méndez Herrera translated The Cocktail Party for an ambitious production at the Teatro María Guerrero (a national theatre) in Madrid. Méndez Herrera was a poet, playwright, scholar, and diplomat, as well as a translator, best known for the formidable task of rendering Dickens’s complete works in Spanish; he also translated Goldoni or Ibsen for the stage (Haro Tecglen 1986). In 1962, he was awarded the Spanish “Premio Nacional de Traducción” for a translation of selected plays by Shakespeare. Surprisingly, despite sharing with Eliot an interest in the revival of verse drama, Méndez Herrera translated The Cocktail Party as prose. In regretting this choice, the critic Alfredo Marqueríe defined the essence of Eliot’s verse drama with precision: “It would have been a wonderful experiment to be able to listen to that poetry, with all the nuances of the original, in scenes of contemporary life” (1952, 9).[4] Even though the translator justified the use of prose “for greater clarity,” one of the actors, Enrique Diosdado, remarked on the difficulty to combine the density of Eliot’s language – presumably reflected in Méndez Herrera’s translation – with a naturalistic style of enunciation: “you must express, without apparent emphasis, very complicated concepts, and manage to ‘convey’ them to the audience” (Marqueríe 1952, 6).[5]

The last two comedies by Eliot, The Confidential Clerk (1953) and The Elder Statesman (1958), failed to reach a wide audience. They were traditional drawing-room comedies that seemed anachronistic in the context of a process of renewal in British and European drama that brought with it the debunking of long-established theatrical conventions mainly through the theatre of the absurd (Beckett, Genet, Ionesco) and the social dramatists (Delaney, Osborne, Wesker, Pinter). About this renewal and the displacement of Eliot’s theatrical concept of drama, Leeming argues that “[b]y comparison with the wildly unpredictable absurdists the poetic dramatists [Eliot and Fry] seemed little different from the conventional realistic drawing-room writers with whom they were competing (1989, 9).

The reception of The Confidential Clerk and The Elder Statesman in Spain mirrors their moderate success in Britain and the U.S.: there are no records of relevant productions; they were translated soon after their publication in English, and then forgotten. Olivera and Méndez Herrera translated The Confidential Clerk as Su hombre de confianza (Emecé Editores, 1959) and as El secretario particular (Norte y Sur, 1963) respectively. After his prose translation of The Cocktail Party a decade earlier, Méndez Herrera imitated Eliot’s basic pattern (cesuras, stresses and number of syllables have been marked or indicated in the quote below), with a tendency to produce eleven and fourteen-syllable lines – the most common verse length in Spanish prosody:

Oh, Sir Claude, / you shouldn’t say that!
Mr. Simpkins is far better / qualified than I was
To be / your confidential clerk.
He was finding his feet, / very quickly,
During the time / we worked together.
All he needs / is confidence. (Eliot 2004, 383)

¡Sir Claudio, por favor, / no diga eso! (11)
Creo / que el señor Simpkins (7)
mejor capacitado / es que yo (11)
para ser secretario / particular de usted. (14)
En estos pocos as / que trabajamos juntos, (14)
Que impuesto / de todo en un instante. (13)
No necesita / más que confianza. (10) (Méndez Herrera 1963, 14)

For the same play, Olivera reconsidered the approach previously adopted for The Cocktail Party. In his prologue (1959, 19), he defends the combination of dactylic and trochaic feet – without mentioning cesura – as being both harmonious and prose-sounding in Spanish; yet the licenses he contemplates (an unstressed initial syllable, or the odd possibilities that a final stressed syllable or two unstressed syllables could count as trochees), as well as the lack of examples illustrating their application, make systematic scansion very difficult. In practice, however, Olivera’s lines can compare to Mendez Herrera’s in their length (8-14 syllables) and number of main stresses (3-4 per line):

¡Oh Sir Claude, / no diga eso! (8)
Mr. Simpkins es / más calificado que yo (14)
Para ser su hombre / de confianza en la casa. (14)
Se estaba dando maña / ya muy pronto (11)
Durante el tiempo / en que trabajamos juntos. (13)
lo necesita / confianza en mismo. (13) (Olivera 1959, 26)

Olivera is the only translator to have produced Spanish versions of Eliot’s three comedies, including the last one, The Elder Statesman. Although he does not refer to the practicalities of translation in his prologue to El viejo estadista (also published by Emecé Editores as part of “Teatro del mundo,” in 1963), we may assume that he followed the same approach as with Su hombre de confianza.

The Family Reunion: A Transition Play, and a Translation Mystery

The Family Reunion, the play that followed Murder in the Cathedral, has a special significance. It was the first of Eliot’s dramatic texts to be set in contemporary England while revisiting a classic of Greek drama – Aeschylus’s The Furies. The professor and linguist Ernesto Carratalá (whose uncle, the poet Luis Cernuda, was strongly influenced by Eliot) translated it (Reunión de familia) in 1949 for a minority production by “Thule, Teatro de Ensayo” in Barcelona; according to the reviews, his translation, never published, was in prose. Rosa Chacel – an author associated, like Cernuda, with the Spanish “Generación del 27” – produced a verse translation of Eliot’s play, with the same title as Carratalá’s, in 1953, during her exile years in Argentina. As Olivera’s translations, Chacel’s appeared in Emecé’s collection “Teatro del mundo”.

“Pequeño Teatro Dido,” another of the small chamber-theatre companies active during the post-war period in Spain, commissioned a translation of The Family Reunion for performance in Madrid in 1956. The translator was Elizabeth Gate, and Carmen Conde – a versatile and prolific writer, also in the sphere of the “Generación del 27” –[6] was in charge of producing a “poetic” adaptation. Unlike Chacel’s, this version of The Family Reunion was meant for performance and not for publication. Conde would translate C. F. Ramuz’s L’histoire du soldat (1917) for a production by Dido, also in 1956; Gate took no other commissions from the company and seems to have done no more relevant work in literary translation. There is no trace of Conde’s adaptation of Reunión de familia among her papers, although we know that she received payment for the task.[7] In a press article (Conde 1956, 8) and a note in the programme, she insightfully refers to thematic and formal aspects of Eliot’s play. The copy preserved as part of the censorship file, however, provides two startling revelations: that “Elizabeth Gate” was a pseudonym for “Elisa Fernández Cancela” (“gate” is the English word for the Spanish “cancela”), and that the text is the same, word per word, as that of Chacel’s previous translation.

As contemporary writers well-known in literary circles, Conde and Chacel certainly knew each other. On the other hand, Fernández Cancela and Chacel had been employed at the same school in 1919, as teachers of modern languages and drawing respectively – Chacel had trained as an artist in the preceding years. Several hypotheses can be put forward to explain why both texts are the same:

-Chacel “lent” her translation to a fellow writer (Conde) and her sometime colleague (Fernández Cancela) as a favour in the oppressive cultural atmosphere of the Spanish post-war. This, however, seems unlikely, since Chacel was painstakingly trying to carve out a career for herself as an intellectual in exile, and jealously guarded her work. Further, as suggested above, we have no evidence of a close personal relationship between the two – indeed the three – women.
-Chacel’s text may have been submitted for practical motives or reasons of urgency, while an original text by Fernández Cancela and Conde was being finalised – so that, in effect, the text performed would have been different from Chacel’s. This is also improbable, because of the administrative and political risks for all involved.
-Although there is no conclusive evidence, it seems more likely that Fernández Cancela and/or Conde decided to pass Chacel’s translation off as their own. Presumably, they would have been prompted to do this by Dido’s management, or had their acquiescence, since there is no evidence of any contact or actual collaboration between translator and adapter. Discretion would be guaranteed by the fact that the playscript was not be published, and only three performances of the play would take place (this was usually the case with chamber-theatre productions). Officially using the translation published four years earlier would be more costly – in terms of copyright – for a small company like Dido and acknowledging its author – a dissident exiled author like Chacel – might complicate the process of obtaining authorization. The division translator-adapter, as well as the translator’s use of a pseudonym, may have been deliberately intended to obfuscate and ultimately avoid direct individual responsibility. The complex structure of the Francoist censorship system – with its multiple departments, committees, and readers – would have made the identification of a non-original translation difficult.

Challenges for Translators of Eliot’s Plays, Then and Now

The Need for new Translations

As has already been stated, almost since the publication of Eliot’s first poems and essays, both Eliot’s poetry and his criticism have been incessantly translated into Spanish. Moreover, Eliot became a decisive influence, as a poet and critic, for the successive Spanish poetic movements throughout the twentieth century. His prevalence on the Spanish poetic scene enabled the transition from a style indebted to sentimentality and rhetoric to impersonality and a conversational tone in poetry. Furthermore, it encouraged leading poets from different generations and aesthetic codes – such as Juan Ramón Jiménez, Luis Cernuda, Jaime Gil de Biedma or José Ángel Valente, to name but a few – to take a fresh philosophical approach on the uses of poetry and criticism.[8]

As far as Eliot’s drama is concerned, a comprehensive critical approach, devoid of dismissive assumptions while attentive to goals only partly achieved or missed, and within the wider context of Eliot’s poetry and criticism, has to a great extent shaped our research project. Eliot’s vision of drama as a popular art is also essential. In this, we agree with Chinitz’s views on the fallacy around Eliot’s supposed “cultural divide:”

[Eliot] is understood to have done his utmost to secure the boundaries between “high” and “low” art. . . . however, Eliot’s actual relations with popular culture were far more nuanced and showed a far greater receptivity than either his supporters or his detractors . . . have realized or cared to admit. (2002, 4)

Since the project was also based on the reception of Eliot’s verse drama in Spain, undertaking new translations seemed appropriate, for at least two main reasons. To start with, and as translation theory shows, each literary translation is a product of its time: clearly, the uses of Spanish in the 1950s and the 1960s in “contemporary” settings sound remote to today’s ears. Reflecting upon Eliot’s theatre nowadays consequently required translations that could sound natural to a twenty-first-century reader and spectator.[9] On another note, it seemed difficult to reflect upon Eliot’s verse technique onstage without attempting to find current equivalences in Spanish poetry. The joint work method of providing updated critical views about Eliot’s plays while producing new versions in Spanish has led to constant feedback between theory and praxis. Indirectly, the publication of new profusely annotated translations may hopefully bring a renewed interest in staging Eliot again in Spanish-speaking countries.

We have adopted a research-based approach to each of the plays, resulting in a comprehensive critical introduction followed by an annotated verse translation.[10] Feedback and interaction between translators and editors has been constant, so that the problem-solving that any translation involves, and the research undertaken for the production of paratexts have informed and benefited each another. Introductions and notes offer the readers a refreshed view of the current critical appreciation of Eliot’s plays while relating them with the story of their reception in the Spanish context. In turn, the research-based translations adapt Eliot’s verse drama to a contemporary, equivalent variety of Spanish verse. All in all, the project addresses a research area that has been so far only minimally explored, with a view to rendering a fuller understanding of Eliot’s contribution to and influence on twentieth-century literature.

