Labor’s life and life’s forever

After re-reading “The Wasteland” this past week I had this crazy realization at how a lot of things come full circle in the broad scene that is the artistic world.  Now keep with me, because this train of thought makes sense to me, but it’s kind of weird/interesting.

In Eliot’s “The Wasteland” he uses the quote “”Oed’ und leer das Meer” from Tristan and Isolde.  It says in the footnote that this means “Desolate and empty is the sea” and is made while the near death Tristan is waiting for Isolde.  And while the quote’s gloomy sentiment is opposite of what I mean to get at in this post, it has a purpose.

In Ted Leo and the Pharmacists song “Biomusicology” he also uses this quote towards the end of the song.  After reading the lyrics to the song closely, and being originally and horribly wrong at what I thought was his negative use of the quote, I realized he was really writing his lyrics in a Whitmanian style.  Take this section of lyrics:

All in all,
we cannot stop singing.
We cannot start sinking.
We swim until it ends.
They may kill
and we may be parted.
but we will ne’er be broken-hearted.

When I read these I found them so reminiscent of “I Hear America Singing” it kind of blew me away.  Not even the general tone, but it seems he is making certain references throughout the entire song as well.  Whitman catalogs the mechanics, the carpenter, the mason, etc.  He notes these as what I assume as hardworking Americans — the definition of America.  In Ted Leo’s song he seems to make reference to the first arrival of New England settlers:

Had we never come across the vastness of pavement
The barrenness of waves and the grayness of the sea
Never lost or ne’er been misguided
We’d have ne’er reached seas so shining

And then continues on to mention laborers in general.  I’d like to think that when Ted Leo wrote the section of lyrics posted above — the end of the song — that he was referencing Whitman’s closing to “I Hear America Singing.”

Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

Here’s the song:

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