When I was in university I got hooked on T.S. Eliot. When I look back, I don’t know how or why this happened. This is reinforced by the fact that I have multiple books on Mr. Eliot, one of his letters and one that is a critical analysis of The Waste Land (here, see!) I am assuming that during my time at school The Waste Land was touted as ‘one of the most important poems of the 20th century!’
I guess in retrospect it doesn’t really matter why I got sucked in to this vortex, but I did.
When I saw that it was his birthday, I picked up my old Norton Anthology of Poetry, flipped through the onionskin pages and found Mr. Eliot. Oh! The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I totally forgot about that. I can’t quote much poetry, but I will say that the few lines I can, come from this poem. .
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And my personal fave:
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
How can you not love that?! Ok, maybe I’m the only one.
When I read this poem at my advanced age today, I get it, and quite frankly I like it even more than I did. I really get the anxiety that is written in the lines, (“a hundred visions and revisions”, welcome to my life) and maybe this spoke to me back in the day, and I didn’t realize it. Now that I have embraced my anxious nature, these lines really do speak to me. Well done T.S.!
Now, on to The Waste Land. If I had to guess what had me beguiled it was in the figuring out of the poem. That to be a true literary gal, I needed to figure it out. When I found out that the original title of the poem was He Do the Police in Different Voices, that was mind blowing. How cool is that?
Here is the thing, when I read this again, I actually realize that T.S. Eliot was basically showing off. Look ma, no hands! See how many obscure references I can cram into 435 lines of poetry. It reminds me of the linguistic acrobatics of <insert eye roll> David Foster Wallace (and brought me back to the reading of Infinite Jest). Just because something is not understandable and different, doesn’t make it good.
Has my life been worse off because either I never understood The Waste Land, or I didn’t retain what I learned. I actually don’t think so. The poetry of T.S. Eliot doesn’t come up much in general conversation. Quite frankly the only time it has, is when I mentioned to BJ that I was going to write a post for his birthday (T.S. Eliot, not BJ’s).
So happy birthday Thomas Stearns Eliot! I may not understand all of what you wrote, but I have fond memories of the time we spent together.
Also, let’s not forget that it was T.S. Eliot’s book of poems ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ was the inspiration for Cats.