THE
WASTE
LAND
::
T. S.
ELIOT
POEM MAP ENDNOTES SOURCES ABOUT

Line 172:

Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

Context:

Spoken by Ophelia in Act 4, Scene 5 of Hamlet by William Shakespeare:

Ophelia
I hope all will be well. We must be patient: but I cannot choose but weep, to think they should lay him i' the cold ground. My brother shall know of it: and so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my coach! Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies; good night, good night.

Ophelia was the daughter of the king's councillor and was courted by Hamlet prior to his father's death. She goes mad after Hamlet kills her own father, Polonius. Her singsong ramblings, touching on death, burial, flowers, and sex, echo some of the central images of The Waste Land.

In her madness, Ophelia returns again and again to flowers. She discusses their properties: rosemary for remembrance, pansies for thoughts. She hands real or imagined flowers to her brother, Laertes. To Ophelia, who associates them with her father's recent death and burial, flowers both attend death and are affected by it:

Ophelia
Larded with sweet flowers
Which bewept to the grave did go
With true-love showers.
Ophelia
…I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died…

Ophelia's death provides perhaps the most compelling demonstration of this relationship. Wreathed in flowers, she falls into a brook and drowns:

Gertrude
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Her drowning likewise links her to the image of death by water that recurs throughout The Waste Land.