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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Suppose it were Friday x: we run into Mr Eliot in the cauldron

                  To Carthage then I came
                  Burning burning burning burning
                  O Lord Thou pluckest me out
                  O Lord Thou pluckest

Readers of Mr Eliot have been kind to indulge an incongruous discovery of The Waste Land, but the fact is that one couldn't have taken the poem any way but full force, which narrowed the choice to ignoring one's readers or one's reading. The arrival of Friday affords a variety of happy excuses for confession; and given the poem's direct debt to St Augustine, the mode is established before us. Augustine wrote, To Carthage I came, where there sang all around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves; and he went on to berate them, in his usual way. The Waste Land does not do this, and indeed is a text so formed by desire that to cite this passage is only to allow a vendredesque note to recall the day.

It can be said (watch ..) of this poem that it belongs to every day of the week, for being so authentically steeped in Friday. For one to say what this means, however, requires meaning what one says: that all of Friday, all of Friday's forever unmeasured urgencies, turn upon the desire for understanding. In this poem, that clamour is non-stop; it ends, as has been shown, only with a plea for a truce. You and I laud this appetite as the conduct of our species at its finest; but in this we only participate in Friday. Shall we apologise for noting each other at our best? 

I don't know anyone who hasn't held variations of this conversation with his lovers; and I must say, I'm glad our readership is now self-purged of its nannies. We hold this great asset, in Friday, to pursue our reasons, to the end of our knowing. We love information and we count as friends everyone who does. We don't own an objective correlative for what it is that we need to know; Augustine did, and lucky he was. But we don't capitulate. We celebrate. People ask, why do you present pretty people? In the name of Augustine's client: that's what striving looks like.

You hear the horrible writ. I do, too: the demand for consensus. Young readers write in, My education cost me too much, I have to be nice. Pundits implore, Let's all resume our fellowship of 9.12. The Waste Land was written, in large part, in the poet's recuperation from a nervous collapse, having attended upon his wife's nervous collapse. I very much doubt if the language harbours another poem which so much wants to be read. We do not heal generically, we do not desire generically; we do not invent and we do not discover, generically. I accept this poem as a gift of processes so wonderful, I don't give a dam if it's good.

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
   III The Fire Sermon
         ll 307 - 311
op. cit.

The Confessions of St. Augustine
E.B. Pusey, translation
Dent, 1907©

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Perhaps you know your father's shoulders

that tensity
your helping 

         At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
         Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
         Like a taxi throbbing waiting, ..

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
  III The Fire Sermon
       ll 215 - 217
op. cit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Eliot's praise of "Hamlet," one of many keys tumbles free

We should have to know something which is by hypothesis unknowable, for we assume it to be an experience which, in the manner indicated, exceeded the facts. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.

But, Hercule .. Mr Eliot famously didn't care for Hamlet.

So we are told, Auguste, even in his own words, under a common kind of light; just as we are told, he was cruel to his wife. And yet, in his poem her suffering is given commemoration in such proportion to its anguish, it is plain that nobody loved Hamlet better than he.

Is he saying, then, that Mr Eliot studied the playwright's problem of depicting the Prince's madness, to solve his in poetry?

Possibly he's saying, Auguste, love drove him to try.

Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his own prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus

Critics who complain, as they immediately did and persistently always have, of an obscurantism in Eliot's method in this poem, of a sort of arrogant literacy, are having precisely the experience the poet intended and are sharing in his struggle to understand what Shakes-peare did not. His resort to myth and incantation is less a literary novelty than a substitution of men-tal for tangible constructs. Every allusion is a recital of hunger and, among other things, a confidance of incapacity and a groping for 'objec-tive correlation' in things which he knows. There is nothing Hamlet-like in this, except the Prince's mind.

T.S. Eliot
Selected Essays
  1917 - 1932
Harcourt Brace, 1932©

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
  V What the Thunder Said
      ll 411 - 417
op. cit.

Overnight flotation

The tumblrist at ciné, struggling mightily to master undergraduate ditziness after a too-lengthy simmer in the Humanism of Louis Malle, has presented a group portrait under the title, Ballcolony. Not that one's vote counts for very much here, but I'd say, he's ready for Oxford. That, however, may be news over there.