Our reasons for approaching Eliot as a dramatist are equally aligned with Perloff’s claim for a fuller understanding of his artistic significance, beyond facile oppositions between the radical experimenter and the conservative traditionalist (2007, 11-34). A focus on the “complete” Eliot must not only view the playwright together with the poet, the critic, and the man; it should also establish the necessary connections among all these facets. In addition to this, the production of an updated critical edition has allowed for the incorporation of the ever-growing bibliography on Eliot since the 1990s. Finally, this critical edition highlights the necessity of dealing with Eliot’s legacy from the historical perspective that a new century favors. All in all, through this – and similar initiatives – we can read and interpret Eliot’s oeuvre as a cohesive, coherent Gesamtkuntswerk, in all its complexity and nuances.

Eliot’s Verse Drama and its Evolution

The translations of Eliot’s drama that our project has provided are based on three previous and complementary lines of research: Eliot’s own evolution as a playwright regarding the use of verse onstage, Eliot’s implementation of a new verse based on a fixed number of stresses and pauses, and the available metrical equivalences to this new verse in Spanish.

Eliot’s theatrical career also provides an unmistakable continuity with his later poetry. In 1934 he starts writing the Four Quartets, a poetry work that differs from his earlier, darker views about existence. Gardner signals the completion of the Four Quartets as a turning point in Eliot’s poetic and dramatic “change of mood,” from “a sense that life is agonizingly trivial and meaningless” towards “acceptance of the conditions of life in this world” (1966, 155). This move has its metric counterpart in the development and refinement of a kind of verse suitable for Eliot’s theatrical purposes, an aspiration that does not take shape until he premieres his “drawing-room” plays in the West End, from 1939 onwards.

Both The Rock and Murder in the Cathedral combine verse with prose, ancient choruses with religious sermons, theatrical effects with the rituals of liturgy. However, in terms of style and versification, Eliot himself admitted to having reached a dead end after Murder in the Cathedral (2018b, 596). Consequently, and with a view to devising a kind of theatre apt for the contemporary theatregoer, yet not renouncing the conveyance of spiritual truths on a deeper level, Eliot invents his own version of what can be referred to as a “conversational” line:

a line of varying length and varying number of syllables, with a caesura and three stresses. The caesura and the stresses may come at different places, almost anywhere in the line; the stresses may be close together or well separated by light syllables; the only rule being that there must be one stress on one side of the caesura and two on the other. (2018b, 59)

Eliot’s experimentation with this line from The Family Reunion (1939) to The Elder Statesman (1959) has been analyzed and, sometimes, contested in its effectiveness by different critics, even by Eliot’s close collaborators such as E. Martin Browne, or by contemporary poets like W. H. Auden. Some of them identify four stresses instead of three as the predominant line-pattern. Likewise, some theatre analysts dismiss Eliot’s attempt to create a conversational line as “prose masquerading as poetry” (Knieger 1961, 391), whereas others hail it as fully convincing, even affirming that “no other poet has been able to vitalize dramatic poetry by bringing it close to the conversational idiom of contemporary society” (Das 2007, 274).

Critical ambivalence, however, does not alter the fact that Eliot’s evolution in verse drama was thoroughly grounded on his intention to let conversational poetry take the lead. The transitional point is marked by The Family Reunion. This play represents a bridge, in Marjorie Lightfoot’s view (1968, 186), between the older mood – use of stage props and supernatural effects such as the Furies, and variety of meters – and the new mindset with its corresponding metrical strategies. It is, however, in the later plays (The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk and The Elder Statesman) where translators must most accurately hone their own technique to remain faithful to Eliot’s purpose. This is the reason why, regarding the translations produced as part of the project, we will pay special attention to the later plays.

New TEATREL-SP Translations (2023)

Our recent translations of Eliot’s “conversational line” from The Family Reunion to The Elder Statesman revolve around three main principles: a choice of verse in Spanish resembling the average utterance in conversation, the use of stress patterns focusing on the semantic load carried by crucial words and concepts rather than on achieving a specific cadence, and a naturalness of style that must prevail over effects related with the former principles – estimated verse length and accentual predictability. It should also be noted that, since translation is in itself a craft that joins technique with intuition, as we progressed with the work, we became increasingly less preoccupied with formal aspects. Instead, we allowed ourselves to rely on the aural perception of the verses read aloud. To that end, we asked two professional actors to record certain scenes from the four plays in the format of traditional radio drama. These recordings helped us test the effect that the translations could have upon a hypothetical audience and introduce slight modifications.[11]

Regarding the first principle – verse choice –, we carried out double research on Spanish poetic theatre and Spanish poetry contemporary with Eliot. The modernismo and the 1927 Generations in Spain, made up mainly of poets and poet-playwrights, rejected naturalism, as Eliot initially did (Cuesta Guadaño 2017, 42-46).[12] However, their dramas were either symbolist, based on traditional verse forms and set in rural, remote, or fantastic locations – as in Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s 1919 Divinas palabras (Divine Words) – or enigmatically obscure pieces, even more alien to a drawing-room setting – as in the experimental plays by Federico García Lorca El público (The Public) (1930) or Así que pasen cinco años (When Five Years Pass) (1931). In this regard, the renovation of the Spanish stage through dramatic poetry provides an accurate example of Eliot’s argument in “Poetry and Drama,” where he holds that

verse plays, it has been generally held, should either take their subject matter from some mythology, or else should be about some remote historical period, far enough away from the present for the characters not to need to be recognizable as human beings, and therefore for them to be licensed to talk in verse. (2018b, 596)

In contrast, we found in poets such as Juan Ramón Jiménez, Vicente Aleixandre, and Carlos Bousoño, or in the Latin-American Jorge Luis Borges, Vicente Huidobro, and Pablo Neruda, similar reflections about the new verse they employed, “verso libre”. All these poets observed how free verse was closer to prose and conversation than any other verse in Spanish poetry. In addition, they confirmed how, in the naturalness of its cadence, free verse usually contains camouflaged instances of the endecasílabo – the 11-syllable line that most resembles, in Spanish, the average utterance (Utrera 2003, 303-333).

Consequently, our translations of the four plays of contemporary life follow the path open for Spanish poetry by the use of free verse, insofar as they also frequently lean on the 11-syllable line, usually hidden behind a loose free-verse pattern. This statement can also be held inversely: any attempt at a conversational verse form in Spanish ends up, quite naturally, landing in the orbit of the hendecasyllable, as the case is with our translations. Such effect is sometimes complemented by resorting to Olivera’s 14-syllable line, mostly for strategic reasons: the alejandrino, itself a double verse, perfectly fits into Eliot’s two-hemistich schema pattern; more importantly, it helps accommodate long words, much more frequent in Spanish than in a language with abundant monosyllabic words like English. This solution is crucial whenever words that carry relevant meanings for the understanding of the play arise. In Part II, Scene II of The Family Reunion, which we have translated as Reunión familiar, Agatha, the most discerning character in the play, provides a good example of this:

                  So I had supposed. What of it?
What we have written is not / a story of detection,
Of crime and punishment, / but of sin and expiation.
It is possible / that you have not known what sin
You shall expiate, or whose, or why. / It is certain
That the knowledge of it / must precede the expiation.  (Eliot 2004, 333)

To the choice of stresses in this extract, some secondary stresses may be added: for example, in line 4, the stress could fall on the complete succession of monosyllables after the caesura (“that you have not known what sin”). In line 5, “shall” and “is” could also carry the stress, the same as “precede” in line 6. In contrast, the repetition of “expiation,” a key concept in The Family Reunion, offers no doubts about its rhythmic relevance, and so do “sin,” “knowledge,” or the Dostoyevskian “crime and punishment.” Our translation reads as follows:

                          A lo supuse. ¿Y qué importa? (9)
No hemos escrito / una historia de detectives, (13)
Ni de crimen y castigo, / sino de pecado y expiación. (18)
Es posible / que no supieras qué pecado (13)
Expiabas, de quién o por qué. / Es claro (12)
Que el conocimiento / debe preceder a la expiación. (16)
(Carbajosa 2023, 311-12)[13]

Lines 1, 2, 4 and 5 tend to the hendecasyllable and reproduce, to a certain extent, the stress pattern established in the original version. Lines 3 and 6, with the long final noun “expiation,” appear closer to the 14-syllable Spanish verse. As in the English version, line 4 requires more stresses than the ones indicated by Eliot. Moreover, the choice of monosyllabic words (“que,” “no,” “qué”), combined with the alliteration of /k/ and /p/ sounds, conveys a similar effect of swiftness and agitation to that produced by the final /t/ and /n/ repetition in “that you have not known what sin.” Finally, the same indeterminacy between prose or verse that Eliot wished for the English-speaking public is kept, however controlled by rhythmic choices.

The predominance of the hendecasyllable in our translations over Olivera’s preference for the alejandrino in Cocktail Party – which we have translated as El cóctel – can be equally detected, mostly in the apparently unimportant conversations that abound in the play. In its opening lines we can read:

ALEX.                 My dear Julia!
It’s perfectly hopeless. You haven’t been listening.
PETER. You’ll have to tell us all over again, Alex.
ALEX.    I never tell the same story twice.
JULIA.  But I’m still waiting to know what happened.
I know it started as a story about tigers.  (Eliot 2004, 353)

Olivera translates as follows, according to his tendency to the 14-syllable pattern:

ALEX.                       Pero, querida Julia:
Es inútil que te explique. / No has estado escuchando. (15)
PEDRO. Tendrás que contárnoslo / todo de nuevo, Alex. (15)
ALEX.      Nunca vuelvo a contar dos veces / la misma historia (14)
JULIA.     Pero yo espero aún / saber qué sucedió. (13)
Sé que empezó / con una historia sobre tigres. (13)  (1950, 19-20)

And in our translation:

ALEX.                                      ¡Mi querida Julia!
No tienes remedio. / No estabas atenta. (12)
PETER. Tendrás que empezar / desde el principio, Alex. (12)
ALEX.   Nunca repito / la misma historia. (10)
JULIA. Pero sigo / sin saber qué pasó. (11)
Está claro que empezó / como una historia sobre tigres. (16) (Llorens-Cubedo 2023, 353)

With the exception of the last line, our translation clearly differs from Olivera’s in its length. More importantly, some syntactical changes are introduced to make these fast-paced exchanges sound as casual as they are meant to be. Thus, “But I’m still waiting to know what happened” is transformed into “Pero sigo sin saber qué pasó” – literally, “I still don’t know what happened.”

