My reading of Eliot has been strangely patchy. Even though I’d get excited about what I have read, it never seemed to compel me to devour it all – until now.
The reason I jumped back into Eliot was because of Twitter. (See, it can have some usefulness – or so I’m telling myself.) I was looking for short lines of poetry for my #Poetry tweets. (For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, tweets are kind of like mini blog posts – each can only be a maximum of 140 characters, including spaces.)
I’ve found this an interesting exercise so far – looking for two to three gorgeous lines of poetry that works well out of context, in isolation from the rest of its poem. Strong and interesting images seem to work well, or some kind of interesting or wise statement. It makes me really think about the meaning(s) of those two to three lines, which helps me appreciate the poem all the more.
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is full of such lines, and ‘The Waste Land’ – to my surprise – less so. I think because ‘The Waste Land’ gains its power in longer portions, in repetition and in context.
Of ‘The Waste Land’ I twittered:
“April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire”
And of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’:
“And time yet for a hundred indecisions,/and for a hundred visions and revisions/Before the taking of a toast and tea”Reading Eliot again, particularly ‘The Waste Land’, has reminded me of how opaque his writing is, how he puts together a bunch of things that don’t make obvious sense together. It just isn’t that accessible. But who cares?! It’s wonderful!
“And indeed there will be time/To wonder, 'Do I dare?' and, 'Do I dare?'/ Time to turn back and descend the stair”
“I grow old ... I grow old .../I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”
The first time I read ‘The Waste Land’ I was sitting on my bed in my room at home. I was in my second year at university, and studying it for my course on modern poetry. I read it out loud, and was totally entranced by how it sounded, how it felt. I didn’t have a clue what it meant. Even now, after a thoroughly researched essay and many re-readings, I have only dim ideas what it’s about. But it doesn’t matter – I love it and have gotten a lot out of it.
Re-discovering it has been making me think about my own poetry. I write quite differently to Eliot. My poems – especially the ones in My Iron Spine – tend to be quite narrative. And while I like to think that I’ve put layers of meaning into them, I think they’re pretty accessible really.
But each time I’ve finished a collection of poetry – ok, so that’s only twice so far – I’ve wanted to shift into a different direction. I don’t want to keep writing exactly the same kind of poem until it becomes a parody of my own style. And I have been moving away from the narrative poems of My Iron Spine, but I’m a little nervous.
I’m drawn towards more imagistic, less straightforward style, and yet I’m afraid I could end up writing poems that no one will like because they can’t understand them.
But Eliot has reminded me that opaque and bad are not the same thing, and that poetry can be meaningful without obvious meaning.
I think I’ll be thinking and writing more about this…