Wastelands of Beijing
About 20 km outside Beijing, tourists sitting in tour buses from Beijing north-eastwards towards the Badaling section of the Great Wall can spot the apparent remains of a medieval castle some distance from the expressway. Its concrete spires rising above a muddy corn field, the eerie shell remains as a relic of the grandiose ideas of once-powerful men who’ve since passed through the grinding mill of elite politics, corruption and prison in China. All around Beijing, architectural artefacts of previous decades remain, many decayed and going to ruin.
This article is a tour through some of the more spectacular wastelands of contemporary Beijing, places that will surely be developed into something entirely different at some point in the future – when the interest groups that control the land and construction finally make a deal they can live with.
Travel to the farthest station on Line 1 of the Beijing subway, Pingguoyuan, in Shijingshan District, and step out onto a busy Beijing boulevard of flatbed trucks, lorries and cars. Nothing to see here but a desolate suburb with little of remark, except a hulking ghost from the industrial past looming on the westernmost stretch of Chang’an Boulevard, the axis that separates Tiananmen Square from the Forbidden City. This is the former location of Shougang Company Ltd, a pig-iron plant originally founded in 1919. It became the largest steel mill in the country, sprawling from the suburbs over 8.56 square kilometers, the size of 2.7 Summer Palaces, two CBDs and three Financial Streets (source: Shougang Daily). At its peak in the 1990s, it had an annual output of 10 million tons and offered “iron rice bowls” to more than 200,000 workers.
A contented worker needed never want for anything in Shougang. The plant had its own apartment complexes, dining halls, schools, hospitals, public bathhouses, cinemas, even a newspaper – Shougang Daily, which regaled readers with stories of steel output in its triumphalist headlines; on the last day of production at the old plant, the paper published a special commemorative edition: ‘Steel was as important as food in newborn China’ ran the nostalgic front page. For many years indeed, Shougang’s steel fed the capital’s economy, and virtually the entire district that surrounded the factory. “The mill had everything,” a 52-year-old former employee told the Global Times. “We wouldn’t leave for months at a time.”
Guan Xiaomeng, 29, grew up there. “My fondest memory was the canteens,” she recalls. “Because I was about 10 or 12 when I was there, I especially liked the ice creams… That canteen used to sell its own brand of ice-cream, just called ‘Shougang Ice Cream’, which couldn’t be bought anywhere else. Growing up there was generally pretty sweet… It felt a bit like living in the sort of traditional courtyard that you see on TV.”
By the late twentieth-century, though, the Shougang plant was losing its lustre: loal residents were less willing to put up with constant, virulent pollution and all-pervading soot. In 2001, when Beijing was awarded the hosting rights for the 29th Olympic Games, these rising public concerns emerged in serious questions about pollution, quality of life and water usage (the mill required 50 million cubic meters of water annually to run). A reputation as an industrial center was no longer something to be proud of. Now the Party had invited a global sports circus to witness its coming-out, Shougang was a guest that had overstayed its welcome.
Two years after an Olympics closing ceremony seen by an estimated 2-3 billion people worldwide, a very different kind of closure was taking place in Shougang: the final stage of its departure to the islet of Caofeidian in Hebei. Toasts were raised and officials speechified, the ceremony observed by a select group of former workers and state media.
Nearly three years later, the former factory giant is slowly disintegrating behind large padlocked fences and guarded gates. Inside, among blackened stacks, are disused Soviet-style apartment blocks, a decaying workers’ hospital, an overgrown warren of gloomy tunnels, railroads and rolling stock, all rusting into oblivion.
Wandering through this industrial necropolis, it seems as though some unknown event caused the residents to vanish overnight. Rattling pipes, wrapped in cloth, still billow steam, while yellow helmets, heavy-duty gloves, industrial face-masks, welding gear and boots and ubiquitous empty noodle packets – lie as if their owners just dropped them and fled.
At other times, though, there’s a startling reminder that this place still sustains life. One man in long johns strides confidently past clutching a toothbrush; he saunters into a disused bathroom without a backward glance. A gleaming bicycle rests in one open hallway, a crack of electric light visible under the door. A pensioner takes an evening stroll through the shuttered factories. Then there are sights that just seem bizarre: a phalanx of huge wild plants, resembling Triffids, block a road beside a lawn as neatly trimmed as a bowling green.