Focusing on the stress patterns as the second of our translation principles, we decided to alternate Eliot’s proposal for “one stress on one side of the caesura and two on the other” with the more flexible interpretation held by Lightfoot. She argues that most of Eliot’s lines “fall easily into the 4-stress pattern,” which she actually considers the “pattern of expectation” when hearing the dialogues (1964, 261-262). Our method has therefore been to keep the 3- or 4-stress pattern for the main stresses, combined with a varied number of secondary stresses whenever necessary. Although the main stresses generally fall on lexical words – even if that requires introducing syntactical variations – this is not necessarily a sacred rule. Whenever a certain emphasis is needed in monosyllabic words such as “not” or “him,” the stress may fall on such words too. The following examples from The Elder Statesman (Un politico venerable) show the different stress options:

-A 3-stress line where an alternative intonation stress could fall on “doesn’t”/ “no”:

And besides, / my father doesn’t amble. (Eliot 2004, 525).
Y además / mi padre no merodea
(Soláns García and Llorens-Cubedo 2023, 618)

-A 4-stress line where the stress could fall on the modifier (“several” / “varias”) instead of on the noun (“reasons” / “razones”), for emphasis:

But you spoke of several reasons / for your going with your father
(Eliot 2004, 528).
Pero me hablabas de varias razones / para acompañar a tu padre
(Soláns García and Llorens-Cubedo 2023, 622)

From the translation of The Confidential Clerk (El secretario particular), we have chosen examples of 3 or 4-stress lines that, in their more straightforward Spanish translation, would contain only two stresses. In both cases, we have lengthened the line to be consistent with the four-stress pattern:

-“And ways in which / you could reassure him” (Eliot 2004, 448) became “Y maneras de hacerle / ganar confianza,” instead of “Y maneras / de tranquilizarlo” (Ballesteros González 2023, 495)

-In “Teddington. I seem / to have heard of it” (Eliot 2004, 484), the more literal translation (“Teddington. / Me suena”) has been discarded for the longer “Teddington. El nombre / me resulta familiar(Ballesteros González 2023, 546).

In both cases, the longer translation chosen does not add formality to the expression. On the contrary, the expressions “ganar confianza” and “me resulta familiar” belong to the conversational style that we sought to maintain.

The third of our principles, i.e., the naturalness of style, may be simply described as the consequence of the former two principles: verse choice and stress patterns followed. Critics tend to see, as has been highlighted, an evolution in the use of the conversational line from The Family Reunion to The Elder Statesman in terms of progressive simplicity and speech flow. This, however, must be constantly put to the test in the translations, now as before, and against the background of the conversational speech of the era to which such translations are born.


An overview of editions of Eliot’s plays in Spanish such as the one offered above confirms the relevance of translation as a crucial aspect of reception – specifically, Eliot’s reception in the Spanish-speaking world, mostly in the 1940s-60s. Many of the translators whose work we examined were scholars and authors themselves, and some took the opportunity to reflect on the poetic, rhythmic qualities of source and target texts. The decrease in popularity of Eliot’s drama after the 1960s inevitably resulted in the absence of new translations.

Eliot’s theatrical career is not only inextricably linked to his role as a poet, but it also adds necessary insight to his evolution as a critic. Only since recent decades has this comprehensive view of the multifaceted artist been prevalent. Our project on translation and project, discussed above, has aimed to bridge the gap between the poet-critic and the playwright as perceived in the Spanish-speaking world. To that end, we have both traced the history of Eliot’s theatrical translations into Spanish and studied equivalent ways of translating his verse drama afresh. Eliot’s major literary influence beyond his own cultural context throughout the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first justifies this approach to the most neglected aspect of his production. Incidentally, the publication of Eliot’s drama in Spanish decades after the first translations may bring it to the stage again.



[1] The research project “T. S. Eliot’s Drama from Spain: Translation, Critical Study, Performance – TEATREL-SP (PGC2018-097143-A-100)”, developed from 2019 to 2022, was funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades. The researchers involved (Antonio Ballesteros González, Natalia Carbajosa Palmero, Teresa Gibert, Dídac Llorens-Cubedo, Viorica Patea, Mariángel Soláns García, and Fabio L. Vericat) worked on the recently published Teatro Completo (Madrid: Visor, 2023), which contains Eliot’s six complete plays – including The Rock, never before translated into Spanish in its entirety.

[2] “La escritura dramática le había despertado un estilo poético que estaba hecho de varios mimbres. Por un lado, Eliot era ya un poeta muy curtido y hábil, . . . pero al mismo tiempo era un poeta que trataba de ensayar otro género para el que buscaba además inventar un metro nuevo.” Unless otherwise specified, translations of quotes from Spanish into English are by the authors of the present article.

[3] Not to be confused with alexandrines, made up of six iambic feet, and therefore twelve syllables.

[4] “Hubiese sido un magnífico experimento poder escuchar esa poesía con todos los matices del original en escenas de la vida de hoy.”

[5] “[H]ay que expresar, sin darle importancia aparentemente, conceptos muy complicados y lograr que ‘lleguen’ al público.” UNESCO’s Index Translationum includes yet another translation of The Cocktail Party: El cóctel, by Mario G. Menocal. The year of publication is 1979, but no publisher is given. (

[6] Interestingly, another member of this generation of women (termed in recent years “Las Sinsombrero,” i.e., the “women without hats”), the poet and actress Josefina de la Torre, played Agatha in Dido’s production of Reunion de Familia.

[7] We are indebted to Caridad Fernández, from the “Patronato Carmen Conde-Antonio Oliver,” for this information.

[8] There is ample research on Eliot’s presence in Spanish poetry and criticism, as well as the translations of his poetic and critical works into Spanish. See, among others: Teresa Gibert, “The Waste Land in Spanish Translation” (2022) and “Esta es la tierra baldía, tan rudamente violada (sobre las versiones españolas de The Waste Land)” (1989); Howard Young, “T. S. Eliot y sus primeros traductores en el mundo hispanohablante” (1993); Emilio Barón, T. S. Eliot en España (1996); Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero-Strachan, “Multiple Voices, Single Identity: T. S. Eliot’s Criticism and Spanish Poetry” (2007); Margarita Garbisu, “T. S.  Eliot y la cultura española” (2017); and Jaime Siles, “Un Eliot para españoles” (2021). Only in the twenty-first century, we find up to fifteen translations and editions of different poems and essays, the most recent being, on the occasion of its centenary, La tierra baldía (2022), with an exhaustive preliminary study by Viorica Patea and translated by Natalia Carbajosa.

[9]An evident example can be observed in the difference between the 1950 translation of The Cocktail Party by Alfredo Olivera and our 2023 translation: in Olivera’s version, friends address each other using the polite pronoun “usted”; this use, nowadays obsolete in Spain, has been replaced by the more familiar “tú”.

[10] The rationale for this research-based approach has also been accounted for in a variety of studies. Among those specifically devoted to Eliot’s drama and translation in relation to Spain, we can highlight the article “The Family Reunion as a Turning Point in T. S. Eliot’s Verse Drama: Analysis and Suggestions for Translation” (Carbajosa, 2022), and the lecture “The Translation into Spanish of T. S. Eliot’s Verse Drama: Precedents and Present Proposals” (Carbajosa, 2021) available at In both cases, we analyzed the existing Spanish translations of Eliot’s verse drama; in addition, we examined both the Spanish prosody and its possibilities to render Eliot’s dramatic verse for a contemporary audience in a convincing way.

[11] These recordings are part of the series “El teatro de T. S. Eliot y su traducción,” Canal UNED,

[12] Spanish Modernismo coincides only to a certain extent with the time and purposes of Anglo-American Modernism. It appeared mainly as a poetry renovation movement by the end of the nineteenth century and took many of its elements from French symbolism. The Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío introduced it in Spain.

[13] All 2023 translations quoted in this section are included in Teatro Completo, edited by Llorens-Cubedo and Gibert (references use the translator’s name)


Works Cited

Carbajosa, Natalia. 2022. “The Family Reunion as a Turning point in T. S. Eliot’s Drama: Analysis and Suggestions for Translation.” Alicante Journal of English Studies 36: 7-27.

Chinitz, David. 2002. T. S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Conde, Carmen. 1956. “Antecrítica de Reunión de familia.” Ya, June 19, 1956, 8.

Cuesta Guadaño, Javier. 2017. El teatro de los poetas: Formas del drama simbolista en España. Madrid: CSIC.

Das, Jolly. 2007. Eliot’s Prismatic Plays: A Multifaceted Quest. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Eliot, T. S. 2004. The Complete Poems and Plays. London: Faber and Faber.

Eliot, T. S. 2018a. “Prefatory Note to the Spanish Edition of Murder in the Cathedral.” In A European Society 1947-1953, edited by Iman Javadi and Ronald Schuchard, 461-63. Vol. 7 of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber and Faber.

Eliot, T. S. 2018b. “Poetry and Drama.” In A European Society 1947-1953, edited by Iman Javadi and Ronald Schuchard, 589-610. Vol. 7 of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber and Faber.

Ferris, José Luis. 2007. “Del olvido al fervor popular: una mujer en la academia (1978-1979).” In Carmen Conde: voluntad creadora 1907-1996, edited by Javier Díez de Revenga, 179-95. Madrid: Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales.

Haro Tecglen, Eduardo. 1986. “José Méndez, poeta y autor dramático.” El país, June 18, 1986.

Jaume, Andreu. 2016. “Introducción. El verano cero.” In Cuatro cuartetos, precedido de ‘La roca’ y ‘Asesinato en la catedral’, edited and translated by Andreu Jaume, 1-23. Barcelona: Lumen.

Knieger, Bernard. 1961. “The Dramatic Achievement of T. S. Eliot.” Modern Drama 3/4: 387-392.

Lightfoot, Marjorie. 1968. “Charting Eliot’s Course in Drama.” Educational Theatre Journal 20/2: 186-197.

Leeming, Glenda. 1989. Poetic Drama. London: Macmillan.

Lightfoot, Marjorie. 1964. “Purgatory and The Family Reunion:” In Pursuit of Prosodic Description.” Modern Drama 7/3: 256-266.

Llorens-Cubedo, Dídac, and Teresa Gibert, eds. 2023. Teatro completo. By T. S. Eliot. Trans.: Antonio Ballesteros González, Natalia Carbajosa Palmero, Dídac Llorens-Cubedo and Mariángel Soláns García. Introds. and notes: Natalia Carbajosa Palmero, Teresa Gibert, Dídac Llorens-Cubedo, Viorica Patea y Fabio Vericat Pérez-Mínguez. Madrid: Visor.

Malamud, Randy. 2014. “Eliot’s 1930s Plays: The Rock, Murder in the Cathedral, and The Family Reunion.” In A Companion to T. S. Eliot, edited by David E. Chinitz, 238-250. Chichester: Blackwell.

Marqueríe, Alfredo. 1956. “Estreno de Reunión de familia, en ‘Dido.’” ABC, June 20, 1956, 59.

Méndez Herrera, José, trans. 1963. El secretario particular. By T. S. Eliot. Madrid: Norte y Sur.

