Posts filed under ‘Thomas Stearns Eliot’

La Figlia Che Piange

T.S. Eliot

Listen (to Hoon read)

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.

‘s commentary,

“the girl who weeps”

A remembered love-
& the way the mind uses memories,
reworks, arranges things,
into a pattern that is more to its liking.
Hence the directorial tone that begins the poem,
the string of verbs in the imperative voice.

The poem is surely inspired by Emily Hale whom
Eliot fell in love with while at Harvard,
who shared a love for the theatre,
and would remain semi-attached to Eliot for the rest of her life,
and would become a recurring figure, in a veiled sense,
through several of his early works.

The lines:
“So he would have left / As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, /
As the mind deserts the body it has used.”
reflects Eliots’s innate asceticism, his revulsion at sexuality,
and the misogyny that these feelings, perhaps inevitably, engender.
We witness here an artificer deriving a cruel pleasure
from a rearrangement of the memories of the incident.

Finally the auxilliary “woulds” are succeeded by a firm verb in the past tense:
“She turned away…” Are we finally getting at the truth?

Stepping back, as it were, he notes, both amusedly and pathetically:
“I should have lost a gesture and a pose”,
as though the arranged memories and his smug air of superiority
could be more fulfilling than an authentic loving relation.

Finally,”Sometimes these cogitations still amaze / the troubled midnight and
the noon’s repose.”
both the “sometimes” and the supercilious “cogitations”
create a distance and containment of the unfulfilled longing the speaker feels,
while, in the end, hinting at other imaginative practices.
see: Lyndall Gordon’s T. S. Eliot: an imperfect life London, Vintage 1998 pp. 75-85.


June 4, 2007 at 7:34 pm 5 comments

To the Indians who died in Africa

T. S. Eliot


A man’s destination is his own village,
His own fire, and his wife’s cooking;
To sit in front of his own door at sunset
And see his grandson, and his neighbour’s grandson
Playing in the dust together.

Scarred but secure, he has many memories
Which return at the hour of conversation,
(The warm or the cool hour, according to the climate)
Of foreign men, who fought in foreign places,
Foreign to each other.

A man’s destination is not his destiny,
Every country is home to one man
And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely
At one with his destiny, that soil is his.
Let his village remember.

This was not your land, or ours: but a village in the Midlands,
And one in the Five Rivers, may have the same graveyard.
Let those who go home tell the same story of you:
Of action with a common purpose, action
None the less fruitful if neither you nor we
Know, until the judgement after death,
What is the fruit of action. 

Another of these ‘soldier dying far from home’ poems – except this one is, in a way, a neat inversion of Brooke’s The Soldier. What resonates for me from this poem is Eliot’s talent for the prophetic tone, his ability to invest the simplest phrase with meaning, make it seem profound and absolute. But I also love the way the poem starts so calmly, in the dreamlike adagio of a distant sunset, and it’s only half way through that the first minor chord ushers in that aching sense of loss, that note of tragedy. There is no bragging here, no fanciful imagery: Eliot is uncompromising about the truth (“This was not your land, or ours”). This is a poem about a sadness that cannot be justified, but must be accepted. And I love the way that Eliot, ever the erudite master, ends the poem with a line and a sentiment that comes almost straight out of the Bhagavad Gita.


February 7, 2007 at 4:14 pm 9 comments

A Note on War Poetry

T.S. Eliot


Not the expression of collective emotion
Imperfectly reflected in the daily papers.
Where is the point at which the merely individual
Explosion breaks

In the path of an action merely typical
To create the universal, originate a symbol
Out of the impact — This is a meeting
On which we attend

Of forces beyond control by experiment —
Of Nature and the Spirit. Mostly the individual
Experience is too large, or too small. Our emotions
Are only ‘incidents’

In the effort to keep day and night together.
It seems just possible that a poem might happen
To a very young man : but a poem is not poetry —
That is a life.

