T. S.

The Waste Land

Lines 407-409

Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms

Eliot's Note

407. Cf. Webster, The White Devil, V, vi:
“...they'll remarry
Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs.”


Eliot returns to The White Devil by John Webster, first alluded to at the end of Part I. The speaker here is Flamineo, a courtesan whose scheming drives much of the action in Webster's play. His topic is the impermanence of women's love:

...O men,
That lie upon your death-beds, and are haunted
With howling wives! ne'er trust them; they 'll re-marry
Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs.
...Trust a woman? never, never; Brachiano be my precedent. We lay
our souls to pawn to the devil for a little pleasure, and a woman makes
the bill of sale. That ever man should marry! For one Hypermnestra
that saved her lord and husband, forty-nine of her sisters cut their
husbands' throats all in one night.

The image of the worm and the winding sheet in Flamineo's speech evokes the "seals broken by the lean solicitor" in lines 408-409. Andrew Marvell uses a similar image in "To His Coy Mistress," which Eliot cites in his note to line 196. Flamineo casts women as conniving seductresses, but in The Waste Land it is typically men who initiate unenthusiastic sex and women who bear the consequences of consent or refusal:

Lines 148-149

He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said.

Lines 249-252

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.”

Lines 296-299

“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised ‘a new start.’
I made no comment. What should I resent?”