Olivera, Miguel Alfredo, trans. 1963. El viejo estadista. By T. S. Eliot. Buenos Aires: Emecé.

Olivera, Miguel Alfredo, trans. 1959. Su hombre de confianza. By T. S. Eliot. Buenos Aires: Emecé.

Olivera, Miguel Alfredo, trans. 1950. Cocktail Party. By T. S. Eliot. Buenos Aires: Emecé.

Perloff, Marjorie. 2007. “The Aura of Modernism.” In Modernism Revisited: Transgressing Boundaries and Strategies of Renewal in American Poetry, edited by Viorica Patea and Paul Scott Derrick. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi.

Smith, Carol. 2014. “Eliot’s ‘Divine’ Comedies: The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk, and the Elder Statesman.” In A Companion to T. S. Eliot, edited by David E. Chinitz, 251-262. Chichester: Blackwell.

Utrera Torremocha, María Victoria. 2003. “Ritmo y sintaxis en el verso libre.” Rhythmica I (1): 303-333.


Une conversation avec …

La traduction au service de la musique

 Une conversation avec Pierre-Yves Macé, compositeur d’Ear to Ear, à partir de The Waste Land, et Joris Lacoste, traducteur du poème en français.


Pierre-Yves Macé, vous êtes à l’honneur de l’édition 2023-2024 du Festival d’Automne qui vous consacre un portrait pour lequel vous avez présenté, entre autres, une création musicale à partir de The Waste Land. Comment se sont passées cette rencontre et cette création ?

P.-Y. Macé – Ear to Ear est né d’une commande qui m’a été faite en 2021 par Seán Doran et Liam Brown, deux curateurs indépendants associés à la Fondation T. S. Eliot, dans le cadre du festival « f r a g m e n t s » organisé en 2022 à Londres pour célébrer le centenaire de la publication du poème. La commande était relativement fléchée dans la mesure où le poème devait être au centre de diverses manifestations (concerts, lectures, conférences, etc.) et que les organisateurs tenaient à ce qu’il soit lu intégralement, par plusieurs voix, afin de mettre en relief sa polyphonie.

On vient vous chercher parce que vous êtes un compositeur français qui connaît T. S. Eliot et le poème ?

P.-Y. Macé – Non, on vient me chercher parce que j’ai été recommandé par Joséphine Markovits du Festival d’automne. Je crois aussi que les organisateurs tenaient à sortir Eliot de sa centralité anglaise en rendant hommage au cosmopolitisme du poème ; choisir un compositeur français, c’était pour eux, je crois, faire un geste en ce sens. À l’époque, je ne connaissais pratiquement pas The Waste Land si ce n’est, comme beaucoup de gens, à travers quelques vers cités ailleurs. Pour moi, c’était  : «  That corpse you planted […] he’ll dig it up again! » (« L’enterrement des morts », v71-75) cités par Heiner Müller à la fin de son poème Maelstromsüdpol, qui a été mis en musique par le compositeur Heiner Goebbels. Je me suis souvenu également de Scott Walker, songwriter américain naturalisé anglais, qui citait souvent The Waste Land comme une inspiration majeure. Comme beaucoup de monde, je n’ai pas compris grand-chose au poème en première lecture, je l’ai donc relu plusieurs fois, j’ai consulté gloses et exégèses. Et cela a été une véritable rencontre. J’aime travailler à partir de matériaux hétérogènes, de frictions d’éléments qui vont dissoner ou entrer en collision  ; je me suis retrouvé un peu chez moi, très à l’aise dans cette forme composite qu’est The Waste Land, son caractère discontinu et très condensé – j’ai appris plus tard le rôle qu’avait joué Ezra Pound en coupant largement dans le texte.

Comment avez-vous procédé pour la composition ?

P.-Y. Macé – Guidé par la centralité du texte parlé, j’ai créé une pièce sonore à mi-chemin entre musique électroacoustique et art radiophonique. Tout est parti du choix des voix : nous avons sollicité dix personnes pour lire le poème, en veillant à varier les timbres et les physionomies vocales. De ces enregistrements a découlé toute la musique. J’en ai tiré des éléments mélodiques, parfois jusqu’à donner l’illusion du chant, comme dans le passage de «  Cléopâtre » («  Une partie d’échecs », v77-110) où j’utilise des doublures de la mélodie vocale dans l’aigu qui font allusion à Philomèle transformée en rossignol. Pour ce passage comme de nombreux autres, le résultat aurait été très différent avec une autre performance vocale. C’est un peu le principe de la musique concrète : transformer le contingent en nécessité. Il y a quelques exceptions où le poème est véritablement chanté, en l’occurrence par la voix de la soprano Nathalie Raybould, pour qui j’ai composé quelques lignes vocales, comme le « Sweet Thames runs softly » (v176, puis v183-184), afin de marquer le décrochement impliqué par la citation de Spenser. Cette voix revient aussi dans le quatrième mouvement (« Mort par noyade »), accompagnée par la harpe de Stef Van Vynckt, pour chanter une ligne vocale qui n’est autre qu’une transcription de la diction d’Eliot dans son enregistrement de 1946, musicalisée et stylisée au point qu’on la reconnaît à peine.

À Londres, pour la création, il n’y avait ni support textuel, ni « traduction » ?

P.-Y. Macé – En effet, il n’y avait que les haut-parleurs disposés autour du public. Certains auditeurs-spectateurs londoniens sont venus avec leur livre et suivaient le texte à mesure qu’il se déroulait à l’audition. Ce public londonnien connaissait le poème presque par cœur ; il était évident qu’on ne pouvait pas offrir la même écoute à un public français, qui, lui, ne le connaît pas du tout. Comme le spectacle devait être repris à Paris dans le cadre du Festival d’Automne et à Toulouse au théâtre Garonne, avec lequel je suis associé, il a été assez vite question d’un surtitrage en français. Mais avant cela, il y a eu d’abord la version vidéo en anglais, créée à l’été 2022 en Irlande, pour le festival Beckett d’Enniskillen. J’ai sollicité pour cela l’artiste Oscar Lozano, que j’ai rencontré via Joris pour la Suite n°4 de l’Encyclopédie de la parole.

Comment se présente cette version vidéo ?

P.-Y. Macé – Exactement comme la future version française, à ceci près que c’est le poème original, en anglais, qui apparaît à l’écran. Il y a donc coïncidence exacte entre ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on entend. Mais cette apparente redondance est contrebalancée par le travail visuel, sobre et sophistiqué à la fois, opéré par Oscar pour mettre en espace le texte. Par exemple, dans la scène tout en reflets de « Cléopâtre », le texte apparaît à l’écran à l’endroit et en inversé en même temps ; ailleurs, dans « Le Sermon du feu », le concert des voix est « traduit » musicalement en palimpseste auditif et en image par des surimpressions textuelles rémanentes, ce qui intensifie l’expérience sensorielle des spectateurs. En plus du texte, Oscar a introduit une forme abstraite localisée en bas de l’écran, une sorte de nuage lumineux qui, en se déployant et en se rétractant par des micro-variations, introduit un effet hypnotique, un peu comme lorsqu’on regarde la pluie frapper à la vitre. Cette « forme » est présente par intermittence pendant les trois-quarts de la représentation pour se déployer complètement comme quelque chose de très lumineux dans la cinquième partie (« Ce qu’a dit le tonnerre »).

Lorsque vous intervenez, Joris Lacoste, le dispositif musical et vidéo est donc déjà en place. Quel a été votre parti pris pour la version française ?

Joris Lacoste – Il y a d’abord eu une coïncidence étonnante. Je prenais un café avec Pierre-Yves Macé à propos d’un tout autre projet lorsqu’il m’a parlé de ce qu’il préparait à Londres. Je lui ai dit tout à trac que j’avais traduit The Waste Land en 1995, à vingt-deux ans. J’étais à Londres pour quelques mois, je m’intéressais à la poésie et j’ai acheté une édition de poche des poèmes d’Eliot. J’avais été fasciné par ce poème – dont je ne connaissais pas le statut culte – la variété des registres, les effets de montage. Un peu plus tard, je me suis essayé à le traduire, peut-être parce qu’entre-temps j’avais lu la version de Leyris – qui m’avait aidé à comprendre le poème et à entrer dedans, mais que j’avais trouvé trop ampoulée sur le plan des registres et trop lissée au regard de la brutalité des ruptures et des changements de rythme. De retour chez moi, après ma discussion avec Pierre-Yves, j’ai exhumé le texte et je me suis décidé à le lui envoyer, sans le relire.

P.-Y. Macé – À ce moment-là, je suis en train de lire des traductions en vue de la version française, celle de Pierre Leyris bien sûr, la seule publiée par un éditeur ; celle aussi du dramaturge Michel Vinaver – j’ignore alors qu’elle était contemporaine de celle de Leyris et qu’il était tout jeune lorsqu’il l’a produite car elle a été publiée relativement tard, en revue, dans les années 1980. J’ignore aussi qu’il y en a eu une avant celle de Leyris. J’en trouve de plus récentes (elles datent des années 2020) celles de Benoît Tadié, un professeur d’université et du poète Pierre Vinclair, mais aucune ne me paraît convenir. Je me dis qu’il faudrait quelque chose de plus spécifique à la forme musicale et vidéo mise en place. Quelques mois plus tard, j’ai repensé à mes échanges avec Joris et je lui ai proposé de retravailler sa traduction dans cette perspective.

Vous reprenez donc tout à zéro ?

J. Lacoste – Lorsque Pierre-Yves m’a proposé officiellement de collaborer à son installation, j’ai relu ma traduction… Et j’ai trouvé qu’elle aussi n’avait pas bien vieilli. J’étais peut-être trop jeune à l’époque pour ce travail, que je n’aurais sans doute pas pu faire sans la traduction de Leyris. Je suis donc reparti de mon texte dans l’idée de tout reprendre, même si quelques vers en sont restés, en me reportant aux quatre autres traductions disponibles quand j’avais des doutes sur le sens (ma première version comportait quelques contresens). Chaque traduction est une interprétation et a valeur d’exégèse, les auteurs ont fait des recherches, parfois un consensus semble émerger, cela livre des informations essentielles auxquelles il est intéressant de se confronter. Disons aussi qu’il y a une histoire de la traduction de tout texte classique, et je trouve important de la prendre en compte quand on se lance dans une nouvelle version.

Si l’on part de la traduction de Leyris pour arriver à la vôtre (celle de Vinaver s’écartant beaucoup du texte source), on pourrait dire que vous tendez vers une forme d’épure… C’est voulu ?

