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05/04/2015

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I too read "Prufrock" at 16, with exactly the effect you describe so well. I had thrilled to read "Jabberwocky" and "The Death of Ned Kelly" and "Ozymandias" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (and perhaps others that I now forget) - but uncritically, without consciousness of the poetic.

A few weeks ago I finished my American Literature course with "The 'Boston Evening Transcript'". I thought "Prufrock" would be too much for the time available. I told them it was worth reading, but who knows if they'll ever read it now? Perhaps I shouldn't have withheld it from them.

Really excellent. I can't wait til I have time to re-read it more slowly.

AMDG

Depends completely on the students, I guess. My immediate reaction is pessimistic, based on what I see of college students. But then those who would be interested in "Prufrock" have always been few. The one about Cousin Nancy might be another good short one.

"Ozymandias" is the exception to my general lack of response to Shelley's poetry.

Yeah, but I like Sandburg's take on that better. ;-)

AMDG

Glad y'all like the piece, but Eliot did most of the work.

So, all those lines of prose are some kind of spirit writing?

AMDG

No, I have no patience with Shelley but for that one poem.

I just watched an episode of Inspector Lewis where Shelley was darn near venerated.

AMDG

exactly the same view here about Ozymandias

my name keeps getting wiped out below too - on my desk top, my lap top, and on my phone!

I was once reading "Four Quartets" while on holiday, reclining on a rock beside a stream. Two men walked by and one of them, as he was passing, said with some hesitance: "Are your reading 'Four Quartets'?" I nodded, and I'll never forget the look of happy amazement that came over his face. He shook his head and walked on. I wish I knew what he was thinking.

Another time I was reading it in a Vietnamese restaurant over a big bowl of noodles. A gentleman leaving the restaurant paused by my table and began reciting the lines about "...and know the place for the first time". This was a few blocks from the university campus, so he may have been a professor.

Is Eliot generally regarded as among the great 20th century poets by academics? His technical brilliance would be hard to overlook, but I would imagine that many of his thoughts -- or, to put it as you did, much of his thought -- is not palatable to certain types. I wonder if there might be a kind of ideological disqualification at work. I hope not.

I read Prufrock in HS, too, as an assignment and got it right way--I had a good teacher. Being already under the influence of Tolkien and the "back to the land" movement (which attracted me to C&T in the first place), I did everything I could, and have since continued to do so, to avoid having an interior life like that. I actually believe it is possible to avoid. I think I'm in the minority on that point, even on this blog.

Your quote from the Four Quartets is tantalizing. I'll probably get to it this summer after rereading Grammar of Assent. "The rest is not our business." Indeed! Tolkien said something very similar--or at least Gandalf did.

I have my kids memorize Ozymandias.

I am now re-reading (or perhaps reading for the first time after Janet’s fine introduction to Thomas Howard) Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I am remembering from long ago the line “the light is still / At the still point of the turning world.” According to Howard’s explication in Dove Descending, “it is that still point to which we must come if we are not to be forever whirled and whirled . . . there is no escape, even among the lovely things, from our End. The choice is ours: either to opt for perpetual distraction and hence blunder on to the End and find it to be calamity or to ‘descend’ toward the still point and find light, not eternal darkness.” And of course there is the pun on “still” – enduring-- or - unmoving – as a compass point of a circle. Some reading is in store, both of Howard and Eliot. Thanks.

I often think of that still point as the Eucharist, and the place where we can really rest in it is Eucharistic Adoration. I've often thought about writing something about that to put in the bulletin, but I never seem to have time.

AMDG

I also encountered Prufrock as a teenager, in an essay by Leonard Bernstein, of all people. I was reading that because I was working myself to death trying to get into music conservatory on a violin and viola scholarship, with the end goal of becoming a conductor. Ideally symphony, but I was realistic, and admitted that as a female I would be beyond lucky if I could secure an appointment in opera or ballet in a third-tier city. I would have taken that, back before that too vanished off the menu of the conceivable.

I was fascinated by the excerpts and went and bought myself a Dover edition of some Eliot, a kind of "best of" compilation, I think. I knew about Dover editions because of their scores. It was less than a dollar, and I skimmed the funds for it from my bus fare allowance, probably. I was fascinated, and dazzled by it. From high school English classes, I had assumed that literature of the 20th century was all about ugliness, dreariness, violence, politics, and sex, brash and crass and painful. But there was transcendent beauty in these poems, and I wanted more.

About the same time, I had a class project about American religious diversity, and I visited a Russian Orthodox church. I wasn't raised religious, but was inherently religious and searching by nature. I still remember everything about that church, the colors, the sounds, the prayers I sounded out from cyrillic script, the dress I wore, the gold blessing cross, the antidoron, the little baby next to me and her mother. And how much I wanted to be there again, how I longed to go back, always, how I wished there was another excuse to return. In my mind now, all these things are connected in a shimmering web, a rapturous time when the heavens opened for me: My teacher loaned me a book on St. Hildgarde, the bus trip to find the Eliot, the morning I went to the Russian church, the nights I stayed up late studying the Mahler 2, trying to get it all into my memory.

O Röschen Rot...

I couldn't have known where it was going. Of course I thought I knew. I got the scholarships, and got ready to go to conservatory across the country. On the last day of school, my English teacher gave us all a xeroxed sheet with CP Cavafy's Ithaka and a stanza from the end of the Four Quartets. I still have this somewhere. I went back and spent a princely $5 on a nice edition of the Four Quartets, a little book that I can reach out and touch right now, today, and it has followed me everywhere, as have the contents.