Now Shougang’s future is with the local government, who hope to turn it into a “Central Recreational District” that will somehow honor its past glories. Nearly 30 reporters were taken to the factory before the 18th Party Congress in November and told of plans to turn the area into a factory of a very different kind, cranking out animation, telecommunications and arts in place of steel and soot.
Taking their cue from art zones in Beijing and Shanghai, some of the plant’s distinctive architecture will be preserved, providing what Xinhua calls “a spot of industrial tourism.” For sure, it’s hard to imagine a better symbol of China’s changing image: a giant of the Soviet planned economy, remolded into a mechanism of soft power in the era of the free market.
Yet Shougang’s story is as much about what was left behind as what is supposed to come. The plant’s migration to Hebei in 2010 deprived 22,000 workers of a job they probably expected for life, and many found themselves cut adrift without any kind of social safety net (6,000 workers were sent to new plants, with a further 6,000 remaining to “man the facilities,” according to the Global Times article). Some have made their way back to scratch a living as scavengers or squatters, while others simply seem unable to escape its shadow.
One youngish-looking “black cab” driver dawdles outside the gate. A child of Shougang, like Guan he vividly remembers the factory’s dining halls, where dinner was usually noodles and steam buns. At 31, though, he seems slightly adrift; there’s not a lot of work for laid-off steel workers or their families.
Still, on the way out, there’s a queue of about a dozen workers waiting to collect box suppers from inside a corrugated building on the very outskirts of the factory’s edge. Their foreman chafes at them to hurry: there’s a bus on the way. When the cogs were still turning all over Shougang, such a scene must have been commonplace. Now, of course, it’s an unexpected rarity. And although there are plenty who might disagree, that doesn’t necessarily always have to be a bad thing. “As long as Shougang can stay in operation, unlike those Olympic facilities that aren’t in use anymore, it should be fine – however that is,” says Guan. “I’ve read many articles saying Beijing has huge potential for the development of its ‘cultural industry.’ Now that the central government is promoting it, you can either call this industry ‘soft power’ – or more simply, ‘what’s profitable.’”
The Homko Club
The Homko Club had everything a wealthy Chinese businessman needed. Inside a gated compound, the Grecian-style club offered members a chance to unwind in comfort, with a fully equipped gym, swimming pool with jacuzzi, steam rooms and sauna, bar, billiards, mahjong, massage and the convenience of private bedrooms, in which a weary (or eager) member could find succour with a personal masseuse in secluded comfort.
Despite amenities fit for an ancient emperor – or, perhaps, a mid-level provincial official – membership at the Homko remains at an all-time low of zero. In the 25-meter swimming pool, mounds of concrete rise from the frozen surface. The bar is bereft of bottles; no sighs will ever be heard from its bedrooms, because the Homko has long been abandoned.
The story of what happened here, and the dozens of grandiose houses in the surrounding area, remain a mystery to this day. Now, half a decade after all life left this luxury location, the truth is beginning to emerge about a project that began before the Olympics, back when borderline-hazardous air was considered normal. Housing developments were beginning to spring up on the edges of town, providing some blue-sky respite from the smoggy centre. It was then that villas by the Beichen Group, a Beijing-based realtor also known as Beijing North Star, were built just north-west of the Summer Palace.
It is afterwards, though, that the story becomes unclear. The development had the bad luck to impinge on government plans to remake the surrounding area – a tangle of overgrown pastures and forest, home to only homeless and drug addicts – into the beautified, landscaped area now known as the Olympic Forest Park. The expensive compound was marked for demolition, and served as the temporary offices of the Park’s management, yet oddly remains standing long after.
Controversy finally blew up around the villas in December, instigated by an anonymous netizen almost as shady-sounding as the scandal he claims to have uncovered. According to the Weibo user calling himself “Mengzi Mencius” (the pseudonym is a combination of Wade-Giles and Pinyin translations of the Confucian philosopher, Mencius), the whole area is illegally owned by the Red Cross Society of China. The post spread quickly, forcing the beleaguered charity to issue a brief statement, denying that the Red Cross owned any property at the park and adding that the allegations were being investigated. Olympic Park representatives said the villas lack any property deeds and are currently under their management.