J. Lacoste – On ne traduit jamais “dans l’absolu”, mais toujours par rapport à des situations et des contextes particuliers, des modes de réception qui vont déterminer les choix et les partis pris : en l’occurrence ici une installation sonore où le spectateur va entendre l’anglais en même temps qu’il lit le texte français. Cela crée une contrainte particulière, que je n’avais pas en 1995. Le spectateur-auditeur étant en condition de double réception orale et visuelle, il faut que l’œil connecte à l’oreille le plus rapidement possible. Cela m’a conduit à chercher une forme de parallélisme avec l’oral, ce qui suppose par exemple d’essayer de respecter l’ordre des propositions. Dans ma toute première version, j’avais traduit le premier vers « April is the cruellest month, breeding » par « Le mois le plus cruel est avril… » Impossible dans la configuration de l’installation : il me fallait garder l’ordre de l’anglais, « Avril est le mois le plus cruel… », d’autant plus que cela fonctionne aussi en français.

Je dirais que je me suis mis dans la position d’un spectateur regardant un film en version originale ; c’est plutôt une posture de sous-titreur, qui n’est pas celle dans laquelle on se met généralement pour traduire de la poésie, et qui appelle une forme de transparence. Si j’avais traduit dans la perspective d’un livre (a fortiori dans une édition non bilingue), je n’aurais sans doute pas fait les mêmes choix.

Est-ce pour ne pas faire obstacle à l’écoute en anglais, que vous n’avez pas cherché à restituer certaines formes poétiques comme les sonnets de la troisième partie (« Le Sermon du feu », v173-186 puis v235-248), par exemple ?

J. Lacoste – Même si j’ai parfois conservé des rimes, allitérations et assonances, je n’ai effectivement pas cherché à reproduire systématiquement les effets poétiques du poème. Étant donné que toute une dimension du poème – ses rythmes, ses échos, rimes et assonances – serait présente dans les voix anglaises et leur sonorisation, elle avait moins besoin d’être prise en charge par la traduction écrite qui défile à l’écran. Ce qui m’a permis d’être à la fois plus précis et plus simple dans le phrasé et l’énonciation pour que le sens parvienne plus directement aux auditeurs.

En quoi cette posture de sous-titreur se distingue-t-elle (ou pas) de votre pratique théâtrale ?

J. Lacoste – Ce style simple et direct est une pratique que j’ai développée en traduisant plusieurs pièces de Shakespeare, la plupart en collaboration avec Julie Étienne, notamment pour des mises en scène de Gwénaël Morin. Le fait de connaître le style très efficace de ce metteur en scène ainsi que de ses acteurs dirigeait en quelque sorte la traduction en lui donnant un axe très particulier. Comme pour Ear to Ear, c’est une question de contexte et de parti-pris. Nous n’aurions pas travaillé de la même façon pour d’autres metteurs en scène ou si la destination avait été un texte à lire.

Je dirais que la difficulté principale, quand on cherche dans la traduction une forme d’évidence” ou de “simplicité”, consiste à ne pas aplanir la diversité des registres, ce qui vaut aussi bien chez Shakespeare que chez Eliot. Cela dit, avec The Waste Land, ce contraste des tonalités est particulièrement marqué. La scène de « Cléopâtre » est bien plus soutenue que celle du pub, par exemple.

À ce propos, il y a dans la scène de « Cléopâtre » ce terme laquearia (v92) repris par la plupart des traducteurs mais pas par vous, pourquoi ?

J. Lacoste – Oui, j’ai mis « moulures », car j’ai vu que si laquearia se trouve dans le dictionnaire anglais, il ne l’est pas dans le dictionnaire français. Cela évoque peut-être quelque chose à des oreilles anglophones, mais rien à des oreilles françaises.

Cette volonté de « transparence » vous a-t-elle coûté sur le plan poétique. Avez-vous eu le sentiment de devoir vous réprimer ?

J. Lacoste – Pas vraiment car, d’une certaine façon, je ne m’étais pas du tout réprimé autrefois ! Et c’est bien le défaut de cette version de jeunesse : dans l’ensemble, elle était trop poétique, sur-écrite, maniérée, même si j’y ai retrouvé de bonnes idées… Dans ce nouveau contexte, il m’a donc été plus facile de simplifier…

P.-Y. Macé – Avec, je dois dire, des bonheurs d’expression. Dans la scène de la dactylo et de l’agent immobilier (« Le Sermon du feu »), par exemple, tu emploies le mot « consentement » qui n’est pas strictement dans l’original et pourrait passer pour une légère surtraduction : « And makes a welcome of indifference » / « Et prend l’indifférence pour un consentement » (v242). Pour moi, c’est un trait de génie, car non seulement cela ancre la traduction aujourd’hui, mais cela dit que ce qui se passe dans cette scène n’est pas exactement de l’ordre de la séduction badine, comme parfois elle est décrite. Pour tout dire, j’avais hésité à le conserver, mais je me suis souvenu qu’à l’issue de la création de la pièce à Londres une dame était venue me voir pour me féliciter d’avoir su si bien suggérer dans cette scène l’entrée dans ce qu’on appellerait aujourd’hui la « zone grise ». Or « consentement » en français nous met exactement à cet endroit-là.

J. Lacoste – D’autant plus que les allusions au viol sont très claires entre Philomène « so rud’ly forced », d’une part, l’« assault » de l’agent immobilier d’autre part, et que dans ce contexte l’anglais « welcome » est impossible à rendre en français : « accueille l’indifférence », se «  contente de l’indifférence », rien ne fonctionnait…

Vous parliez d’ancrer la traduction aujourd’hui. Dans la scène du pub (« Une partie d’échecs », v140-173) vous n’hésitez pas  : « ta gueule me revient pas », « il va vouloir prendre son pied  »… Avez-vous anticipé le risque de la voir vieillir, comme celle de Leyris  ?

J. Lacoste – Pour moi la difficulté, c’était d’être dans un registre contemporain qui soit aussi plausible il y a cent ans. Sinon on se trouve dans une sorte d’argot soit daté, soit trop contemporain, ce qui est artificiel dans les deux cas. C’est un problème que l’on rencontre aussi avec Shakespeare pour traduire les insultes ou le registre familier. Dans cette scène, le plus difficile a été de trouver un équivalent à « hot gammon » (v166) qui contient une connotation sexuelle en anglais. J’ai choisi « saucisse » plutôt que le « jambon cuit » de Tadié ou la « jambe de cochon » de Leyris. Sinon, j’ai une question pour Pierre-Yves : toujours dans cette scène du pub, j’ai toujours entendu le personnage qui raconte l’histoire de Lil dans une voix de femme – même si rien ne l’indique grammaticalement, si ce n’est le contexte. Mais dans l’installation, c’est une voix d’homme, pourquoi ?

P.-Y. Macé – Cela me paraît maintenant évident que c’est une femme qui parle dans ce passage, mais j’ai longtemps imaginé une voix d’homme, en dépit de la vraisemblance : le pub est plutôt un univers d’hommes ; d’ailleurs, Leyris devait imaginer la même chose puisqu’il fait dire au barman « Messieurs, on ferme ». Il y a certes le «  Good night ladies  » qui clôt la scène, mais c’est une citation de Shakespeare qui pourrait être lancée à la cantonade. Mais ce qui a été déterminant c’est la position des commanditaires avec qui je choisissais les différentes voix : pour ce passage-là, ils tenaient au cockney d’un quartier très précis de Londres, pour lequel ils avaient un acteur parfait, Robert Glenister. La justesse de l’accent était pour eux plus importante que l’incarnation.

De même, Tirésias a une voix de vieille femme que vous faites démarrer à « Moi, Tirésias… » (v218) alors que son récit commence trois vers plus haut…

P.-Y. Macé – C’est exact. J’ai choisi de ne pas toujours faire correspondre une voix supposée du poème à une voix précise d’un ou une récitant.e. Il y a beaucoup de moments où plusieurs voix disent le même texte en même temps ou successivement. Pour le passage que vous citez, qui est assez polyphonique, je trouvais intéressant de n’insérer la voix de cette dame âgée (incarnation de Tirésias) que par petites touches, pour apporter une autre couleur. Je procède de la même manière, symétriquement, avec la voix d’une enfant de 11 ans, à qui j’ai demandé de lire quelques vers isolés, en particulier ceux qui ont valeur de citation (« Those are pearl that were his eyes », v48, « This music crept by me upon the waters », v257, etc.) ou encore les vers 15 et 16 qui font directement référence à un souvenir d’enfance (« Marie / Marie, hold on tight »).

 Justement, Joris, quel a été votre principe directeur pour le traitement des citations ?

J. Lacoste – Quand elles apparaissent clairement comme des citations, le parti pris a été de ne pas les traduire. Mais dans le cas de « Sweet Thames », comme elle revient deux fois (v176, puis v183-184), j’ai traduit la seconde fois, ce que ferait un sous-titreur dans un film : on attire l’attention sur la citation la première fois, on en donne le sens la seconde. En revanche, pour « Those are pearls that were his eyes », la citation est prise en charge par la voyante la première fois (v48) ; en France, elle la dirait sans doute en français, je l’ai donc traduite ; mais je l’ai laissée en anglais la seconde fois (v125) où elle apparaît en tant que citation. À la toute fin de « Ce qu’a dit le tonnerre », je n’ai rien traduit, même « Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymos is mad againe » (v431), car j’ai voulu lui laisser le même statut que pour les citations de Dante et de Nerval qui précèdent.

Le dispositif que vous avez créé à partir de The Waste Land a évolué et s’est enrichi au fil des lieux, des contextes et des publics. Imagineriez-vous à présent le reprendre entièrement en français à partir de sa traduction ?

J. Lacoste – Dans ce cas-là, je reprendrais entièrement la traduction dans une visée théâtrale, pour la scène, sans me sentir tenu par cette exigence de fidélité qui m’était imposée par le nécessaire parallélisme avec le texte anglais. Mais la traduction de la poésie butant souvent sur la question de son impossibilité et la composition de Pierre-Yves ayant été de partir des voix anglaises, je ne suis pas sûr que cela aurait un sens de la refaire en français avec ce texte-là. Malgré les citations, Eliot y est très dans sa langue.

P.-Y. Macé – Je dirais la même chose de la composition musicale, il faudrait tout recomposer à partir des voix françaises. À ce compte-là, il vaudrait mieux recommencer à zéro avec un autre poème, en français.

Notices biographiques

La musique de Pierre-Yves Macé, né en 1980, mêle composition instrumentale et vocale, électroacoustique et art sonore, dans une démarche attentive aux échos du monde. Le son enregistré, l’archive sonore sont au cœur de sa pratique. Son penchant pour l’interdisciplinarité l’amène à collaborer avec des artistes visuels, chorégraphes et metteurs en scène, sans jamais renier son langage musical spécifique. Sa musique est jouée par les ensembles L’Instant donné, Dedalus, Multilatérale, Ictus, L’Ensemble Intercontemporain, Les Cris de Paris… Elle est publiée sur les labels Tzadik, Sub Rosa, Brocoli. Son travail est régulièrement soutenu par le Festival d’automne à Paris : concerts monographiques en 2012, 2016, 2020 et portrait en 2023.

