While making a fine illustration for the line
"O you who turn the wheel and look to windward"
this statue of a fisherman at a wheel was erected a few years after
The Waste Land
was written. It was erected to commemorate the tricentennial of the
founding of the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1623 and
to memorialize the thousands of the town's fishermen lost at sea
during that time (there is an Eliot connection to Gloucester,
The fisherman stands at the edge of the harbor and
looks out to sea. At the base are these words "They that go down to
the sea in ships" taken from Psalm 107:
23. They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
24. These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
25. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of their trouble.
27. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.
28. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
29. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
30. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them to their desired haven.
31. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
The Eliot family used to summer in Gloucester. In 1896, for use as a cottage, they had a large home built overlooking the rocky coast on Gloucester's Eastern Point (the elder Eliot, who was an executive in St. Louis' Hydraulic Press Brick Company, actually had bricks shipped halfway across the country to use for the masonry work.) Some rocks at sea off Cape Ann, the Dry Salvages, appeared as part of of Eliot's poem of the same name (one of his poems collectively known as The Four Quartets.) The young Eliot enjoyed sailing and even took long trips along the Maine coast. His last visit to the family cottage before writing The Waste Land occurred in the summer of 1915 when he visited his parents to explain his sudden marriage (his wife Vivien stayed in London where she grew close to Bertrand Russell, Eliot's former Harvard professor.)
Although the Fishermen's Memorial post-dates The Waste Land Eliot is likely to have been familiar with another memorial to lost sailors located along a staircase at Gloucester's City Hall. This memorial is a list of names of the fishermen lost at sea since 1874. It now lists about fifty-five hundred names but in the years prior to 1874 in the days of sail before technological advances and when there was a greater dependence on the sea for earning a living the rate of loss would have been many times greater (In 1873 alone 174 fisherman were lost.) The losses continue to this day. A recent incident of Gloucester fishermen being lost at sea was made famous in Sebastian Junger's book The Perfect Storm and the movie of the same name.
The "Down to Sea" website (linked to below) has, among other things, the list of the Gloucester fishermen lost at sea with the names of the men linked to newspaper accounts of their deaths. The photograph of the Gloucester Fisherman was provided by that site and used with permission (copyright R. Sheedy.)