And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.
And bones cast in a little low dry garret
Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year
I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
-The most tenable reading of these lines is, however, as an allusion to Northern France and the everlasting-trench-warfare of World War I.
As in “A Game of Chess” this allusion recalls “Rats' Alley”—the trench-lines in France. Stories of the rats that inhabited the tranches were somewhat of a quite peculiar obsession of Eliot’s.
- In a Nov. 1915 letter to his mother, informs her:
Maurice was home for five days leave this week…It seems so very strange that a boy of nineteen should have such experiences—often twelve hours alone in his"dug-out" in the trenches, and at night, when he cannot sleep, occupying himself by shooting rats with a revolver. What he tells about rats and vermin is incredible—Northern France is swarming, and the rats are as big as cats. His “dug-out,” where he sleeps, is underground and gets no sunlight. (CLI 121)
In the previous line the:
White bodies lying naked on the low damp ground
are in No-Mans'Land, where during the nights the fallen solders would be stripped of any equipment, clothing, and ammunition deemed plausibly recoverable. To this end the officers would send one “lucky” private out to do the salvaging.
-The bodies were left in No-Mans-Land across the wire-line.
-Early attempts to recover combat casualties from above trench-line consistently resulted a 0% KIA-recovery rate and only a 17'% survivor rate for the “grabbers.”
-Additionally, the trusty OED provides that Garret -definition 2.1- is
“A Guard Tower”
Thus, the image of the “garret,” as a guard tower, pill-box, or “dug-out” in the trench system becomes likely in considering Eliot’s letter about Morris’s trench experiences.
-The rat issues Eliot paid such keen attention to were compounded by less than ideal weather conditions and heavy, accurate artillery support from the German fire lines.
-These factors often kept certain groups of Allied forces in the same positions for over a month and a half.
-During this time they stopped disposing of the casualties which just piled up in the trenches along with, next to, and on top of the living.
-The flooding, structural collapses, inaccessibility due to debris from the ever-present shelling often closed parts of the trench system for months.
-When repair crews of engineers would clear wreckage they often found some well-fed rats and a bunch of bones gnawed almost to the point they couldn’t be identified as human. However, the boots, rings, ID tags, and belts lying amidst the bones gave the species of their owner away.
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