Joris Lacoste écrit pour le théâtre et la radio depuis 1996 et réalise ses propres performances et spectacles depuis 2003. En 2004, il a fondé le projet collectif de recherche W. Il a été auteur associé au Théâtre de la Colline en 2006-2007. De 2007 à 2009, il a été co-directeur des Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers. Il a fondé en 2007 le collectif Encyclopédie de la parole, dans le cadre duquel ont été créés sept spectacles qui ont été montrés dans le monde entier et ont fait l’objet d’un Portrait au Festival d’Automne à Paris en 2020. En 2023, à Gand, il a créé la toute première version scénique de la pièce A-Ronne de Luciano Berio avec l’ensemble HYOID dirigé par Filip Rathé. Joris Lacoste a par ailleurs créé de nombreuses performances et participé à plusieurs expositions dans des musées et centres d’art. Il a également traduit quatre pièces de Shakespeare pour les metteurs en scène Gwénaël Morin et Marie Lamachère.



Book Review: Matthew Hollis. The Waste Land. A Biography of a Poem


Book Review – Matthew Hollis. The Waste Land. A Biography of a Poem. Faber & Faber: London, 2022. 544 p. ISBN: 978-0571297214. €30,50.

What is in a title? “Three words, not two, as [Eliot] would find himself pointing out with frequency, beginning with Ezra Pound himself. ‘Not “Waste Land,” please, but “The Waste Land,” ’ he would tell his friend that summer[i]; and ‘not “The Wasteland” but “The Waste Land,” ’ he would subsequently correct a translator[ii]; and ‘not Waste Lands’ either, come to that (to Lady Rothermere[iii]). Three words, one definite article.” It is now well documented and known to Eliotian scholars that T. S. Eliot composed the first parts of what was to become his first long poem and masterpiece under another title – “He do the Police in Different Voices”, borrowed from Charles Dickens. But these quips from Eliot’s letters typically point to Matthew Hollis added value approach to writing “A Biography of a Poem,” a work commissioned a decade ago to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of this epitome of the war poem originally published in 1922.

Fathering and christening a literary piece can be as excruciating and uncertain as delivering and naming a child, at least as far as Eliot, whose two marriages were childless, is concerned, and it is all of Hollis’ merit to endeavor bringing his readers as close as possible to the meanders of a poet’s workings in the liveliest manner, without sacrificing scholarly accuracy and soundness. Poet himself, and co-editor of a collection of modernist manifestos (Strong words, Modern Poets about Modern Poetry, Bloodaxe Books) Hollis certainly had what it takes to take on the challenge of navigating through and make the most of the dazzling amount of archival sources and scholar material now available on T. S. Eliot’s aesthetics and his poetic and critic career – including the new works pouring out from the opening of the Emily Hale letters deposit, the publication of Eliot’s complete prose and the ongoing publication of his correspondence, in order to document the brooding and the breeding of the poem that was to establish its author as the prominent man of letters he eventually became.

For not much of a future was written when the American born, Harvard educated, 26 years old Thomas Stearns Eliot found himself stranded in London at the outbreak of WWI. Were it not for a decisive meeting that took place on 22 September 1914 with Ezra Pound, the man who had been shaking British poetry into modernism, who can tell what ill fate would have befallen on an Eliot estranged from his family by a socially wronged marriage and orphaned before he had proven the soundness of his career choices? Or so it seems to be the backbone of the book: the poet and the poem that changed the English poetic canon forever owe as much to the man’s own genius than to his countryman fellow’s. If the book were to be stripped from the myriads of details that sometimes get in the way of the reading, one could reword it as “E. P.: a Masterclass in mentoring a poet and editing a poem”, so much has Hollis intertwined Pound’s own poetics, whereabouts, stamina and vista with the making of Eliot and “The Waste Land”.

Indeed, after having set the tension between what appears to be Eliot’s two poles, the negative one being his wife Vivien, a sick and sickening muse, and the positive one being Ezra Pound, mentor, impresario, coach and editor, Hollis explores in depth and at length the energetic arc thus created. Mixing significant biographical details (Eliot’s disastrous marriage, his father’s death, his own precarious health, a pivotal visit of Saint-Front cathedral in Périgueux with the Pounds) and pinpointed insights in Eliot’s poetics and aesthetics (the now well known tradition renewed, auditory imagination, impersonality, objective correlative) against historical and literary backdrops (the postwar deadly flu, the dreary consequences of the Versailles Treaty, the Irish Civil War, the moods and economics of literary pundits and journals) and weaving in Pound’s own influential experiments, Hollis tracks down the tiniest streams and clues which have fueled “the long poem” that Eliot had in mind at least since the Armistice and maybe earlier.

This thorough exploration of the premises of the “The Waste Land” accounts for a meaty first part which gives insights into the reception of Eliot’s first poems (cold to icy) and his status in the British literary world (shunned and snobbed were it for the reading of “Prufrock” by an expatriate, Katherine Mansfield, that led to an invitation at the Woolf’s newly set Hogarth Press, and to an offer to write criticism for The Athenaeum at night, after working at Llyods during the day). It also offers useful final synthesis on several polemics and debates stemming out of his earlier poetry that have entertained the scholar scene since Eliot’s Nobel Prize: Eliot’s antisemitism – indeed he was, and rather unapologetic with that – though he eventually regretted his remark about “reasons of race and religion [that] combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable” that stained  his essay “After Strange Gods” enough for him to keep it out of print. Then there was his supposedly closeted homosexuality, he tended to homophilia and mysogenia at most. A third topic was the role of the poem’s hoax notes, indeed they were essentially meant to lengthen its American edition.

The second part reconstructs piece by piece the composition and writing of the poem’s five parts, building mainly on the 1971 drafts publication by Valerie, Eliot’s second wife, which shows the extent and relevance of Pound’s editing, but also Vivien’s sensitive interventions. Hollis interestingly delves into the materiality of the writing process (hand and typescript drafts, annotations by Vivien and Pound, the different typewriters and papers used) which partially unveils the workings of Eliot’s mind: how after reading Joyce’s “Circe” he slashed out the very 54 first lines of “The Burial of the Dead” he had typed in the winter of 1921 and revised three times; how the second part which quickly followed was first titled “In the Cage,” then “A Game of Chess,” totalizing 228 lines with the first one, now both governed by a common title “He Do the Police in Different Voices”; how Vivien had the “ivory men” line removed which was to be restored in 1960; how the “Fire Sermon” started as a failed mock-heroic drama; how by fall 1921, depression was looming over Eliot now resting at Margate where he wrote “Dirge” which almost found its way to The Waste Land were it not for Pound’s decisive intervention; how Pound revised these three parts while Eliot was looked after by Dr. Vittoz in his Lausanne clinic where he wrote a 93-line fourth part titled “Death by Water,” ending with ten lines translated from a poem originally written in French, and, in one single continuous, unaltered stream, the final part which would be later titled “What the Thunder Said” which catalyzed the earlier fragments and precipitated the definitive phrasing of “A Game of Chess” and “The Fire Sermon” painfully sketched before his nervous breakdown.

Amazingly, it emerges from Hollis’ narrative a contrasted image of T. S. Eliot. For all his ailments and plights, the poet demonstrates a surprising physical and mental resilience – he survives the flu epidemics despite his asthma, heavy drinking and smoking, escapes from his wife by managing a parallel platonic love affair with Emily Hale with whom he has renewed contact at least by 1923, inscribing the third of his personal copies of Ara Vos Prec for her; finds the will and courage to consult with a mental health physician to overcome a burn out that was about to threaten the composition of the long poem; and a shrewd business and literary flair when it comes to negotiate his status and financial interests.

Things would never be the same after The Waste Land came out. From now on Eliot would climb the escalina of fame up to the Nobel Prize while Pound would infamously descend it down to the inferno of political and mental confusion. But the two most prominent modernizers of English language poetry would unfailingly remain indebted to each other, Eliot putting all his status weight in the campaign to free his friend from the asylum he was condemned to and ensuring the publication of his masterpiece 117 Cantos in which, notably in “Canto VII”, “The Waste Land” resonates, or vice versa.

Overall, Hollis’ book offers a lively introduction to T. S. Eliot’s poetics, set against a very well documented biographical and literary background. Surely an opus the secretive and emotionally controlled “impersonal” poet would have loathed. But then posterity comes with a price.


[i] 1922.

[ii] Angel Flores, first translator of The Waste Land in Spanish (as La Tierra Baldia).

[iii] Patron of The Criterion in which first issue ‘The Waste Land’ was orginally published in England.

Ontological conundrums: translating The Waste Land into a film


Steve Dixon (Lasalle College University of the Arts) presents a film interpretation of Eliot’s The Waste Land which he completed with his science of the arts students. Dixon examined the “dizzying array” of potentialities that came with translating the poem into a cinematographic. Despite Eliot’s urging against the remediation of his work, Dixon supports transmediality to touch a new, wider, and younger audience, especially since the poem has taken on a “new resonance” in light of the anxiety triggered by the pandemic and the climate crisis. Based on snippets from the film, Dixon details how award-winning composer Joyce Beetuan Koh’s combination of musique concrète and synthesised sounds enabled an amplification of narrative, psychological, and theatrical aspects of the poem. This feeds into Dixon’s broader desire to enlarge the meanings of the poem thanks to the superposition of sounds and visuals, an effect also reflected in the London- and Southeast-Asia-based shooting locations alternatively featured in the film.

Steve Dixon (Lasalle College University of the Arts) présente une interprétation filmique de The Waste Land  réalisée avec ses étudiants en sciences de l’art. Il étudie « l’éventail vertigineux » des potentialités ouvert par la transposition du poème en images cinématographiques. Malgré l’hostilité d’Eliot envers toute remédiation de son œuvre, Dixon favorise la transmédialité dans la perspective de toucher un public nouveau, plus large et plus jeune, surtout depuis que le poème a acquis « une nouvelle résonance » à la faveur du climat d’anxiété produit par la pandémie du Covid et la crise climatique. À partir d’extraits du film, Dixon montre comment la combinaison de musique concrète et de sons synthétisés du compositeur primé Joyce Beetuan Koh amplifie certains traits narratifs, psychologiques et dramatiques du poème. Cette démarche s’inscrit dans le projet plus large de Dixon de démultiplier le sens du poème grâce à la superposition des sons et des images, un effet également rendu par les lieux de tournage du film situés alternativement à Londres et en Asie du Sud-Est.



Introduction: making choices

 I recently directed a film interpretation of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) in a research collaboration with students and staff at LASALLE, University of the Arts Singapore. Revisiting T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (2021) was shot in London, Singapore and Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. All the film is original, without use of any stock or found footage, and mixes documentary-style imagery (from the river Thames to the landscapes and temples of Southeast Asia) with dramatised sequences with actors playing the poem’s characters such as the Hyacinth Girl, Madame Sosostris, Tiresias, the Typist and the ‘young man carbuncular’. Transposing the poem into a film is of course an act of translation, and in a fundamental and profound sense.

