1] The epigraph is from Dante’s Divine Comedy (Inferno, XXVII, 61-66). Count Someone-Long-long-Dead says something wise or witty about lying & Hell in Italian (I’m not really sure as I don’t speak Italian).
3] etherized = anesthetized = how readers feel by about this line
14] Michaelangelo: Italian painter, poet, and sculptor (1475-1564) not the Mutant Ninja Turtle
29] works and days = Hesiod’s Works and Days (8th-century BCE depiction of rustic life). Doesn’t add much to your understanding of the poem, just flashing my lit cred so you know I know my stuff.
42] morning coat = a formal coat with tail (not a foxtail, more like a lion’s or a cheetah’s)
52] dying fall = in Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino’s first love-sick line includes “It had a dying fall”. Eliot flashing his lit cred showing he’s read Shakespeare. He’ll do this many more times so keep those eyes ope.
60] butt-ends = the discarded, unsmoked ends of cigarettes, possibly cigars, but only rarely pipes or actual anuses.
82] exotic dancer Salome received John B’s dead head as a reward for some saucy dancing for Herod. T.S. namedropping again. (Mark 6.17-29; Matthew 14.3-11)
83] I am no prophet = More bible mic drops. Amos humble-bragging, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit” (Amos 7.14). It ain’t not great shakes to be able to gather fruits of the Ficus sycomorus, Amos, aka, fig or the fig-mulberry (because the leaves resemble those of the mulberry); a fig species that has been cultivated since ancient time.
92] Cf. how Marvell says something sort of similar in “To his Coy Mistress” but without much relevance: “Let us roll all our strength, and all / Our sweetness, up into one ball”. You get the idea, we gotta do this stuff so you realise how clever it is.
94] Lazarus = the dead dude Jesus revived. But surely you knew that already, we’re just clutching at straws now.
101] sprinkled streets = watered down to suppressed the dust, not to help the streets grow.
105] a magic lantern = device that throws a magnified image of a picture on glass onto a white screen in a dark room.
111] Prince Hamlet = Prufrock is not the noble star of Shakespeare’s longest play but rather bit players like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Pound disliked the Hamlet paragraph, but T.S. dug his heels in & wouldn’t give it up, but as Pound believed it was “the only portion of the poem that most readers will like at first reading” he didn’t see it would do much harm (Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, ed. D. D. Paige [London: Faber and Faber, 1951]: 92-93).
113] progress = fancy name for the way a royal prince travels through the English countryside, from great house to great house together with heavily-laden possession-loaded wagons, as well as sundry servants and courtiers.
117] high sentence = a phrase from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, meaning “elevated, serious and moral thoughts expressed formally.”
119] the Fool = several Shakespeare’s plays have characters called “the Fool,” but most likely referring to the king’s loyal servant and critic in King Lear.
121] the bottoms of my trousers rolled = ie, with cuffs, whacky fashion.
122-3] Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? / I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach = most commentators choose to focus on the avant-garde, potentially shocking hair-style. I however believe that the silliest rhyme in English versification cannot go unremarked upon.
NB I actually quite like TS Eliot & reread his collected works earlier this year, but I’ve had this idea about trying to write a poem only in footnotes for some time & this seemed an ideal time to test it out. Obviously a lot longer will be required to polish …