“Now the Red Cross is hiring its own people to investigate itself, there’s probably never gonna be a way to find out [the truth],” scoffed Mencius, who claims to be CEO of a dating website called 7SOYO. Specializing in exposing corruption in the charity sector, Mencius is one of a growing number of “people’s supervisory activists,” citizen journalists who interpret new leader Xi Jinping’s reformist rhetoric as an anti-corruption call to arms.
But Mencius reckons the case is murkier and more dangerous than at first suggested. “Even you [foreigners] won’t dare to investigate it,” he warned in an email interview. The Red Cross uses a two-room, seven-employee accountancy firm, an usually small accounting operation considering the amounts of money involved. “To protect my source,” Mencius said, “I can’t release more proof [but if the Red Cross investigation] differs from the facts, I’ll be providing more materials until the truth comes out.”
However, he adds tantalizingly, the story goes further than the mere quotidian misuse of public funds: “The water is deep and there are bigger parties involved.”
Wonderland is visible from the Beijing-Tibet (aka Badaling) Expressway, just north of Changping. Wonderland was a proposed 100-acre ‘Luxury Brand Outlet Mall and Eco-Resort,’ planned during the tenure of Beijing mayor Chen Xitong (1992-1995). Right next to the direct route to the most popular location for tourists to visit the Great Wall, the development was supposed to attract tourists in their millions and generate billions in annual revenue for Huabin (aka the Reignwood Group) and its investors. All that remains today, however, is a series of fairytale façades, some rusty signs and a giant concrete castle, whose greying edifice seem to echo Neuschwanstein’s dreamlike spires more evocatively than even Disney imagined. Now this doomed tower looks over only mud and corn, and its land has long since been re-appropriated by farmers.Just up the road from it is another Chen pipe dream, the Oriental City That Never Sleeps (Dongfeng Buyecheng), a curious collection of Ancient Greek-style Doric columns and archways, surrounded by empty concrete houses and a half-finished amphitheater. Spread across 250 mu (about 41 acres) of farmland, this was to have been the site of a luxury gambling resort for the newly emerging super-rich of China in the early 1990s.
Cycling past these ruins, though, local resident Old Liu is scornful of what remains of the phantom project. “It was big news at the time,” he says. “Clearly, they wanted a place for eating, drinking, playing and having fun… and who cares if it was legal? Today, if you have money, you’re king.”
This particular king fell from his throne rather prematurely, however.
Both Wonderland and the Oriental City went down with former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong, who, in the 1990s, spearheaded what became the capital’s signature real estate: vast, usually empty, “luxury” malls. Chen steamrollered such projects through often-flagrant violations of building codes and other rules – such as in the case of the infamous 1994 forced eviction of McDonald’s flagship restaurant from its 20-year lease in Wangfujing, to build the Oriental Plaza,a project funded by the aptly named Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man. By 1998, Chen was purged, sentenced to 16 years for graft, his associates jailed and his legacy disgraced.
Despite a doomed attempt to revive Wonderland by cashing in on the growing Olympics fever in 2005, this and similar Chen projects, like the so-called ‘Romance Park of the Heart’ in Yuquanlu (now demolished, sadly, but forever preserved in its full, crumbling, weed-strewn glory here), remain never-never lands. The deals that created them are long defunct, yet the half-finished buildings remarkably linger on.
Beijing Amusement Park
Once upon a time, it had been somewhere to go. The Beijing Amusement Park (北京游乐园 Beijing Youleyuan) was a first for the capital, an attraction sufficient to lure round 2.4 million visitors a year, with rides such as Splash Mountain, a ‘4D’ cinema and a rollercoaster. Today, it’s just another desolate and slightly dangerous relic.
Where thousands of families once swarmed, now only a 12-year-old boy called Ding roams free. The son of a local caretaker, he spends his afternoons prowling a domain 750 mu across, which once included a lake (now filled), and stretched over bridges (barred with steel plates), restaurants and concession stands (boarded-up and empty), a mountain (dismantled), and a place known as the Magic Road (wreathed in dirty shrouds, any of its magic has long since hit the road).
