Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Did Michael Hirst sneak T.S. Eliot into Vikings again?

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If RowellTheBlade is picking up on an Eliot allusion in the final scene, it’s because there have been direct quotations from the poet earlier in the show’s run. In episode 2 of season 6, when Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig) is asking the Seer (John Kavanaugh) for advice, the Seer says, “From either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” which is a direct quotation from “The Waste Land.” Apparently the Seer could see into the future all the way to 1922, when “The Waste Land” was published, and was interested in Modernist poetry.

Before that, in episode 18 of season 5, King Olaf (Steven Berkoff) appears before Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø) as the Buddha in a torture-induced vision and says “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” (“Give. Sympathize. Control.”) This is the second-to-last line of “The Waste Land,” and is actually a quote from Hindu scripture, not Buddhist.

The first time Eliot appeared in Vikings was in season 3, episode 9, when Hirst lifted a section of Eliot’s 1936 poem “Burnt Norton” (the first of his Four Quartets set of poems) and gave it to King Ecbert (Linus Roache), who recites a section of the poem to Princess Judith (Jennie Jacques), his daughter-in-law whom he lusts after. These are the words of a man who wishes he was with someone who is with someone else:

“What might have been is an abstraction/ Remaining a perpetual possibility/ Only in a world of speculation./ What might have been and what has been/ Point to one end, which is always present./ Footfalls echo in the memory/ Down the passage which we did not take/ Towards the door we never opened”

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