The Burial of the Dead

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.[1]And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,[2]You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,[3]And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?[4]“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od'[5] und leer das Meer.[6]
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,[7]Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
Unreal City,[8]Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.[9]Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,[10]And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.[11]There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying "Stetson!
"You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
"That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
"Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
"Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
"Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,[12]"Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
"You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frere!"[13]

[1] I am not Russian; I come from Lithuania, I'm German. (Infoplease Editors)

[2] Cf. Ezekiel 2:1.

[4] Fresh blows the wind / To the homeland / My Irish darling / Where do you linger? (Infoplease Editors)

V. Tristan und Isolde, i, verses 5-8.

[In this opening scene, a ship sails from Ireland to Cornwall carrying Isolde, accompanied by Tristan, to meet her betrothed, King Mark. A young sailor sings a melancholy song about a woman left behind. Later a magic potion is drunk by both Tristan and Isolde and they fall deeply in love. (Infoplease Editors)

[5] Od'→Oed' (Editor).

[6] Desolate and empty the sea (Infoplease Editors)

Id. iii, verse 24.

[In act 2 Tristan is mortally wounded and leaves Cornwall for his castle in Brittany, where, in act 3, a musical conversation takes place as he waits for Isolde to come to heal him. A shepherd is asked to look for Isolde's ship and this is his reply (Infoplease Editors)]

[7] I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the "crowds of people," and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself.

[8] Cf. Baudelaire:

Fourmillante cite;, cite; pleine de reves,
Ou le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.

[These are the opening lines of Les Sept Vieillards, roughly:

Swarming city, city full with dreams,
Where the ghosts in full day accost the passer by.

—Infoplease Editors]

[9] Cf. Inferno, iii. 55-7.

"si lunga tratta
di gente, ch'io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta."

[10] Cf. Inferno, iv. 25-7:

"Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
"non avea pianto, ma' che di sospiri,
"che l'aura eterna facevan tremare."

[11] A phenomenon which I have often noticed.

[12] Cf. the Dirge in Webster's White Devil.

[13] Hypocrite reader!—my doppelganger—my brother! (Infoplease Editors)

V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.

Sources +