T. S.

The Waste Land

Lines 74-75

“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
“Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!

Eliot's Note

74. Cf. the Dirge in Webster's White Devil.


Eliot quotes from Act V, Scene IV of The White Devil, a 17th century revenge tragedy by John Webster. The speaker is Cornelia, whose son Marcello is refused a proper burial because he died in a quarrel:

Call for the robin redbreast, and the wren,
Since o'er shady groves they hover,
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call unto his funeral dole
The ant, the fieldmouse, and the mole,
To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,
And (when gay tombs are robb'd) sustain no harm;
But keep the wolf far thence, that 's foe to men,
For with his nails he'll dig them up again.

In his note to the title, Eliot mentions that much of the imagery in his poem is drawn from pagan vegetation ceremonies. Here is one such image: a burial outside the confines of a churchyard, where the body is covered only by leaves and flowers and left vulnerable to the predation of wild animals. Eliot inverts this last feature of the image, replacing the wolf in the original passage with a dog, swapping an adversarial, wild animal for a friendly, domestic one.

Eliot returns to The White Devil in Part V of The Waste Land. Read more in the note to line 407.