April 9, 2011

Poet for April 9, 2011 - T. S. Eliot

Week 1 was a bit of a random mish-mash of poets to get into the groove but I'm leaning towards some kind of theme starting with day 8 (the 2nd week of National Poetry Month). After some internal debate on what theme I should go for, I decided to let time be my guide - starting with the poetry of the late 19th and early 20th century -- the so-called Modernist and Imagist poets of the early 20th century (Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, H. D.) and moving to the vast oeuvre of Wallace Stevens (which I have been digging into and read a lot in the last 3 years), Marianne Moore, and other pre-WW II poets this week....and then moving to post-WW II poets for week 3. I am hoping to cover a few poets from other countries around the world in the last week - definitely haikus and tankas one day but also poets translated from the French, Russian, some Indian language, and probably one other country -- the first thought that comes to mind is Wisława Szymborska but since I already covered one Polish poet (Czeslaw Milosz), I may think later of someone else ...aah yes - has to be a poet who wrote in Spanish and so it HAS to be Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz! (Not enough days in the week to cover Federico García Lorca or Juan Ramon Jimenez unless I dedicate a whole month only to poets in translation :( ). No time for the great poets of the past like Milton and Keats and Shelley or Wordsworth or Blake or the Bard, about whom the critic Harold Bloom has said: "If Shakespeare is not God, I don’t know who God is." No time either for younger poets of the last 20-30 years but then I really haven't read too much poetry by younger poets. All the poets I read are either my grandparents age (or older) or at their youngest my parents age! Trying to rack my brains to remember poets born after 1960-65 period whose work I have read, I come up with only two names - Terrance Hayes and Jill Alexander Essbaum - both of whose poems I read and enjoyed only in the last month! And aah yes.. Kim Addonizio, who is a delightful poet whose poetry I read and enjoyed a couple years back. (Update: Whoa.. Addonizio was born in 1954?! For some reason I thought of her as being in her 30s or early 40s!

So, to cut this long preface short (finally!), let me start with week 2 with the early 20th century American poets. However, since I have read neither Walt Whitman nor Ezra Pound and since though I have attempted to read poems by Emily Dickinson, most of her work remains very cryptic to me, I am going to start with T. S. Eliot.

Thomas Stearns Eliot (Born: Sept 26 1888, St. Louis, MO - Died: Jan 4 1965, London, UK)

T. S. Eliot, to me, is one of the leading poets of the early 20th century in the US (and Europe) on whose shoulders we stand. His poem, Wasteland remains one of the most famous poems of the early 20th century [Ref 1] but it is his poem, Four Quartets, that is one of my favorite poems. It is a long poem and I am not going to reproduce it here in its entirety -- just a few excerpts from the first quartet, Burnt Norton. I highly recommend you bookmark the poem and read it, a few paragraphs at a time every day --- and you may soon find yourself going back to the same lines and enjoying them again and again from time to time. There is so much to absorb and enjoy in this poem and books could be written about it (and perhaps have been!) and I really cannot do it justice to it here in a post.

First Quartet - Burnt Norton 
- from Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot

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. 


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
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude 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.


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,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
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.


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