I was supposed to be working around the clock towards greatness, overcoming everything I was to achieve something and be significant and earn my keep in the universe, prove that I was more than a mistake or a burden or a thing in the way. Did I dare to eat a peach? It was not so much a hypothetical question as a constant dilemma, for me. Everything was always at stake, and the pressure was unbearable. Meanwhile, I heard another call but could not place it. Like a pilgrim without a pilgrimage, I wandered, aimless, through a Brahms allegretto, through the middle of Little Gidding, looking at the moon.

In college I found that my fascination with this radiant beauty was not profitable and was apt to make me an object of ridicule. I found some solace in the Classics department, where I was lead by Eliot's footnotes. I learned Greek and read the Quartets again and again, trudging through the snow on a sunny day thinking midwinter spring. I wrote a paper about the Quartets for English but was scoffingly told I didn't get it, that it wasn't about beauty or faith but something edgier, I can't recall what, and that Eliot was an antisemite. I probably didn't get it, and I still don't buy the latter, really, but it was humiliating, still, to be scoffed at for my gushing appreciation for something I loved so much. I was striving to be important, cosmopolitan, well-read and worldly, erudite and respectable. But here I had just revealed myself again, a naive, sentimental buffoon. Eventually had to leave that school when my body collapsed under the strain of all that striving and the music dried up, and my chances were gone.

I worked the deli counter with that book in my backpack, rode the bus, went to work in the telemarketing office--selling subscriptions to the Symphony where I had interned, some years before.

That slim little book of poetry was always a beacon of hope, those words always new and ancient to me at the same time, pointing to something ever-present but mysterious and of unfathomable depth, the memory of the garden and the roses...

After many years of hell, I showed up at church. And after more years of wrestling and agony in the most classical sense, I began to really believe. After I was baptized, after I was confirmed, finally, after everything, I really was changed. And every week in the life-giving mystery celebrated in the Byzantine Catholic Church, I am changed a little more again. I remember in a flash the calligraphy banner with 1 Cor 15:51-2 in my music teacher's musty garage studio and I see that God was there, all along, and that the story is not a series of disconnected moments but each stitch in its place. And I go back to that little volume of Quartets and see every note and every stanza, every moment between the lines. And now I have some inkling of what it means that all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Ack sorry that became a novel. I should have just written "Eliot means so much to me, don't get me started!"

if only all novels were so beautiful and so true

Just to say: Monday is my very busy day, and today more so than usual. I will catch up and join the conversation later this evening.

While I really like--I guess even love--some poetry, it's rarely poetry that pierces me in that way--some novels, some music, some non-fiction even, Josef Pieper for example.

These quotes are wonderful. I particularly like that line from the Anima Christi set in the middle of a Marian prayer.

The one that begins, "So here I am..."--that particularly hits home.

So, of course now I want to read all this, but I've about decided that I am going to have to wait to read the things we're talking about until after I've written all my posts. It's one or the other.

I think that 2000+ words has been more the rule than not so far. I haven't had any trouble reading the posts because they've been good enough to make me want to read more.

As for Old Possum..., when you said The Wasteland is what people would recognize, I would have said that most people, if they recognize Eliot's name would have been thinking, Cats.

Lovely, Cailleachbhan--not too much at all.

AMDG

By "people" of course I mean English majors.

Seriously, I would have thought that although a lot of people have heard of the musical Cats, they wouldn't connect Eliot's name with it. But I don't know anything about the musical so maybe his name is reasonably prominent in the publicity and credits. I wouldn't have expected all that many people to be familiar with the book but maybe Cats made it popular. In short, yeah, maybe you're right.

Yes, that was beautiful, Cailleachbhan. Thank you. I've never been *that* attached to the Four Quartets, but for a while I kept a copy in the case of the laptop I took back and forth to work every day, and often slip it into my bag if I'm travelling.

I guess the response you got to your paper is a partial answer to the question someone posed about the academic attitude toward Eliot and his Christianity. I don't know about that myself. I know that in Eliot's time there was disappointment among some who felt that their radical modernist leader had surrendered to reactionary forces. I would be surprised if there are not at least some in academic/literary circles who basically despise Eliot, though they can't deny his achievement. What their proportion is I don't really have any idea.

Regarding Thomas Howard's Dove Descending: I was a little disappointed in it. I had been looking for something that would explicate the knottier passages and Howard didn't really do that. What he says is good, it's just not what I was hoping for.

Very interesting Quartets-based encounters, Craig. I've read the book on airplanes more than once, but I don't recall anyone ever asking about it.

Cailleachbhan, beautiful writing -- poetry itself -- very moving and inspiring to me. I am hoping to refer to the narrative again from time to time. Thank you.

...when you said The Wasteland is what people would recognize, I would have said that most people, if they recognize Eliot's name would have been thinking, Cats.

Not just Cats that's out there in popular culture -- there's also a series of popular British novels that take their titles from some of Eliot's lines:

The Mermaids Singing
The Wire in the Blood
The Last Temptation
The Torment of Others
Beneath the Bleeding
Fever of the Bone

The books are about a shrink who works with cops to find ghastly serial killers. I looked at a couple of the books on Amazon, and Eliot's given credit for the titles. The author read English at Oxford. Poor Eliot.

Depending on the books, he might not be too unhappy. But I suspect he would be: "Her novels, in particular the Tony Hill series, are known for their graphic depictions of violence and torture.

Cailleachbhan - another Byantine Catholic here who was inspired by Eliot years ago, and still plumbing the Fire and the Rose.

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