The Waste Land (04) – translating foreign language lines


I’m spending the next 6 months reading The Waste Land and exploring it, its meaning, its references, its context and its place in (modern?) culture.

In my last post I outlined my plan for approaching this project, noting there are some basics to cover. This post therefore looks at translating the foreign language lines throughout The Waste Land. We don’t here yet explore what the meaning of the lines is or the wider work from where they’re taken, nor why Eliot chose to use foreign language to express them.

A note on process: where Eliot makes specific reference to the foreign language lines in his notes, then I have allowed myself to find a relevant copy of the text online. My thinking here is that I could as easily find a copy of the given title in a library, but physically accessing a library would extend the project by several months! Where, though, there is no reference in Eliot’s notes then I have not simply searched for it. This goes back to part of my original reason for undertaking this project: “to create some space, focus and flow for myself in one tiny area of the physical and mental worlds”.

Now, to the translations.

The epigraph

I’m actually going to deal with the epigraph in a separate post. It’s in Latin and Greek, and is not alluded to in any of Eliot’s notes. Part of the challenge I’ve set myself in this project is not simply to Google an answer – there must be a process of discovery – so I am trying to find a translation of the epigraph and from where it’s taken via separate means.

 For Ezra Pound

il miglior fabbro

This Italian translates as “the better maker” and refers to the fact that Ezra Pound supported Eliot closely in how he structured the poem, and indeed gave it its title. I discovered this through reading Peter Watson’s A Terrible Beauty, which I realise now is where I first substantively came across The Waste Land.

(A note for later study is to understand better the role Ezra Pound played in the creation of The Waste Land.)

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aust Litauen, echt deutsch (12)

Not referred to in Eliot’s notes, I assume that Eliot wrote this himself and have translated this line myself to be: “I am not Russian, but Lithuanian – true German”

Frisch weht der Wind / Der Heimat zu / Mein Irisch Kind, wo weilest du? (31-34)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being lines 5-8 of Act I of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. A common translation has these lines as:

Fresh blows the Wind

towards home

My Irish Child

where are you now?

(A note for later study is to find out more about Tristan und Isolde)

Oed’ und leer das Meer

Also cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Tristan und Isolde – line 24 of Act III, translating as:

Desolate and void the sea!


“You! hypocrite lecteur!–mon semblable,–mon frere!” (76)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from the (poem) preface to Baudelaire’s Fleurs de Mal (Flowers of Evil), this translates as:

you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!




Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole! (202)

I could have had a stab at this French – children’s voices singing somewhere or other. Fortunately, Eliot notes the source in his notes: Verlaine’s poem Parsifal. It translates as:

And, O these children’s voices singing in the dome!

Although we are not yet exploring the meaning of these foreign language lines, we should note here in the rest of Parsifal an explicit reference to the Holy Grail (“As priest-king and guardian of the sacred treasure / In golden robe he worships that sign of grace / The pure vessel in which shines the Holy Blood”). Parsifal is also the name of another Wagner opera (as is Tristan und Isolde) – there’s much here to get into later.


Datta (402), Dayadhvam (412), Damyata (419) (and again together at 433)

The translation is given by Eliot himself in his notes as:

Give, sympathise, control



Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina (428)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Dante’s Purgatory, line 148 of canto 26, and translates as:

Then, in the fire that refines, he hid


Quando fiam uti chelidon (429)

Eliot’s notes cite this line from Pervigilium Veneris and he probably meant to refer to the translation as:

When shall I become like a swallow


Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie (430)

Again, my secondary level French may well have sufficed for this one (a Prince, a destroyed tower), but Eliot kindly provides a note to point us in the direction of El Desdichado by Gerard de Nerval. The translation is:

The Aquitaine Prince whose tower is destroyed


Shantih shantih shantih (434)

Given by Eliot in his notes to mean “The Peace which passeth understanding”.

