II. The Chess Game (3/8)

        Philomela as the nightingale, and her form of speech, was one theme throughout the Waste Land that I found compelling. She resorted to visual and nonverbal expression, or art, to communicate with her sister. At the myth's end, her voice and her autonomy both return but not in ways they had manifested previously. She becomes a nightingale -"still the world pursues"- crying to their "dirty ears." What she says has significance; however, this message depends wholly on the context of her experiences. Stretching a thread between Eliot with the Waste Land and Philomela and her tapestry ("jug, jug, jug," even) doesn't seem like too much of a reach.

        Eliot himself stated: this was a personal work, without any generational generalization in mind. He wasn't relaying a verdict on behalf of the jury. He also posited in his commentary that "the business of the poet is... to use the ordinary [emotions] and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings that are not in actual emotions at all." A vehicle of this imperfect transition is objective equivalence, which he describes as implying emotions through external means. Philomela's story, told for centuries and echoed too often, represents just one of the motifs used in the Waste Land to acquaint the reader with personality and emotion that the poet himself wishes to escape. His message is as indirect and articulated as birdsong. The feeling present in the poem may be manufactured, or even complicit in an attempt to tell a story without a tongue, but it is felt by the reader.


I remember in English speech there is even slang to call a woman a bird. What is the importance of the association? Birds are social animals that sing to communicate or make warnings that danger is coming to each other. Speech is reduced to the simplest of sounds, high and low pitches, for easier clarification. That means in talking the singer can make only the minimum of understanding happen. There may be so much more they want to say, but have no way of getting across what they really mean. They can still communicate, but in some ways they are silenced. Philomena is silenced. In the earlier major passage I read in the first part of the poem, the speaker also had his speech ripped away from him. He could not communicate to his wife/lover the emotions he felt or commune over the bond they shared. For both people, something very important is missing or has been taken away from them.