Ding first appeared at an awkward moment: as I was sneaking into the park with the photographer. The sound of footsteps, while crawling on all fours over someone else’s tin roof, is usually cause for alarm, but when the grinning Ding turned up, everybody relaxed.
The park’s 150 workers were laid off years ago but, far from being completely deserted, the place was soon taken over by an “abandonment economy”: security guards, sweepers and groundskeepers, who all ceaselessly patrol the grounds (though the only people wanting to get in seem to be us) and the boy is adept at dodging them. He’s useful. As he tells us, “I get chased by angry cleaning women all the time.”
When the Beijing Amusement Park shut down for good, it wasn’t just the staff that felt the pain, though. While those without skills faced an uncertain future they hadn’t anticipated, locals who saw the park as a pivotal part of their childhoods were confronted with the fleeting nature of the past in China.
“Don’t take away our memories,” pleaded messages scrawled on the gates after they closed; these wistful farewells were soon painted over but visitors who forlornly loitered outside the shuttered park in 2010 were keen to express their sense of loss and confusion. “There are less and less genuine old Beijing things,” one office worker told China Daily in an extensive eulogy to the 23-year-old park. She felt lost in the modern city: “Beijing is getting further and further away from the city of my childhood memories.”
Ding, too, is prone to sentiment. Initially boastful (“I used to come here all the time with my friends and break windows… look at my knife… I’m training to be a ninja”), he grew sober as the sun drew down on the Ferris wheel, now rusted permanently still. “Actually, when I think I about it, it makes me feel sad. This place used to be so full of life.”
A joint Sino-Japanese venture whose luck ran out once the zestier Happy Valley opened in 2006, the park’s business affairs are still being unraveled. The land was in the hands of the Chongwen District government which became part of Dongcheng District in 2010. There is talk of grand plans for a new kind of entertainment complex with bowling, arcades, themed restaurants and 34 cinema screens. Wealthy comedian Zhao Benshan and former NBA player Yao Ming are among those whose names are being floated around as key investors.
In the good old days, flowerbeds greeted visitors with bright purple blooms – a color traditionally associated with prosperity and wealth. Since that dried up, the guards have put them to more practical use: cabbages replace the posies. There’s a kind of strange beauty to the ruins, at least. “It’s not safe here,” one middle-aged security guard scolded us. He agreed to show us round, with one proviso: “Just tell [the other guards] you’re my friends, otherwise I’ll get fined!”
Standing next to the keeled-over remains of a Santa Claus, he said his appreciation for the landscape of the Beijing Amusement Park still runs high. “The lake is wonderful,” he said (it’s now mostly filled with rocks and debris, with a few pedal boats half-sunken among the stagnant lilies). Yet the guard is impressed. “It’s beautiful to take pictures with the ducks here.”
A quartet of wildfowl wheel over the marshy waters as the sun sets on. At the park’s edge, a train rattles by the rusting remains of the rollercoaster, giving the brief illusion of movement among its skeleton structure, silhouetted in the twilight. Far away, beyond the outskirts, headlights glimpsed rushing across the Second Ring Road show a city unconcerned, busy going about its nightly business. But inside the empty Beijing Amusement Park, all is serene.
The village of Guangheli is an unlikely survivor of Beijing’s rushed development: Surrounded on all sides by rearing tenement blocks, what’s left is more a partially demolished hamlet in downtown Jinsong, just south of Beijing’s so-called CBD, with its iconic Rem Koolhaas-designed CCTV building. This was the countryside in imperial Beijing, when the city limits were clear as the Qing city walls. They no longer exist but their ancient route is now marked by the congested Second Ring Road; Guangheli has become downtown Beijing.
In Guangheli, cats roost on huge piles of rubble, chickens strut and peck at rubbish between half-destroyed walls and the ruined houses, long-since relinquished, are home only to feral life. Tombstones, the remnants of what some residents say was an old Qing Dynasty cemetery, lie rather appropriately broken-up into slabs of useless granite. The area used to be home to one of Beijing’s biggest markets. But although vendors still do a quick street trade less than a minute away, Guangheli itself is deathly quiet, bar the occasional territorial yapping of someone’s dog. A door opens and suddenly, out peers a wrinkled and curious face – people still live here in the shadow of the wrecking ball, with the surrounding residential towers to constantly remind them of the inevitable.
