I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
One of the most famous lines of the poem, later alluded to in the title of Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust.
The line evokes the fear of dying: “dust to dust,” as in the Book of Common Prayer. Eliot probably also has in mind these lines from Tennyson’s Maud: A Monodrama:
Dead, long dead,
And my heart is a handful of dust,
And the wheels go over my head…
In the context of the poem, Eliot may be getting at a more metaphorical kind of death, the “death in life” that is profound grief or burnt-out sexual passion.
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