War is not a life : it is a situation ;
One which may neither be ignored nor accepted,
A problem to be met with ambush and stratagem,
Enveloped or scattered.

The enduring is not a substitute for the transient,
Neither one for the other. But the abstract conception
Of private experience at its greatest intensity
Becoming universal, which we call ‘poetry’,
May be affirmed in verse.

After Milton’s stirring prologue, it’s time to begin the war theme in earnest – this time on a more restrained, meditative note. This is not, in my opinion, one of Eliot’s better efforts – indeed, it is little more than a collection of finely wrought sentences strung together to make a poem – and yet it is topical, and Eliot’s standards are high enough so that what is for him a fairly ordinary line, is, by any other yardstick, sheer brilliance.

I love the way Eliot tosses in “the abstract conception / of private experience at its greatest intensity / becoming universal, which we call poetry” as if it were common knowledge, rather than a stunning definition he has newly coined. And I love the professorial tone of the poem, polished yet precise, the way the poem takes a single phrase, dissects it, exposes each part to its analytical light, drawing out its exact distinctions, and then, unexpectedly, introduces that final “But” and implodes into grudging acceptance.


December 24, 2006 at 1:48 am 1 comment

Ash Wednesday – I

T.S. Eliot


Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

(One of our readers wrote in the other day requesting this)
Yes, we do requests. At least we do them when someone requests an old favourite like this one.

This is, quite simply, an incredible poem. a virtuoso performance by the greatest of all masters [1]. The sheer sound of it is overwhelming – the fluidity, the incantatory rhythm. The words themselves are simple, deceptively so, but the exonerable gravity of the poem turns them into a cascade of soul-shattering power. Every line of this poem has the ring of eternal truth, and merely to read it aloud is to experience as dizzying a sense of upheaval, of awe, that language is capable of. Ash Wednesday is both prayer and confession, nostalgia and plea. It is a poem whose shadow falls over all of us.

[1] It is a testament to Eliot’s talent, that for all the genius of this poem, it is, in my opinion, far from being his best work. It’s always seemed to me that Ash Wednesday is an in-between poem, stuck between the two sublime extremes of the Eliot of Prufrock and other observations and the Eliot of the Four Quartets.


May 28, 2006 at 1:48 am Leave a comment

Macavity: The Mystery Cat

T. S. Eliot

Listen (to the Mystery Cat read)

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw –
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air –
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Mcavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square –
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair –
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair –
But it’s useless to investigate – Mcavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
`It must have been Macavity!’ – but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place – MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

Finally we have Macavity, where Macavity wasn’t there! A guest recording by Mystery Cat.

Eliot and the Old Possum need no introduction. Neither does Macavity. And while you are at it something on Prof. Moriarty too.

note: The series on ‘new’ poetry will continue. Consider this just a defiance of Law, a deceitful and suave move by the Napoleon of Crime :)


April 20, 2006 at 6:34 pm 3 comments

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T. S. Eliot

Listen (to Eliot read)

Listen (to Sir Antony Hopkins read)

S`io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo. 

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
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...
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. 

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep. 

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea. 

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo. 

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair---
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin---
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. 

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume? 

And I have known the eyes already, known them all---
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume? 

And I have known the arms already, known them all---
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin? 

. . . . . 

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?... 

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. 

. . . . . 

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep...tired...or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon
a platter,
I am no prophet --- and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid. 

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, "That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all." 

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor
And this, and so much more?
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all." 

. . . . . 

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or to
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous---
Almost, at times, the Fool. 

I grow old...I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. 

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 

I do not think they will sing to me. 

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black. 

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Til human voices wake us, and we drown.

(audio copyright held by The Poetry Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts )


February 3, 2006 at 12:47 pm 5 comments

The Waste Land

T. S. Eliot

Listen (to Eliot read)

I. The Burial of the Dead

II. A Game of Chess

III. The Fire Sermon

IV. What the Thunder Said

The Waste Land in ascii can be found here.


January 30, 2006 at 10:15 am Leave a comment