T. S. Eliot
June 19, 2012
I loved him the first time we met. T. S. Eliot. Such a theatrical name. But it fit. He was a collagist. Cut and pasted his poems together (look at his name) with the help of Ezra Pound. His readings were like the slow opening of a rusted gate.
LET us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats 5 Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question…. 10 Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.
He liked to pose for pictures. I don’t know why. He looks the same in every one.
Everything is interiorized. Even sex seems plodding.
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired, Endeavours to engage her in caresses Which still are unreproved, if undesired. Flushed and decided, he assaults at once; Exploring hands encounter no defence; 240 His vanity requires no response, And makes a welcome of indifference. (And I Tiresias have foresuffered all Enacted on this same divan or bed; I who have sat by Thebes below the wall 245 And walked among the lowest of the dead.) Bestows one final patronizing kiss, And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit…
Maybe she’s just not into him. But this sounds like criticism. Actually I love the Wasteland and Love Song and most of Eliot’s early work. But upon re-reading I’m not sure that this isn’t writing from a young man for young men. If you are young you still have years ahead of you. Pessimism seems bearable. When you are near the end, pessimism seems like a luxury you can’t afford. It is theatrical. Like smiling at people you meet a hundred times a day.
Here is a virtual reading by Eliot. Its quite effective.
And here is Marlon Brando reading Hollow Men… Brando’s voice is wonderful.
Eliot was the icon of the 20th century poet. He sounded and looked the part. But he (or at least his work) became what he most abhored I think. So many pretentious thesis and essays written on his work. So many wine and cheese parties with people mouthing his words. To each other. The women come and go talking of …. T. S. Eliot.
There is a wonderful series of correspondence between Eliot and Groucho Marx. I’m sure most people would side with Groucho on their relationship. But probably not Groucho. Humor is a salve on existential dread. Or young man’s angst as I like to think of Eliot.
When I was in college if I had Eliot as a professor, I probably would not have gone to class. His coldness and lack of humor would have come across as pretension. It would of course have been my loss. I still love Eliot but I do not read him often. He’s like a memory of when I took myself and the world very seriously.