So we have a literal understanding of what the foreign language lines of The Waste Land mean – a good start. We’ve also begun to create a reading list of sources from which Eliot drew direct inspiration (Wagnerian opera, Dante’s Divine Comedy, some Sanskrit texts). Before we explore their specific meanings, what the meanings of the works they’re taken from is, and why they’re used in a foreign form, we’ll carry on looking at some other basics, too, continuing next with the characters referenced throughout.



Always carrying a notebook

DV notebook
One of da Vinci’s notebooks. Source: The Leonardo Project

A good friend at university used to have a pen in their pocket all the time. We called it Wrighty’s Indie Pen, our sentiment a mixture of bemusement, disparagement and admiration.

Only in the last 18 months have I understood that Wrighty was on to something. In that time, I have carried an A6 notebook and pen in my pocket at all times and it has been fantastic. The notebooks have all sorts in them – thoughts, reminders, work, useful numbers, sketches, lists etc. – and I can’t now see a time when I wouldn’t have one in my pocket.

I mention this because of reading 9 things that happen when you carry a sketchbook with you nonstop. From there, it is a short hop to the positive difference carrying a notebook can make and the unanswerable question of which style notebook to use.

There is then the matter of how others have used their notebooks – here are 20 famous examples (I don’t know why they’re all men’s notebooks).

It’s a different experience entirely to making notes on your phone/tablet or carrying a more formal notebook of, say, A5 or A4 size. I commend the notebook to you.

Art and the “genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it”

"A Bigger Splash" by David Hockney
“A Bigger Splash” by David Hockney

A lovely, brief essay from Alain de Botton for Tate Etc. on how art can be presented to connect more with our everyday lives, and not be concerned only with a piece’s heritage.

Without necessarily meaning to, museums send out subtle cues about what the ‘right’ thing to do inside them is. This set of norms is chiefly communicated by the captions which accompany objects and which throw the emphasis on a particular set of concerns: the name of the artist, the school to which they belonged, the influences upon them, the material of which the art object is made and their place within the museum’s internal cataloguing system. In other words, the captions invite their readers to take their first steps in adopting some of the concerns of the curatorial and academic establishments that, behind the scenes, look after and interpret works in museums.

I am interested in re-framing works of art so as to draw attention to their therapeutic aspects.

I enjoyed de Botton’s take on the role of arts in our everyday lives:

No less than music or literature, the visual arts have a role to play in keeping us more or less sane and in restoring us to a measure of serenity in an often frenetic and disappointing world… It lies in the power of art to honour the elusive but real value of ordinary life. It can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavour to make the best of our circumstances: a job we do not always love, the imperfections of middle-age, our frustrated ambitions and our attempts to stay loyal to irritable but loved spouses. Art can do the opposite of glamourising the unattainable; it can reawaken us to the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it.

Disability: not just a social care, benefits or health issue

More often than not, debates around disability and the role, for example, that disabled people’s organisations can play, tend to centre around “big” issues like social care, welfare/benefits and health.

This is obviously a very narrow view. Non-disabled people don’t think in such narrow terms; funny enough, neither do disabled people.

Indeed, it’s often in the things that non-disabled people take for granted that disabled people face the most barriers put in front of them.

An excellent campaign by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign yesterday showed that something as seemingly straightforward as going to the cinema is by no means easy if disability is involved.

Research (which was done, incidentally, by young people with muscular dystrophy) showed that disabled people can expect the following when they visit a cinema:

  • Poor disability awareness among staff members
  • Uncomfortable and poor viewing areas
  • Inaccessible auditoriums and refreshments areas
  • Broken lifts
  • Heavy doors
  • Poorly maintained toilets
  • Poor lighting
  • Stairways without banisters

A video from the campaign captures the nub of the issue:

As ever, it’s the things that non-disabled people wouldn’t even think of that often scupper the opportunities for disabled people to have the same opportunity to participate equally – in this case, going to the cinema.

And if the relatively small things in life – visiting the cinema with friends, going to the shops, nipping down the pub for a quick pint – are made so inaccessible, what hope do we have for the “big” issues?

