Eliot. University of Minnesota Press, 1970.
Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays (1962).
The poem changes its figuration of gender with the introduction of Tiresias. Eliotstates in a note to the passage that "the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias in fact, is the substance of the poem" -- a declaration that critics have tendedto view rather skeptically. But what Tiresias sees is the sight that the poem hasheretofore evaded: the meeting of the sexes, a meeting that Tiresias experiences byidentifying with the female. As the typist awaits her visitor, Tiresias asserts, "Itoo awaited the expected guest," and at the moment when the house agent's clerk"assaults" her, he states, "And I Tiresias, have foresuffered all," aposition assumed again in the lines spoken by La Pia. Paradoxically, when the poem assumesthe position of the female, male character becomes far more prominent: in the satiricportrait of the house agent's clerk, which is the first extended satiric male portrait inthe poem, in the image of the fishermen, and in the extended fisherman's narrative thatoriginally began Part IV and concludes with the death of Phlebas. As if repeating thedoubleness of identification that Tiresias represents, that death affords at once thedefinitive separation of male identity and a fantasy of its separation of male identityand a fantasy of its dissolution as "He passed the stages of his age and youth /Entering the whirlpool."
Eliot - A collection of Critical Essays.
The one place where Eliot attaches a specific historical experience to the speakingvoice of the poem -- the episode of the hyacinth girl -- supports such a reading. Theepisode begins with the speaker's quoting a woman who addressed him, recalling a gift hegave her: "You gave me hyacinths first a year ago." The speaker then describeshis own consciousness of that moment in their relationship. When they came back from theHyacinth garden, her arms full and her hair wet, he could not speak and his eyes failed,he was neither living nor dead, and he knew nothing, "looking into the heart oflight, the silence." Perhaps in recognition of the special status that this episodehas by virtue of its attachment to the poet's "I," many critics have found in itthe emotional center of the poem. The moment offers some revelation of spiritual anderotic fullness ("the heart of light"), but the speaker portrays himself asunequal to it. Speech and vision fail him, and he ends the passage by borrowing thearticulation of another poem (),a ventriloquizedvoice that is not his own, that reveals him at a loss for words. We have here a Tiresiaswho, at the moment of sexual illumination, loses not only his sight but his voice as well,a seer who does not gain prophetic power from sexual knowledge. As in his early poetry,Eliot represents the moment of looking at a woman as one that decomposes his voice.