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TSE  December 2004

TSE December 2004

Subject:

Today in Literature

From:

John Stewart <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Wed, 15 Dec 2004 07:54:17 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (63 lines)

http://www.todayinliterature.com/today-ct.asp?id=12/15/2004

T. S. Eliot, He Do the Police in Different Voices

by Steve King


On this day in 1922 T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land was published -- making
something of a benchmark for modern literature, given that Joyce's Ulysses
and Woolf's Jacob's Room were also published that year. The Waste Land had
in fact appeared in two literary magazines in the previous two months (first
Criterion and then The Dial), but this Boni & Liveright publication was the
first in book form, and the first with Eliot's famous "Explanatory Notes"
included to help out.

Even before book publication Eliot said that he had grown beyond The Waste
Land; when everyone began calling it and him the voice of a generation, or
of the Age, he began to regard the poem as an albatross. But running from
the label and the attention was to no avail, and as the poem and the poet
were placed on an ever-higher pedestal, so each became a larger target for
gossip and parody.

The consensus among Eliot's contemporaries seems to be that he was an odd
case -- certainly Conrad Aiken was referring not to the poetry but the man
when he said, "Eliot cries out for analysis." Siegfried Sassoon thought he
had "cold-storaged humanity," and Ottoline Morrell called him "the
undertaker." Virginia Woolf, one familiar with the type, saw a nervous
neurotic; nor was she the only acquaintance to notice Eliot's use of pale
green face powder, sometimes with lipstick. But she has also written in her
diary of listening rapt to Eliot's after-dinner reading of The Waste Land:
"He sang it & chanted it & rhymed it. It has great beauty and force of
phrase; symmetry; & tensity. What connects it together, I'm not so sure...."
One modern biographer, getting to the bottom of things, finds nascent or
latent homosexuality in Eliot; this caused not only his breakdown in 1921,
while writing The Waste Land, but a lifelong "aboulie and emotional
derangement."

More helpful might be V. S. Pritchett's description of Eliot as "a company
of actors inside one suit, each twitting the others." Eliot's manuscript
title for the poem was "He Do the Police in Different Voices," taken from
Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, where the orphan Sloppy is so praised for his
dramatic abilities when reading out the crime news. When the book
publication included Eliot's "Explanatory Notes," adding the voice of the
pedant-critic to the voices in the poem, it was all too much for Robert
Frost: he subtitled his New Hampshire poems, published in 1923, "A Poem with
Notes and Grace Notes," and then merely listed as his "notes" for the long
title-poem all the titles of the other "explanatory poems" in the
colleciton.

James Joyce seems to have had more fun with his shot at The Waste Land.
These are the beginning lines of a poem he included in a letter written in
1925, after spending a rainy few days at a Rouen hotel:

Rouen is the rainiest place getting
Inside all impermeables, wetting
Damp marrow in drenched bones.
Midwinter soused us coming over Le Mans
Our inn at Niort was the Grape of Burgundy

But the winepress of the Lord thundered over that
                     grape of Burgundy
And we left in a hurgundy.
           (Hurry up, Joyce, it's time!)....

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