Nor, thank heaven, has this witty hornpipe sally of his broken our stride in Eliot:

The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.

    Weialala leia
    Wallala leialala

I want friends to know, this kind of blindingly immaculate jest is still being offered, long after some've given it up for what Mr Eliot, on Hamlet, referred to so pithily as the business world.

Sweeter than breakfast;

T.S. Eliot
Selected Essays
  1917 - 1932
Harcourt Brace, 1932©

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
  III The Fire Sermon
      ll 273 - 278
op. cit.

Henry Purcell
Who can from joy refrain?
Robert King, director
The King's Consort
op. cit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Refreshing Sunday

Eliot dined last Sunday & read his poem. He sang it & chanted it rhythmed it. It has great beauty and force of phrase: symmetry; & tensity. What connects it together, I'm not so sure. But he read till he had to rush -- .. 

One was left, however, with some strong emotion. The Waste Land, it is called; & Mary Hutch[inson], who has heard it more quietly, interprets it to be Tom's autobiography - a melancholy one.

Last Sunday - not so long ago - I dined with Eliot at the beach, as I had on Friday and Saturday. When alone, I very commonly will dine with a book. I have never been less alone at dinner in my life; and for this reason, I have no regret at deferring the occasion for so long. But this is not, strictly speaking, true, because of an element he translated into his poem, from his Harvard doctoral thesis, crediting the insularity of human experience. As vividly as Eliot was present, the experience was viscerally solitary. 

I cite this element as vital, not merely to the poem's point of view, but to mine toward the pretensions of the broadcasts of last Sunday, which have been doing with that date for 10 years what they've been doing with Jesus of Nazareth for the last 2100 - forging a hammer of compulsory definition of experience. No more than 2 horrors are involved in Sunday's unhappy abuse of the mind: that our young have been taught that those facts were unprecedented, and that they licensed the debauch of their birthright: that they should cherish ignorance and foulest self-interest, that fear might reign. The hostess of the dinner recalled above, meanwhile, was well advised by their mutual friend on an affect of Eliot's poem; but as her diary entry unfolded, her Hogarth Press would share in the transatlantic publishing crescendo which launched it with the 'force and symmetry' it happens still to convey. Its date is 1922; that makes it newer than last Sunday. 

.. The boat responded Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar The sea was calm, your heart would have responded Gaily, when invited, beating obedient To controlling hands

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London

These fragments I have 
shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you ..

Shantih  shantih  shantih

Virginia Woolf
The Diary of Virginia Woolf
Harcourt Brace, 1978©

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
    V What the Thunder Said
i       ll 418 - 422
ii      ll 366 - 376
iii     ll 430 - end [fragment]
op. cit.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A picture I want in this blog iii

taking care
of Chimney Rock

Shall I at least set
my lands in order?

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
  V  What the Thunder Said
       l 425
op. cit.

It is not true, that Mr Eliot wrote a poem called, The Waistband

I truly hope it can still be said, that a certain generation repeats itself, infinitely, to become known for mercilessness to its literature teachers. How completely unimaginably awful, the condition of the esteem for literature would then be, and how degenerately inhibited its natural victims, if their mediator should ever know peace. I give you the title of this note, itself; nothing could be less doubtful, than that 'The Waistband' will seem to outlast The Waste Land until, frantically, on the eve of the exam, the drawstrung drawbridge detains the barge no longer. Whence: everything is remembered.


     A gilded shell
     Red and gold
     The brisk swell
     Rippled both shores
     Southwest wind
     Carried down stream
     The peal of bells
     White towers

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
  III  The Fire Sermon
  ll 282 - 290
op. cit.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Calm Sunday

Take some lines,
move them, see
how they burn.

A volcano is not a mountain like others. Raising a camera to one's face has effects no one can calculate in advance.

'What if you took a fifteen-minute exposure of a man in jail, let's say the lava 
has just reached his window?' 
he asked. 'I think you are confusing subject and object,' she said. 
'Very likely,' said Geryon.

Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red
  A Novel in Verse
  i   XXIX. Huaraz [fragment]
  ii  XIV.    Red Patience [fragment]
Knopf, 1998©