This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Last year's words belong to last year's language

Little Gidding, Part II
By T.S. Eliot
(Written in 1942, during the constant Luftwaffe air raids on London)

Ash on and old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house—
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other—
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember.'
And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.

I am not a fan of T.S. Eliot. I actually think as a poet, he's kind of dick, specifically because of "The Waste Land:" "Let's write a poem you'll need a hundred pages of footnotes to comprehend, because nothing makes language beautiful and elegant like complete obfuscation. In a hundred years, the common man will proudly point to 'The Waste Land,' as proof to say 'see, I told you, poetry sucks.'"

Thanks, T.S., you douche, for ruining poetry promotion for the rest of us.

Although, Eliot's influence on poetry probably indirectly inspired the Beats to make poetry relevant again and also Marc "So What?" Smith to create slam to make it populist.

Poetry should be understandable. As language is meant to convey ideas from author to reader, speaker to listener, thus poetry, being language in its most polished form, should convey ideas in the clearest (William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow") or most elegant (John Milton's "Paradise Lost") or most bluntly straightforward (a slam satire) or most beautiful (Shane Koyczan's "The Crickets Have Arthritis" or Derrick C. Brown's "A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me") or most moving (Andrea Gibson's "Still") means -- depending on the poet, style and voice.

"The Waste Land" is the antithesis of poetry's purpose. It is forcefully convoluted with such obscure allusionary references that only Eliot scholars can sit down and read the thing without a footnoted guidebook to understand it. It also uses Greek, Italian and Sanskrit, none of which have I be fluent in since ... the accident ... and seem to have been added only to show off how wise and worldly, and better than you, Eliot was.

Of course, H.P. Lovecraft (horror author who gave us the ancient evil god Cthulhu), who hated Eliot probably as much I do, wrote a great satire of "The Waste Land," called "Waste Paper: A Poem Of Profound Insignificance," and it's a far more entertaining read. Lovecraft called "The Waste Land," "a practically meaningless collection of phrases, learned allusions, quotations, slang, and scraps in general."

And if you thought Eliot was a dick, you haven't met an Eliot scholar yet.

A Eliot scholar is the guy at the party who'll tell you why the 1998 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde - which he says he's drinking - is vastly superior to the 1999 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage, which you're drinking -- although you just don't care to tell him you just helped the party's host fill those two bottles of expensive-looking wine from the same tap of Almaden box wine and, fuck, you only stopped to talk to this guy so your roommate could make moves on the hot hipster chick this douche-bag brought, and as soon as he gets her number and sets up a date, you're fuckin' out of here and headed to another party where the girl you like is double-fisting a pint of Guinness and a bottle of Jameson, like the kick-ass cool chick you love her for -- fuck, is this guy still talking?

That being said, I actually like some of Eliot's work. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" ("In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo," which referencing is ironic, I know, as this is almost like writing "On this blog, readers come and go / talking of T.S. Eliot, whom we claim to know") and "The Hollow Men" ("We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men ... This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.").

The four-part "Little Gidding" series I vaguely remember reading in college, but yesterday, my mother sent me the highlighted passage as a New Year's Eve quote.

Which is why I love my mother.

(Whose married surname, coincidentally but irrelevantly, is Elliott.)

Shantih shantih shantih

1 comment:

2sylly said...

Glad to see you love me. Mom