Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday commute xli: Au revoir, Hotel Albemarle

Mr T.S. Eliot's first meagre volume of twenty-four poems was dropped into the waters of contemporary verse without stirring more than a few ripples. But when two or three years had passed, it was found to stain the whole sea.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. ..

1921 was not a good time to be Thomas Stearns Eliot. In 1921 he was 33 years old and it had become impossible for him to write in his own home, which had reduced his health to a shambles. Lloyds gave him 3 months' leave, and he went down to the sea, to the Hotel Albemarle.

He would move on to Lausanne, and would substantially complete the poem we have been reading this week. Cited above, in the periodical which ultimately publish-ed it, Edmund Wilson does not exaggerate the effect of his first work. Now there came a poetic shore without a shoreline.

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole. ..

I, too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.

.. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you,
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

What is constant in this poem is a dearth of water; Wilson's comment is titled, The Poetry of Drouth. You and I know what the water is, and why there is a title set aside for it in Matter, here. The poem casts a light in it, we recognise. 

Now he says, the dust doesn't hold one's shadow, and for an Eliot this is considerable news. For the dar-ling of the Harvard establishment and a good bit of London, too, it's not the nicest thing one could observe: there is no water; the water is dust. As my embarcadero, wherever I go wading now, I recall the Albemarle with cognitive as-tonishment, and thanks.

Edmund Wilson
The Dial, 73
December, 1922
The Norton Critical Edition©
op. cit.

T. S. Eliot
The Waste Land
  I    The Burial of the Dead
        ll 19 - 24

  III The Fire Sermon
       ll 207 - 214
          230 - 234

 I    The Burial of the Dead
       ll 24 - 30
op. cit.

i         Beggars would ride
ii iii Balcon 6


  1. The imagery above is astonishing ! it makes me blush with pride to be a man

  2. is it just chance
    that we all return to him over and over
    and now just this week
    the new yorker and the ny review of books give homage as well.

    you are spot on laurent
    and i for one never grow tired of him

  3. Dear Lucien, I appreciate your response and can well understand it. I try for a pertinence and structuring focus in 'the pictures', a rapport with the text; so that, somewhat bitter as the allusions are in these lines, visitors here can empathise with the narrator's involvement in, or observation of the circumstances. Of course the poem can do all that on its own, so there is also an element of interpretation, which may seem parasitic. I hope not more than most criticism. :)

  4. Thank you for these referrals, Beth; I've been neglecting my reading "maintenance" lately, during this particular immersion. I will pursue these citations with interest, you can be sure; and I particularly thank you for sharing your enthusiasm.

    I noticed Eliot's several self-deprecating, dismissive remarks about this work at various times, later in life, which I do not find relevant enough to acknowledge, except that they clearly do show that this is an 'act' which could not ever be disowned. I think this is true of its infinitesimal pieces, too, even aside from what brings them and holds them together -- and I think this has some bearing on your question of "chance." I think we are talking about almost countless chances, don't you suppose?

  5. It's very sweetly contenting to hear you may think so, Linnea; I certainly do love the poem. :)