Excellent - but I don't agree with Lewis about the chaos
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: cr mittal 
  To: [log in to unmask] 
  Sent: Friday, April 21, 2006 5:07 PM
  Subject: [Norton AntiSpam] TSE: The Journey from Chaos to Christianity


  This is for those who, like me, are lazy boys unaware of much that has gone about in the classroom. Maybe for the record too.

  ~ CR


  The journey from chaos to Christianity 

  Nicholas Lezard revisits TS Eliot's poems and plays 

  Saturday October 2, 2004
  The Guardian 

  The Complete Poems and Plays of TS Eliot (Faber, 12.99) 
  The usual gap between hardback and paperback publication of a book is roughly one year. In this instance, though, the pause has been extended to 35 years. One knows that, under the guardianship of Valerie Eliot, the poet's Nachlass has been as ferociously protected from the vulgar public as, say, the Garden of Eden. Even the recipe for Coca-Cola is more accessible. Still, one wonders what has kept Faber from producing a paperback edition for so long. Was it felt inappropriate to have a Complete Poems and Plays that one could more or less guiltlessly read in the bath? 

  Not that "Complete" is accurate any more, anyway, as the publication of his earlier verse, The Inventions of the March Hare, extends the canon. This book is a straight reprinting from the 1969 edition - although Faber has, it must be conceded, gone to the trouble of putting a photograph of Eliot on the cover (instead of the wonderful lapidary capitals of the first edition) and of omitting to print page 604 (his "Ode" written on leaving Harvard - you're not missing much, although the publisher assures me that the copy in the bookshops will have all the necessary pages). The photograph itself, of a middle-aged and very thoughtful-looking Eliot resting his forehead to his fingertips, recalls Hugh Kenner's line in his preface to The Invisible Poet that "it was a safe joke only a decade ago [ie in 1949] to suggest that the BBC maintain its standard of entertainment by having TS Eliot cerebrate silently in front of a microphone for 90 minutes." 
  Well, that's not a safe joke now, not only because the BBC's non-radio entertainment is distinctly, almost squalidly, non-Eliotian, but because Eliot himself is not such a safe intellectual bet as he used to be. There is a quote from Ted Hughes on the back cover that begs a few questions. "Each year Eliot's presence reasserts itself at a deeper level, to an audience that is surprised to find itself more chastened, more astonished, more humble." To which you can only say: I bet they would be surprised. Unchastened and proud responses to Eliot are now very much the norm. 
  First, there is the matter of his anti-semitism. This is unarguably present in two, maybe three poems, and in a 1933 lecture which, after its first publication, he never allowed to be reprinted. The matter is dealt with adroitly in James Wood's The Broken Estate. Less noxiously, there was his chosen public persona. He may have found it convenient and advisable to settle behind a carapace of adamantine conventionality - the royalist, Anglo-Catholic adopted Englishman being as at odds with the tone and substance of The Waste Land as it is possible to get without actually being a member of the royal family. And when Eliot and royalty did finally meet, our dear Queen Mum got the giggles at the man who looked like a bank manager and wrote such gloomy and difficult poetry. 
  Which is one reason why we should be reading him; or why you should get this even if you already have the hardback. (I have got to that stage in life where possession of multiple copies of a book becomes a reliable indicator of its importance in the personal scheme of things. I think I now have about five different editions and selections from Eliot's verse knocking about the house.) A book published only last year and billed in its title as an "essential" guide to modern British history still found room to sneer at Eliot under the insulting rubric of "Cultural Elitism". The kind of reaction that his poetry stirred up closer to his own time was like this, from a scandalised CS Lewis in 1935: "I contend that no man is fortified against chaos by reading The Waste Land, but that most men are by it infected with chaos." 
  I choose to take this as a compliment to Eliot's power, and indeed we would not have had Marlon Brando muttering from "The Hollow Men" in Apocalypse Now if the attitude weren't persistent. But now the whole poetic achievement - Eliot's journey from chaos to a clenched, intense Christianity - is available in a slightly more wieldy form. One day there will be bigger and better editions of the verse, but until then this will do.

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