Translators of texts are faced with difficult choices – about words and language, sentence structures, flows and emphases. But translating a poem into another medium changes its very ontology and provides altogether different choices … and challenges. Turning The Waste Land into a film proved a complex and daunting, but highly stimulating task. The poem is so full of visual and classical allusions that it presents a film director with a dizzying array of decisions about potential visual imagery and audio effects. It also opens up questions around which narratives to dramatise and make literal by using characters on screen, and which to render more impressionistically or abstractly. [Figure 1] The poem’s fragmented structure and quick-fire vignettes simultaneously guide and challenge the filmmaker to make important audio-visual and narrative choices, as well as editing decisions around pacing, montage strategies, superimpositions and special effects.

Figure 1: ‘And we shall play a game of chess …’ Tiresias (Steve Dixon) and the Woman who ‘drew her long black hair out tight’ (Kristina Pakhomova).

Film versions of Eliot’s poems are a rarity, with the two major examples being adaptations of previous stage performances: actor Fiona Shaw’s acclaimed solo recitation of The Waste Land (1995, directed by Deborah Warner) and the critically ridiculed and commercially disastrous movie version of Andrew-Lloyd Webber’s musical dance-theatre show CATS (2019, directed by Tom Hooper) based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Eliot actively discouraged remediation of the majority of his poems, including even the use of musical accompaniments; and changing the essential nature of a work of art is always controversial. However faithfully or well it is undertaken, the ontological shift from text into film will inevitably raise questions over interpretation, and face criticism as a result. At the core of this is the long-held argument that ‘the film is never as good as the book’ (or in this case the poem), since a reader’s vivid and fluid imagination will always outshine a director’s singular and all too concrete interpretation.

Nonetheless, filmic remediations of classic literary works (for example, by Shakespeare and Austen) have opened them up to new, wider and younger audiences, and this was part of my logic in creating the film within an educational context. The easing of previous copyright restrictions on adapting The Waste Land into new aesthetic forms was announced in 2021 by the Eliot estate and publisher Faber, to celebrate the poem’s 2022 centenary, and led to permission for my film interpretation. It has been screened at a number of film festivals, winning awards including best experimental film, and is now available online:

Published in 1922, the poem arose in the wake of the global trauma of World War I and the personal trauma of Eliot’s mental breakdown in 1921. I would suggest that today it remains as  resonant as ever, particularly since we are now also affected by anxiety and trauma, including through a growing climate change crisis and the effects of a devastating global pandemic. Thus, Eliot’s bleak yet beautiful meditations on fear, isolation and alienation take on whole new resonances a hundred years after he penned them.

A Southeast Asian perspective

My Singaporean colleagues and I translated the poem to provide a particularly Southeast Asian take. For example, the film opens with a title sequence set against a high-angle wide shot of the crammed, polluted cityscape of Manila in the Philippines, with a factory fire raging, sending thick plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. [Figure 2] While the poem describes desert landscapes, Eliot makes clear that modern cities are equally types of waste lands, experiencing urban decay, cultural death and spiritual infertility. While largely set in London, the poem frequently travels East, with many allusions to Asian cultures and religions, and the film draws on Southeast Asian cultural ceremonies, as well as Hindu and Buddhist iconography, igniting strong and sometimes surprising connections with the poem’s ideas.

Figure 2: ‘April is the cruellest month …’ The opening image of a smoke-shrouded Manila.

One example counterpoints footage of a Balinese Kecak dance-music performance depicting a story from the Hindu Ramayana with Eliot’s allusions to the rape of Philomel in Greek mythology. The imagery shows the moment of abduction of the goddess Sita, as she tussles with the evil King Ravana, who violently tugs a piece of her clothing as he pulls her offstage, while the Voice Over narrates: ‘The change of Philomel, by the barbarous King / So rudely forced’. The climax of the same Kecak performance is used later, at the end of ‘The Fire Sermon’ section of the poem. A barefoot dancer who is in a trance state, playing the monkey god Hanuman, jumps into a fire and sits within it, before spinning round and kicking burning embers in all directions. For the Balinese, this spectacular sequence is a ritualised exorcism to expel evil spirits, and is juxtaposed with Eliot’s words ‘burning burning burning burning’, taken from Buddha’s Fire Sermon where he preached the abandonment of the fires of bodily cravings and lust, and is followed by St. Augustine’s plea to God to ‘pluckest me out’ [of the fire] from Book X of Confessions.

The same theme of asceticism returns at the end of the poem, with its evocations of the second Hindu Brahmana: ‘Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata’ [Give. Sympathise. Control]. This is widely interpreted as Eliot’s prescription for countering the trauma, disorder and chaos that followed World War I. The Sanskrit word for peace, ‘Shantih’ is then repeated three times to conclude the poem, and the film juxtaposes these words with footage of worshippers lighting tall candles at a Buddhist temple in Penang, Malaysia, and a bird flying in slow motion over the sacred mountain Agung in Bali – the abode of the island’s Hindu Gods.

The film counterpoints many of the poem’s sequences with images from the sculptural dioramas at Haw Par Villa in Singapore, created in 1937, which depict surreal and extraordinary interpretations of stories from Asian (and particularly Chinese) literature, myths, philosophy and religion. Its multitude of life-size statues provide a perfect complement to Eliot’s allusions to Eastern folklore and beliefs, and since many of these dramatic dioramas are partly broken or decomposing, they resonate with the poem’s darker message that cities, traditions and cultures are crumbling. [Figure 3]

Figure 3: ‘the nymphs are departed …’ One of the many Haw Par Villa dioramas used in the film.

There are so many locations and narratives within The Waste Land that the cultural park’s 1,000 statues and 150 group dioramas proved a blessing in terms of providing rich and affecting imagery to help evoke or illustrate them. Statues of two women seducing a priest at prayer are used against the lines: ‘The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract’; a statue of a warrior with a sadistically grotesque grimace counterpoints ‘The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear’; while images of waving mermaids and sirens accompany the allusions to Rhinemaidens and the repeated phrase ‘the nymphs are departed’. Haw Par Villa has a number of dioramas depicting drowning, a key theme of the poem, including an elaborate shipwreck with victims also being eaten by sharks, which was used alongside Madame Sosostris’ ominous warning to ‘Fear death by water’. [Figure 4]

Figure 4: ‘Fear death by water …’ A vivid and gory shipwreck diorama visually accompanies Madame Sosostris’ grim prediction.

Awash with water

The poem has 3,022 words and 18 of them are ‘water’ – it the single most used noun in the work. Additionally, there are 6 references to rain, 5 to seas, 3 to rivers, 3 to fishing, 2 to wet, 2 to drowning, 1 canal, 1 spring and 1 shower. The work is a veritable ode to water. While a lack of it may lie at the heart of The Waste Land, its destructive effect turning land into barren desert, it is water rather than aridity that is the predominant, indeed obsessive theme.

Revisiting T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land reflects this in myriad water sequences including extensive imagery of London’s River Thames: from closeups of sunlight shimmering delicately and beautifully in its watery ‘Inexplicable splendour’ to revealing how its surface palpably ‘sweats oil and tar’ pollutants. Vietnamese fishermen and women in traditional conical hats drag their nets, peacefully ‘fishing by the old canal’, and hundreds of cawing seagulls eddy above, and occasionally plunge down into the sea for fish as ‘the boat responded / Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar’. The tragic, impotent figure of the Fisher King is invoked using a Haw Par Villa statue of a bearded man whose entire body is encased in a full-length fish costume, with only his face peering out. For the ‘Death by Water’ section, the character of Phlebas is depicted by the statue of a heroic looking young merman riding a dolphin and holding onto other dolphins with each hand, while all three spit long jets of water into a fountain in London’s Trafalgar Square. [Figure 5]

Figure 5: ‘Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.’ An aquatic fountain statue in Trafalgar Square.

Water is a complex and polysemic element in The Waste Land: creative and destructive, life-giving and life-taking. It shares much with the poem’s other elemental theme, fire – both able to overcome and cross boundaries, to purify and to destroy. Water simultaneously signifies the cyclical, mortal nature of human existence, and the human quest to find meaning and spiritual regeneration in an unreal and hostile world. The poem’s continual allusions to water, including references to the Biblical story of captive Israelites weeping by the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137) and the holy Indian river, the Ganges, being dried up and waiting for rain, relate to the themes of purification, spiritual enrichment and rebirth that our contemporary troubled world is perhaps as much in need of today as it was when Eliot wrote the poem. As K Thomas Baby (2018) observes: ‘Water is not only a social, cultural and religious symbol but it is the essence of all life on earth. It is sublime and destructive at the same time and embodies the principle of life, death and regeneration in itself.’

Following Eliot’s lead and spirit

Since the translational choices open to our production were so wide and free, a decision was made to keep as faithful as possible to the spirit of Eliot’s writing, but not necessarily follow every idea, narrative or allusion directly or literally. This enabled the creation of a free-flowing and associative translation with a contemporary scope and edge. For example, slow-motion footage of a bustling, densely packed Singapore shopping mall accompanies one of the several references to an ‘Unreal City’, while today’s skyscraper-lined Hong Kong harbour is employed to reflect the grandeur of historic ‘Alexandria’. Eliot’s plethora of religious allusions, from Buddhism to Christianity prompted filming of diverse religious sites, for example an ancient church mosaic of Jesus for the ‘He who is living is now dead’ section.

But such footage was not always used in direct correlation with a textual referent, and was rather added fluidly and accumulatively to reinforce the spirit of the poem’s religious plurality. For example, for the ‘each in his prison / Thinking of the key’ stanza, a pair of feet walk slowly across the floor of the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, emerging in and out of view amidst dark shadows cast by its giant windows. [Figure 6] Thus, the fragmented mosaics of the poem’s different stories and philosophies that span centuries from ancient to modern and continents from Europe to Asia, are doubled and reinforced in the filmic translation.

Figure 6: ‘We think of the key, each in his prison / Thinking of the key …’ A woman walks through the shadows in Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque.

Following Eliot’s comment that he felt all the poem’s female characters are essentially ‘one woman’, the same actor, Kristina Pakhomova, was cast in all the female roles. She plays a nervously breathless and lovestruck Hyacinth Girl, an eccentric and intense Madame Sosostris, and a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra in the form of a posing, voguing model, for the opening of The Game of Chess section. Her role as the Typist is highly theatricalised, set within a bare, black-box theatre with the actor playing the ‘young man carbuncular’ operating her like a puppet, while an actor playing Tiresias watches on and comments sternly like a Greek chorus: ‘And I Tiresias have foresuffered all / Enacted on this same divan or bed. [Figure 7]

Figure 7: ‘The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights / her stove, and lays out food in tins. / … touched by the suns last rays’ From behind the typist (Kristina Pakhomova), the arms of the young man (Mitchell Lagos) theatrically mime each of her various actions.