If you’d like to know more about the research, visit the MD Trailblazers campaign site. If you’d like to see better access for disabled people in cinemas, you can sign the petition here.

What does Saint-Saëns’s opinion about The Swan tell us?

I bought a hard-to-find hardback copy of the composer Saint-Saëns’s biography as a present to my PhD supervisor. Although I didn’t know who Saint-Saëns was then, and only do so now because my wife knows her stuff when it comes to classical music, a little story I heard about him has stuck in my mind.

Apparently, Saint-Saëns hated “The Swan” – one of the most recognisable parts of one, if not the most famous, of his compositions: The Carnival of the Animals. It goes like this:

Saint-Saëns’s hatred of the piece stems from its popularity: he detested the fact that what he considered to be so simple a piece was so popular with the public.

This set me to thinking about elitism, populism and perceptions of these from the different standpoints they represent. There’s a parallel to be drawn between the purveyors of policy and the practitioners of politics, too.

The thing is, I’m not quite sure what it is yet. But I know that Saint-Saëns’s views resonated for some reason.

If anyone cares to enlighten me, therefore, please do…

All on board the new London bus?

The excellent Boris Watch picks up on whether or not disabled people were engaged up front in the design of the new London bus.

The answer? No.

We Are Enabled By Design event

I’m really looking forward to the “We Are Enabled By Design” event next week.

The purpose of the event is to

reframe the ageing/disability debate by looking at how universal design can help support independent (and stylish!) living.

Thinking well beyond the day-to-day requirements that many disabled and older people have simply to meet their care and support needs, Enabled by Design rightly takes the principles of Independent Living and continually makes the case that good design – in both the practical and stylistic sense – can and should make huge contributions to improve the overall quality of people’s lives. What I love about EbD’s approach is how ‘mainstream’ it is – it’s not just a separate disability-based issue; it’s one that everyone should be conscious of and can support. I also love the peer-based approach it takes, where people with common interests share their experiences through EbD.

And to reflect all of this, the event next week has two absolutely cracking speakers: Wayne Hemingway and Charles Leadbeater. Thus, if you haven’t got your tickets yet, pick some up here!

(Note: I know the organisers of the event. Even so, I’d encourage you to go anyway, and not just because I know them!)

Maths at the British Museum


The Bank Holiday was a great chance to get out and remember why it’s so good to live in London. The two highlights for me were a visit to Foyles Bookshop on the Charing Cross Road and a trip to the British Museum.

Every time I visit the British Museum I am reminded that the roof of the Great Court is one of the best visualisations of maths I’ve ever seen. Imagine, if you will, a huge box that stretches up from the ground to many hundreds of feet into space, well beyond the roof of the Great Court. Then what that magnificent roof does is pick out a wonderful, wonderful surface in that vast 3-dimensional space.

There’s no better physical manifestation of a manifold, of topology, or of what is simply a solution to an elegant equation than that roof.

2009 in pictures

Following last year’s near identical entry, below are some “pictures of the year” compilations:

The Boston Globe Big Picture (1 of 3) (The Big Picture)

The Boston Globe Big Picture (2 of 3) (The Big Picture)

The Boston Globe Big Picture (3 of 3) (The Big Picture)

2009: The Year in Pictures (New York Times)

2009 in Focus: Best of Times photography (Los Angeles Times)

2009 Photos of the Year (Life magazine)

2009 Sports Photos of the Year (Life magazine)

Harry Beck in Paris

The Royal Mail recently commem orated one of the UK’s greatest works of visual infor mation design when Harry Beck’s London Underground diagram was included for the first time on a British postage stamp writes Mark Ovenden. The impor tance of Beck’s rectilinear, topologic 1933 diagram is widely recognised and praised by graphic designers. Many wonder why Beck never extended his ideas outside London. The answer is, he did – to the nearest major subway network to London: Paris.

Harry Beck's London Undergound mapFull story and lots of fantastic images, plus a neat history of the development of underground maps, is at the Creative Review (via kottke).