Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Plaintive Faith of T. S. Eliot

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Poet T.S. Eliot (1888 to 1965) died on this day, January 4, in 1965. Best known for the poem The Waste Land (1915), Eliot is considered a ground-breaking poet that changed the rules of modern poetry through the imagination and restraint he brought to this work.

(Listen to Eliot reading The Waste Land:)

He possessed a singularity of vision that captured the tension between the ballast of faith and the plaintive uncertainties of human experience. A sense of it is captured in this portion of the poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915):

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

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