> Take no offense. I'm working on a serious post with this
> but, although it will be better, it will still lack some
> consistency as I'm still trying to figure out this poem.
CR got me looking the hardest I ever have at Gerontion.
To get a handle on Gerontion I took this approach: I tried to
put myself back to 1920 when handed a typewritten copy of the poem,
the poem only, no title, no epigraph, no poet's name and no
knowledge of Eliot or the way he wrote. I couldn't even be sure of
the punctuation or spelling. Biblical and Dante allusions would
be familiar but not many of the other allusions. The challenge
was to make sense of the poem. (I note that since I took up
this challenge some poster has written that this might not be the
way to read the poem, that you need to know that it was written by
After a few readings I noticed a nihilistic tone, that life was
I noted several religious symbols: the jew, the stanza about signs,
flowering judas and an allusion to the ritual of communion, the
wrath-bearing tree and Christ the tiger again. I'll hold off
discussing these right now.
The symbol of the house as the body housing our souls was fairly
Then there was the wind and draughts (also showing up as ghosts.)
The symbolism of the wind as spirit came to mind but didn't quite
feel right to me. Changing it to symbolise life seemed a bit better.
I got the feeling that the gist (ghost/spirit again) of the stanza
starting "After such knowledge" was that we act to no avail. We are
heroic and go to vice, we act bad and good comes about. I'm not doing
well explaining here but I'm getting the feeling of a nihilistic
At this point I can go back to the symbolism of the wind and the house
and see if some sense can be made of the poet's words.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
My body is decrepit
and god, its owner, is watching, waiting, [like a vulture?]
I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.
I'm an old man, not wise, but still among the living.
Weave the wind.
I have no ghosts
Something weaves the fabric of our lives but it isn't us.
I have no spirit driving me
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.
An old man in a body with a little life in a world of life.
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house.
*You* shall remain when I die within my borrowed body.
... Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
Whether you fight against your life
or go with its flow
your body fails; death is its home.
[Belle Isle is located in the northern-most of
the straits where the Gulf of Saint Lawrence
empties into the Atlantic.]
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.
Life has driven me to a place where there is little life.
Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.
You people (who will also be evicted from your bodies)
here you've heard the spiritless thoughts of a man who
has lost his will.
Although the reading isn't perfect the house and wind symbolism
seem to fit a nihilistic outlook on life. Now my job is look
at that some more and expand the reading from that. There is
more in the poem to look at later. I hope to get to that later.