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.
In “The Burial of the Dead,” the fortune-teller Madame Sosostris reads the cards for an unknown seeker. Her prophecies are fulfilled in later parts of the poem. Eliot’s notes indicate that all the male characters in the poem melt into each other. He also explains that he associates the man with the three staves, which represents an authentic member of the Tarot pack, with the Fisher King.
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?”
In the last stanza of “The Burial of the Dead,” the speaker remains unidentified, although he might be the drowned Phoenician sailor foreseen by Madame Sosostris. The Battle of Mylae took place during the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage, and many Phoenician sailors probably took part in the battle. Then again, Stetson could also be the drowned sailor. He represents the ghosts of all those who have perished in naval battles.
Unreal City Under the brown fog of a winter noon Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants Asked me in demotic French To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.
In “The Fire Sermon,” Part III of The Waste Land, the speaker, Tiresias, meets a man who propositions him. Tiresias is a hermaphrodite who can foretell the future and communicate with the dead. Mr. Eugenides could be the “one-eyed merchant” foretold by Madame Sosotris. The scene evokes ancient times, when merchants from Smyrna traded with the Phoenicians, as well as modern times, when some hotels are known for their sexual activity. The encounter, however, does not lead to regeneration.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives, A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare, One of the low on whom assurance sits As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire. . . . Flushed and decided, he assaults at once; Exploring hands encounter no defence; His vanity requires no response, And makes a welcome of indifference.
Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, narrates “The Fire Sermon,” Part III of The Waste Land, in which he either perceives or foretells all the action. Here he describes another dead soul, a young man who visits a young woman typist for a brief and indifferent sexual encounter. “The young man carbuncular” parodies the medieval language of the Grail legend, which speaks of “the knight gallant” and “the siege perilous.”
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces After the frosty silence in the gardens After the agony in stony places The shouting and the crying Prison and palace and reverberation Of thunder of spring over distant mountains He who was living is now dead We who were living are now dying With a little patience[.]
Part V of The Waste Land, “What the Thunder Said,” opens with an allusion to the suffering of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Unlike Jesus, however, the man in these lines is dead and does not rise again. The speaker does not identify himself: He might be one of Christ’s disciples, another incarnation of Tiresias, or the Fisher King who is dying at the end of the poem.