I'm reading T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land (which you can read for free online) and one particular line stuck out at me:

Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—

I have two questions. Is there any symbolism associated with the food "hot gammon"? And what's up with the phrase "to get the beauty of it hot"? Since the passage this quote comes from discusses adultery, is it possible that the phrase "get the beauty of it hot" is referring to something other than the hot gammon?

  • I think your second question should be it's own question. – user72 Jan 18 '17 at 22:47
  • @EasterlyIrk I disagree, both questions are related, and an answer to one question would necessarily discuss the other question. – user111 Jan 18 '17 at 22:49
  • discuss != answer the second question (or the first) – user72 Jan 18 '17 at 22:50
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    I wonder if this question might be improved by adding some wider context, i.e. more lines from the poem around this quote? At first glance it looks as though you've just picked a random quote and are trying to read a lot of meaning into it when it could mean nothing more than what it looks like literally ... but after looking at the poem and seeing the "hurry up please it's time" lines on either side, I do agree it looks as though this passage has some greater interest or significance. – Rand al'Thor Mar 5 '17 at 17:59

In the paper "Gloss on 'Gammon' in The Waste Land, II, Line 166" (available on JSTOR), Sukhbir Singh points out that the word gammon has two meanings. Gammon can refer to a type of food, specifically the cured hind leg of a hog. But gammon is also a verb meaning "to make pretense" or to say deceitful things. On a very basic level, the use of the word gammon is a pun referring to both the dinner and the implied affair.

The pun goes a bit further. Gammon was thought to be an aphrodisiac, so the word gammon is yet another reference to sex. And Eliot refers to sexuality again by describing the gammon as "hot"; hot refers to sexual desire.

These two lines make a comparison sexual desire and hunger for food. Singh makes the argument that this comparison supports the theme in The Waste Land of humanity's degeneration. If you want to learn more about that, I would encourage you to check out Singh's paper.

  • "hot is slang for sexual desire" - does that usage of "hot" really go back as far as 1922? – Rand al'Thor Mar 5 '17 at 17:55
  • It goes back a bit farther ... The Canterbury Tales has "And hoot he was and lecherous as a Sparwe" (Prologue l.628). – Gareth Rees Feb 7 '18 at 14:02

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