A spirit of theatricality

The aim was to emphasise the marked theatricality and performativity of the poem, and some dramatic (or poetic) license was adopted to use the onscreen figure of Tiresias as a polyvocal lyric speaker and default narrator (doubling as the Fisher King near the end) to provide a conceptual through line. This conforms with the view of Calvin Bedient, who argues in his book (pointedly subtitled The Waste Land and Its Protagonist) that the various voices are the performance of a single character. Eliot, he says, is striving for ‘a self-transcendence attained by both a self-forgetting hero and a self-forgetting art’ (1986: 221).

Emily Hale, Eliot’s muse and inspiration for the Hyacinth Girl was an actress and theatre director to whom he wrote over a thousand letters. In 1935, Eliot told her the reason he turned to writing dramas was to impress her and provide her with characters to play (Dickey 2022: 3-4), and since he first fell in love with her in 1913, one might assume that nine years later, although a long time before his playwriting began, he was also flexing his theatrical muscles with The Waste Land. James Stayer analyses the poem’s over-emotionalism and what he calls its ‘groveling anguish … and embarrassing cri de coeur’ (2022: 147). To the French descriptors I would add the term coup de théâtre, since the poem reaches moments of intense and elevated theatricality, and our film seeks to capture this sense of high drama and actorly vocal address. [Figure 8]


Figure 8: ‘Who is the third who walks always beside you?’ A theatricalisation of the poem’s allusions to the Biblical resurrection, with three superimposed images of Tiresias (Steve Dixon) walking together through the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

  1. S. Pritchett called Eliot ‘a company of actors within one suit’, who was personally adept at playing everything from ‘the young dandy’ to ‘the religious mystic’ (cited in Thomas 1987). In translating the poem, we were conscious of highlighting this important part of Eliot’s personality and spirit at that time, and bringing the poem’s characters to life with a sense of overt performativity, even to the extent of emphasising theatrical artifice rather than a realist film style. The poem’s original title was taken from a line from Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, ‘He Do The Police in Different Voices’, and its quick-fire changes of voice, character and register are echoed in the film. This includes the fragmenting and splitting up of lines of text, which are delivered by the different voices of actors and their characters on, and sometimes off, screen.

The concrète music of poetry

Another key element of our translation which also followed Eliot’s lead was the composition of an atmospheric and densely layered sound design. While poetry generally shares much in common with music (tempos, rhythms, dynamics), The Waste Land is one of the most musically expressive ever written: a polyrhythmic and polyphonic tone poem with a symphonic structure and numerous leitmotifs. It has ‘an insistent stress on music’ (Rainey 2005: 42), quoting directly from operas and songs, and with its rhythms and musical sonorities plainly foregrounded. Eliot was fascinated by the musical and sonic aspects of poetry, which he highlighted in the very titles of his poems from his early Preludes to his final Four Quartets, and discussed in his 1942 article ‘The Music of Poetry’ where he describes a ‘musical poem’ as having ‘a musical pattern of sound and a musical pattern of the secondary meaning of the words which compose it, and … those two patterns are indissoluble and one” (quoted in Chancellor 1969: 22).

The award-winning Singaporean composer, Joyce Beetuan Koh, undertook a sonic analysis of the poem as the first step in conceiving an adventurous soundtrack. It provides direct responses to the poem’s ideas, images and rhythms; and amplifies its narrative and psychological elements. While drawing on the poem’s explicit references to musical styles such as ragtime and to operas such as Wagner’s Das Rhinegold and Tristan and Isolde, it particularly uses a musique concrète methodology. This is a sonic form using recordings of real sounds – from nature as well as from the urban environments and industrial settings – rather than traditional instruments. For the film’s audio design, these verité sounds are combined with processed electronic and synthesised effects. For example, in the sequence beginning ‘If there were water / And no rock’ and ending ‘But there is no water’ the sound design segues through three types of natural sound: water pouring out from a spring; water cascading into a subterranean cave (and its echoes), and finally the close-up sound of a single drop of water, whose reverberations are progressively electronically treated to intensify the climactic effect.

The section beginning ‘What is the City over the mountains’ features the sounds of real birds combined with synthesised zipping sounds that violently accent the visual movements of the footage of birds which dart across the screen to the words ‘Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air’. The audio then metamorphoses back into concrete sounds of real flapping wings as the names of cities are read out: ‘Jerusalem. Athens. Alexandria’. Human whispers take over, which are gradually electronically processed to accelerate and change pitch alongside the narration ‘And bats with baby faces in the violet light / Whistled and beat their wings’. Concrete sounds return with a fanfare of pealing church bells as the Chapel [Perilous] is revealed to the words ‘Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours’, with the film showing a curtain being drawn open to dramatically reveal an old London church surrounded by blackened caryatids.

Sounds of real pigeons take over, that are gradually amplified to unsettling, menacing effect, with the sonic treatment heightening the textual themes of dryness, death and decay: ‘There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home’. The sequence concludes with the image of a cockerel, whose morning call announces a rainstorm. Its staccato squawks and flapping wings are slowed down and electronically treated, becoming harsher and increasingly percussive, as two cockerels onscreen begin to jump at one another and fight, whereupon the wing sounds segue into thunderclaps: ‘Co co rico co co rico / In a flash of lightning’.

Conclusion: cooperating not competing

I began by noting that while all translators face myriad choices, they are expanded greatly and in different ways when translating a text into a film. They are seemingly infinite in the case of The Waste Land, with its multiple narratives and dense array of literary, cultural and religious allusions. Peter Wollen (1969) has argued that a film’s greatness is proportional to its wealth of connotations, and I hope that our translational choices serve at least to demonstrate the vast wealth of ideas, images and allusions Eliot conjures in the poem. [Figure 9]

Figure 9: ‘Fishing, with the arid shore behind me / … London bridge is falling down’ An image of a fisherman at sunset in Hoi An, Vietnam slowly cross-fades into an image of London’s river Thames and the ‘arid shore behind’ of its surrounding buildings including St Paul’s cathedral (centre).

The poem’s translation into the film Revisiting T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land aims to echo and evoke the general spirit of the work, though it could never hope to encapsulate all of its nuances and elements, nor express all the direct intentions of its writer. The ontology of the celebrated text was changed fundamentally, but most of its core narratives, characters, allusions, social critiques and cultural and philosophical musings remained, albeit expressed in a quite different audio-visual form. The task of translating the poem into film was a type of ‘comparative literature’ exercise, involving a transposition based on comparing, interpreting and balancing it in relation to the different languages and linguistics of film genres, theatrical conceits, image ideation, sound design and editing strategies.

In many way this mirrored Eliot’s own innovative approach in freely juxtaposing the old with the new, lyric poetry with narrative structures, and in fusing voices from high and low culture. He interweaves multiple styles, and shifts genres in the blink of an eye, dramatically and provocatively. As Hillis J. Miller points out, the poem centres on ‘abrupt juxtaposition. … The meaning emerges from the clash of adjacent images …The poem works like those children’s puzzles … when numbered dots are connected in sequence” (1965: 145); while Jennifer Emery-Peck calls it:

a narrative performance crisscrossed by class, gender, and intensified readerly desires. … a realm bristling with story-telling, with the voices of women and of working-class figures, with popular culture, with narrative techniques, and with the desires and techniques of a mass-reading audience. (2008: 331-332)

Mass-reading in the 1920s was generally confined to text, whereas screen media is today’s most favoured form. Since the poem’s very structure centres on the criss-crossing of disparate narratives and genres, perhaps the crossing of one more boundary to translate it into another medium is not quite as radical as might first appear. Its publication in 1922 (alongside Joyce’s Ulysses the same year) announced the advent of the modernist avant-garde in literature with a shocking and polyphonous fanfare. The Waste Land had already torn up the rule book of what Fredric Jameson calls the ‘literary institutions or social contracts’ of genre ‘between a writer and a specific public’ (1981: 106, emphasis in original), therefore translating it into another ontological form does not seem like too giant a step, particularly since Eliot was already consciously and fundamentally ‘Do[ing] the Police in Different Voices’. Emery-Peck argues that in The Waste Land ‘genres cooperate rather than compete’ and perhaps the same is true of forms, when transposing it from a literary to a media ‘text’. Paul Chancellor suggests it is a poem ‘in which two dreams cross – a dream in words and a dream in music” (1969: 21) and the transposition to film adds an audio-visual third element to the heady dreamscape.

Over a hundred years on, The Waste Land retains an immense power, and I hope this film may help open it up to new audiences and particularly younger readers. I also hope it underlines the poem’s currency and potency for our own time. The Waste Land grapples with themes that echo uncannily with the anxieties of today – from feelings of melancholy, loss and longing to the fear of death and the promise of renewal and rebirth. No matter in which form the work is translated, its powerful spirit, rhythms and messages endure, and as Edmund Wilson Jr observed in his oft-quoted review in The Dial of December 1922, ‘Mr Eliot is a poet … [and] no matter within what walls he lives, he belongs to the divine company.’



Baby, Thomas (2018) The role and significance of water in Eliot’s Wasteland. International Conference on Aquatic Literature, Alleppy, Kerala, India.’s_Wasteland

Bedient, Calvin (1986) He Do the Police In Different Voices: The Waste Land and Its Protagonist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chancellor, Paul (1969). ‘The Music of “The Waste Land”’. Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, 21-32.

Dickey, Frances. (2022). ‘Preface’. The T. S. Eliot Studies Annual, Vol. 4 Issue 1, pp. 1-5.

Emery-Peck, Jennifer Sorensen (2008). ‘Tom and Vivien Eliot Do Narrative in Different Voices: Mixing Genres in The Waste Land‘s Pub.’ Narrative, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 331-358.

Jameson, Fredric (1981). The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Miller, Hillis J. (1965) Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth Century Writers. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Rainey, Lawrence (2005). Revisiting the Waste Land. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Stayer, Jayme (2022). ‘Snuggling up to the Abyss’. The T. S. Eliot Studies Annual, Vol. 4 Issue 1, pp. 145-159.

Thomas, David [director] (1987) Ten Great Writers of the Western World: T. S. Eliot. Television programme. Available at:

Wilson, Edmund Jr (1922). ‘The Poetry of Drouth’. The Dial, Vol. LLXIII No. 6, December. pp. 611-616.

Wollen, Peter (1969). Signs and Meaning in the Cinema. London: Bloomsbury.


Steve Dixon is President of Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, and an interdisciplinary artist working in film, theatre, interactive media and installation. His film and digital works have screened at festivals including Leeds International Film Festival (UK), Moscow International Film Festival, and the New York Expo, and have won a number of awards including Best Experimental Film and Best Art Video. He is author of an award-winning 800-page history of technology in theatre and dance, Digital Performance (MIT Press 2007) and his latest book Cybernetic-Existentialism (Routledge 2020) fuses ideas from philosophy and systems sciences.