Exploring The Waste Land
A commentary page linked from The Waste Land, Part III, line 210


This page discusses the allusion in these lines from The Waste Land:

209)  Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
210)  Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants

Eliot has mentioned that he encountered a man like Mr. Eugenides who made a similar proposal to him. He even had a pocketful of currants.

But there is another way of reading these lines. In some e-mailed correspondence to me Steve Pollack wrote:

[In James Miller's book T. S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land the author] quotes an early Eliot poem called Ode, with a line

"Profession of the calamus."

Miller attributes the line to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. There is a 'Calumus' section about male-male love, which Miller states is what Eliot is obscurely referring to.

[The 'Calamus' section] consists of 45 small poems about homosexual love. The title comes from poem 4 in which Whitman tells his 'comrades' they will be able to recognize each other by showing symbols that he will describe in the poem that will forevermore identify them as comrades. The lines are from the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, 'Calumus' section :

(O here I last saw him that tenderly loves me -- and returns again,
        never to separate from me,
And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades -- this
        calamus-root shall,
Interchange it, youths, with each other! Let none render it back!)
And twigs of maple, and a bunch of wild orange, and chestnut,
And stems of currants, and plum-blows, and the aromatic cedar;

The word that jumped out at me was 'currants'. I think this is why Eliot has the lines:

Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants

I think this is Eliot letting us know, with an obscure reference to the 'Calamus' title poem (poem 4) of Leaves of Grass, that the Smyrna merchant is a 'comrade'.

And in a later correspondence Pollack wrote:

In poem 4, Whitman is imagining a crowd of comrades flocking around him as he walks through a garden gathering leaves, fruit, stems, etc. He gives out gifts to all the comrades. In the poem, he reserves a calamus-root for those who he is also in love with -- for the other comrades, he gives the 'lesser' gifts, like cedar and currants. If I'm right in this reading, Eliot would be saying that Mr. Eugenides is a comrade, but not someone ... loved.

Note a few other items in Whitman's poem :

[Go back to referring lines]

209)  Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
210)  Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants

Another moderately interesting coincidence is that the description of the extravagant room in Part II is sometimes connected to God's commands to Moses on setting up the Temple of Jerusalem. Southam refers us to Exodus, chapters 25-28. The instructions are still being given in Exodus, chapter 30, where in verses 22-28 we have:

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T 114 - Smyrna
T 102 - raisin
T 136 - Whitman, Walt


L 42 - Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass
E-text at Bartleby.com
L 176 - Voices and Visions - a video series from The Annenberg/CPB Multimedia Collection
Voices and Visions, a video series from The Annenberg/CPB Multimedia Collection, explores the lives and works of 13 of America's most famous modern poets. This is the page for Eliot (links to Pound and Whitman are here too.)
L 9 - Calamus plant
Description of the calamus plant.

Exploring The Waste Land
File name: kq210.html
File date: Sunday, September 29, 2002
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