Lines for Cuscuscaraway and Mirza Murad Ali Beg

September 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
With his features of clerical cut,
And his brow so grim
And his mouth so prim
And his conversation, so nicely
Restricted to What Precisely
And If and Perhaps and But.
How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
With bobtail cur
In a coat of fur
And a porpentine cat
And a wopsicle hat:
How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
              (Whether is mouth be open or shut).

– T. S. Eliot

Eliot’s birthday was yesterday (happy birthday). Here is his self-portrait in the style of Lear. Eliot was never as serious as his critics claimed (Virginia Woolf writes of his “marmoreal” face and “four-piece suit”). I love porpentine and wopsicle and their nods to Lear’s own runcible. Cuscuscaraway and Mirza Murad Ali Beg were the names of Eliot’s two cats. The latter is also the name of a little-known 19th-century author who wrote Lalun the Beragun, or, The Battle of Paniput: A Legend of Hindoostan — an obscure entry from Eliot’s reading list, perhaps.

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Burnt Norton

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

I.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
                                     But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
                                     Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

II.
Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The thrilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
                                                 Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

III.
Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
Wtih slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

      Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Dessication of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movememnt; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

IV.
Time and the bell have buried the day,
the black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

V.
Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

      The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always-
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

– T. S. Eliot

Eliot won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 due, in no small part, to Four Quartets, a series of four poems that show him at his peak. As Helen Vendler writes in TIME for the magazine’s “100 People of the Century” feature, after Four Quartets “[Eliot] could no longer summon the intense concentration of heart, mind and imagination necessary to produce significant poetry, and he subsided into the versifier of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The quartets were the last legs of his powers and “Burnt Norton”, the first quartet, is his zenith’s zenith.

Immediately, one realizes that “Burnt Norton” contains none of the cryptic warnings of “the Waste Land” or the stream-of-conscious patter of “Prufrock”. Here, Eliot is poet-philosopher meditating on time’s cyclical structure. He is clear and rhythmic and calm. Lewis Carroll’s rose garden appears briefly in the first section, but this is probably the least allusive of Eliot’s major works. Two of his most well known lines (semi-lines, really) nest here: “at the still point of the turning world” and “human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality”. The whole thing is a gorgeous swirl of mysticism and spirituality.

Old Possum, by the way, is wildly uneven, but contains two of his best poems — “the Naming of Cats” and “Macavity”.

the Triumph of Bullshit

January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited
If you consider my merits are small
Etiolated, alembicated,
Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,
Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,
Impotent galamatias
Affected, possibly imitated,
For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies, who find my intentions ridiculous
Awkward insipid and horribly gauche
Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous
Dull as the heart of an unbaked brioche
Floundering versicles feebly versiculous
Often attentuate, frequently crass
Attempts at emotions that turn out isiculous,
For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies who think me unduly vociferous
Amiable cabotin making a noise
That people may cry out “this stuff is too stiff for us” —
Ingenuous child with a box of new toys
Toy lions carnivorous, cannons fumiferous
Engines vaporous — all this will pass;
Quite innocent — “he only wants to make shiver us.”
For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

And when thyself with silver foot shalt pass
Among the Theories scattered on the grass
Take up my good intentions with the rest
And then for Christ’s sake stick them us your ass.

– T. S. Eliot

It is interesting that the face of SERIOUS MODERNISM would begin and end his career with light verse. “The Triumph of Bullshit” is one of Eliot’s earliest poems (written around 1910) and contains one of the first, if not the first, use of the word bullshit as we know it. More on that here.

The “ladies” refers to the taste-makers of the time whom Eliot believed were blocking his way to publication. One was possibly Harriet Monroe, the then-editor of Poetry, who would later publish “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” under the suggestion of Ezra Pound.

My favorite touch is the obscure Latinate words juxtaposed with the completely inelegant “stick it up your ass” refrain. Choice lines include “dull as the heart of an unbaked brioche” and “floundering versicles feebly versiculous”. And from a technical stand-point, I prefer Eliot’s own ballade rhyme scheme to that of the traditional one: ababacaC instead of ababbcbC.

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