One such holdout is Pan Zhenliang, a cheerful septuagenarian who keeps pigeons, as well as a huge and feisty Dalmatian. The big dog gets shepherded into a side room after we accept his invitation to tea; what follows is a pragmatic tale on the dynamics of demolition.
“All this was once full of farmers, growing vegetables and living quite poorly in communes,” Pan explains, about the time the local government began building new housing. At first, this wasn’t a problem. The original communes were not well built and their crowded living space meant privacy was an unheard-of luxury; after the state began developing the land, lives improved. “But then it developed into an industry… the city expanded and the old part was gone.”
Pan’s situation is as old as the Property Law – he’s not happy with his current level of compensation, which currently amounts to 600,000 yuan for 200 square metres, or four new houses in the suburbs. Pan knows what he wants: he’s holding out for a pair of two-bedroom apartments for him and his wife (“facing south, like this”) and two three-bedroom apartments for his daughter. His neighbors, he says, were not so well-off as he and so were glad to accept their initial offer. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not from a dirt-poor family, I’m not homeless, nor do I have any problem with my current house,” he reasons. Then he lays down as it is: “I ain’t leaving unless there’s a sweet deal, and if the demolition team comes – I’m 70 years old, what am I afraid of?”
Judging from his neighbors’ laundry lines, with their telltale fifties’ fashion, the only holdouts left in Guangheli are just like him – old enough not to take anything lying down, too old to care if anyone does.
“[Thugs hired by developers] chucked bricks across my wall a few years ago and the police were called,” Pan recalls. His situation, he says, proves that the government is on his side: “Demolitions are covered all over the media; reporting on it has become totally official now.”
In Pan’s cluttered sitting room, the only other sound is the soft cooing of his pigeons, which he’s proud to say are specially imported, and the bark of the Dalmatian, who’s excited to be free again. But the roar of the bulldozers, he knows, grows ever closer as a reality. Guangheli is one of the last of its kind, a real, traditional village in Beijing that’s still standing – just about – inside the ring roads that demarcate the centre.
Links and sources
Global Times: ‘Red Cross does not own villa complex: Olympic Park officials’
Sanlitun history: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_486bca6a010007ti.html
Photos of Sanlitun redevelopment: http://patricksloan.net/2011/03/the-old-beijing-3-2/
Journalists visit Shougang for Xinhua: http://www.cpcnews.cn/n/2012/1104/c350002-19490017.html
Global Times: ‘So Long, Shougang’; ‘Culture Vulture’
LA Times: A smug reporter misses the point
Annex: The Waste Land
Text below from The Gutenberg Project.
THE WASTE LAND
by T.S. Eliot
“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo.”
I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten, 10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different 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. 30
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
- Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od’ und leer das Meer.
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations. 50
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
Unreal City, 60
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae! 70
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Line 42 Od’] Oed’ – Editor.
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frere!”
II. A GAME OF CHESS
The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out 80
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid – troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended 90
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carved dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale 100
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still. 110
“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”
I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
Nothing again nothing. 120
“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag -
It’s so elegant
So intelligent 130
“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said -
I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself, 140
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said. 150
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.) 160
The chemist said it would be alright, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot -
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight. 170
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
III. THE FIRE SERMON
The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors; 180
Departed, have left no addresses.
Line 161 ALRIGHT. This spelling occurs also in
the Hogarth Press edition – Editor.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse 190
Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck
And on the king my father’s death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter 200
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d.
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants 210
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives 220
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest -
I too awaited the expected guest. 230
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence; 240
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .
She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover; 250
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.
“This music crept by me upon the waters”
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street, 260
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.
The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails 270
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars 280
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
Weialala leia 290
“Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.”
“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised ‘a new start’.
I made no comment. What should I resent?”
“On Margate Sands. 300
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest 310
IV. DEATH BY WATER
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, 320
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
V. WHAT THE THUNDER SAID
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience 330
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit 340
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water 350
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
Who is the third who walks always beside you? 360
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?
What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth 370
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light 380
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.
It has no windows, and the door swings, 390
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder 400
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms 410
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar 420
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon – O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie 430
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih