Drought special part 1. What did TS Eliot write about drought?


Welcome back to Muscles of Quartz! Over the next week or so you’ll learn about the special issue on drought just published in Science. The articles have already received a lot of mainstream media coverage. I’m gonna ignore all that and focus squarely on the science of water resources management and hydrology.

Except today.

Today’s post is about poetry…

The first article in the series is called Dry Times and is written by the editors. This is just an intro to the series, and not noteworthy other than the mention of TS Eliot, who allegedly wrote that drought is the “death of the earth,” finding much inspiration in droughts in his poetry. So I thought I’d share some of his zingers relating to water.

From The Waste Land, which depicts a post-war wasteland:

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.


Here is no water but only rock. Rock and no water and the sandy road.

I think there’s rock but no water.

Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit.

I think that means the catchment isn’t generating runoff.

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.

Drought break?

From Burnt Norton:

To look down into the drained pool. Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged, And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight, And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly, The surface glittered out of heart of light, And they were behind us, reflected in the pool. Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

Your guess is as good as mine.

From The Dry Salvages:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable, Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier; Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce

Time the destroyer is time the preserver, Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops, The bitter apple, and the bite in the apple. And the ragged rock in the restless waters, Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it

I don’t fancy running my boat into that rock.