Madame Sosostris Lines 43-59 of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land present Madame Sosostris as the Tarot card-reading psychic who bears bad news. While this stanza has been interpreted in a myriad of ways, two important features are commonly regarded as Eliot’s intent. (1) The clairvoyant is considered “the wisest woman in Europe” because the world is a tattered wasteland where everyone is in search of answers – a fortuneteller provides false security with her seemingly absolute understanding of destiny, and everyone is desperate enough to believe her.
2) Because Eliot regards fortunetelling as little more than empty consolation for the desperate, he writes with levity to poke fun at the concept. These two points comprise the general gist of the stanza, but the allusive way in which he elucidates this is what makes The Waste Land a remarkable poem. Like the rest of the poem, this stanza is a hailstorm of allusions that reference previous literary works, and these literary sources were often playing with the words from their sources.For example, Eliot derives very name “Sosostris” from “Sesostris, the Sorceress of Ectabana,” a woman who plays a fortunetelling gypsy at a fair in Aldous Huxley’s novel Chrome Yellow. While the Norton Anthology simply states, “Sesostris was a 12th-dynasty Egyptian king,” other sources say the name Sesostris is a corruption of the name of that dynasty, “Senwosret” (Silverman 29).
Sesostris was also the name used by Herodotus in tales about a 19th -dynasty Pharaoh, and Herodotus is notorious for avoiding accuracy in favor of flamboyance.My point is, for the sake of succinctness, I will analyze this stanza shallowly in order to support the two aforementioned intents of Eliot’s portrayal and avoid further digressions. 1 The speaker of the stanza is a soldier’s wife who, out of the desperation of her circumstances, has come to the fortuneteller to discover what may have happened to her husband in the war.
Madame Sosostris logically deduces that he has died, and she gives this conjecture in the form of elaborately construed predictions from a pack of Tarot cards.This is when Eliot begins to poke fun at the concept of clairvoyance. The following section of this paper will breakdown the stanza devoted to this psychic by analyzing some lines of Eliot’s jesting intent: Line 43. Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante, The pseudo-Egyptian name, Sosostris, is relevant because it is a knockoff of a woman in a fiction novel, who pretended to be a fortuneteller.
In other words, the name is a knockoff of an untrue woman who used the name to feign legitimacy.In this way, Eliot begins the stanza by introducing Madame Sosostris as a pretender who is famous via her profound ability to copy the appearance of a cliched fortuneteller. The preposterousness of Sosostris and her position is further emphasized with the intentional misspelling of “clairvoyant. ” Line 45. Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, This is a slight to war torn Europe and fortunetellers alike. It indicates that the country is so lost and dumbfounded that it has stooped to the level of regarding a lowly fortuneteller as the wisest in the land.
Line 46.With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she, This described pack of Tarot cards can mean two things: (1) it is wicked because they are outside of religion and, (2) more obviously, it is wicked because she inevitably predicts death. Lines 47 – 48. Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor, / (Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look! ) This is not, nor has it ever been an actual card within a Tarot deck.
Line 48 is a quote from Shakespeare’s Tempest, when a girl sings of a man who has been dead so long that his bones have turned to coral, and his eyes to pearls (1. . 398): “Of his bones are coral made: Those are pearls that were his eyes. ” It becomes obvious that Madame’s deck is pointedly wicked because it includes false cards that indicate certain death. Line 49.
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks, The Belladonna is also a card that has never appeared in Tarot decks. Her naming of this card is convenient to Madame’s morbid purposes because it is also the name of a deadly plant, the poisonous nightshade. However, Sosostris could be referring incorrectly to the Queen of Cups, which shows an attractive woman near cliffs.The Queen of Cups card is supposed to be indicative of one of two things: (1) a woman who is gifted with a high imagination, or (2) a woman who is unreliable and cannot be depended on. Both of these points seem to describe Madame Sosostris accurately. Line 50.
The lady of situations. This description is comically vague. Eliot uses unclear language to show that predictions can be accurate regardless of outcome.
Situations are bound to happen. Line 51. Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,The man with three staves card is properly referred to as the “Three of wands.
” Not only does Madame describe this card with the improper language of a novice, she completely fails to address the fortune the card is meant to signify: strength and enterprise, or economic failure due to too overly ambitious plans. Despite Eliot’s commentary, “the Wheel” is not a card in any Tarot deck, unless he is referring to the Wheel of Fortune card, which can signify good or bad luck, depending on whether the card is drawn upright or upside down.Nevertheless, Sosostris never acknowledges the fortune indications of the card but merely mentions it with an incorrect name and moves along. Line 52. And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,¬ Some reproduction designs of the Six of Pentacles present a merchant whose face is seen in profile.
“He is thus, in the parlance of American card-players, ‘one-eyed’” (Gibbons 563). That she refers to the card as “the one-eyed merchant” is relevant because it further emphasizes her unfamiliarity of her Americanized perspective on European tarot reading.Lines 52– 54. …And this card / Which is blank, is something he carries on his back, / Which I am forbidden to see. There are no blank cards within Tarot decks.
This is an additional instance I which Madame’s wicked cards present another morbid trick. Lines 54 – 55. I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water. Though she does not draw a particular card that signifies death, she does not abandon the prediction of death but merely assumes a manner of death that the cards are not indicating. In this way, Eliot is emphasizes the absurdity of card-reading.Eliot’s stanza about Madame Sosostris pokes fun at the concept of a clairvoyant as well as the desperate situation people could have potentially faced in a post apocalyptic atmosphere after World War II. His allusive style provides a depth of meaning that adds to this message while simultaneously paying tribute to the authors before him.
When research of his allusions brings few results that seem relevant to the context of the poem, one can assume that Eliot is using his language while making some arbitrary connection in his mind; this connection gains significance by its mere inclusion in the poem – The Waste Land is that groundbreaking. Notes 1. The vast majority of Eliot’s allusions are references to other literary works, not to the historical events and distortions with endless depths as I have noted.
This was his style: “No poet…has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists” (Norton 1582). However, these allusions are frequently played with in whatever way Eliot sees fit, and his notes indicate his word playing when he relates his seemingly random associations to readers by explaining: “I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience” (Norton 1588).In the case of Madame Sosostris, his convenience is often to provide supporting predictions for the remaining stanzas within The Waste Land.
?Works Cited Gibbons, Tom. “The Waste Land Tarot Identified. ” Journal of Modern Literature 2. 4 (Nov. 1972): 560-65. Print.
The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Seventh Edition: Volume D 1914-1945 (Norton Anthology of American Literature). Ed. Nina Baym.
7th ed. Vol. D. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.
Print. Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Silverman, David P. Ancient Egypt.
New York: Oxford UP, USA, 2003. Print.