Friday, January 04, 2013

Poetry Friday: T.S. Eliot

(This just might be -- I'm not saying it is, but it could be -- a four-year-old post that is just as applicable today as it was in January of 2009, as we crept toward the Feast of the Epiphany.) 

Sometimes, on a Thursday night, I plop down on the couch, look at Atticus and ask, "What do I want to post for Poetry Friday tomorrow?"

He always has an erudite reply and an intriguing suggestion. He's an intelligent, fascinating man. I used to fancy myself equally intelligent and fascinating (we-e-elll, maybe not equally but close enough to hold my own in a good poetry discussion), and I considered us a perfect match. Several years back, I could keep up with all of his Wallace Stevens talk. Then I had children and for a few years, when sleep was so elusive, my mind started to slip. "The Emperor of Ice Cream" began to sound more like a character on the Disney channel than existential observation.

Anyway, in answer to the learned suggestions of Atticus, I usually stare into space a moment, take a sip of cabernet and say something like, "I think I'll write a poem about Putty," or "I'll just do Billy Collins again."

These exchanges remind me of a scene from Annie Hall in which Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are in a bookstore, and he says, "Here, I think you should read these, uh, instead of that cat book."

So, in order not to read a cat book today (though I must add the disclaimer that my beloved Billy Collins is not a cat book -- the metaphor refers only to my state of mind and has nothing to do with his poetry, which I much adore, and it is equally removed from cats, creatures I like very much), I am posting Atticus's suggestion: Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot.

At first I groaned, "Ohhh, Eliot ... I don't know if I have the energy for Eliot." But then, I asked myself, "When did you last read Journey of the Magi?" And I had to honestly answer myself, "I don't know. It may have been several Emperors of Ice Cream ago." So, I read it. And, as always happens, I was mesmerized. How does he do that? How did he carry around the reputation of being too scholarly and too philosophical to write poetry, and then do that? It's so good, such a perfect melding of earthly earthiness and the supernatural. Like Jesus Himself, really. Eliot captures that down-to-your-bones discomfort, the squirming and the revelation, the discovery that this isn't really my home. That knowledge which at first is both comforting and terrifying.

Go here, to the Poetry Foundation, to read more about Eliot.

Journey of the Magi
by T.S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,


All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


The full text of the poem is here, where you can also hear Eliot read it.


The round up today is being hosted by Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.


Robyn Hood Black said...

Hi, Karen - Well, since I didn't catch it the first time, I was more than happy to read your post here. LOVED the link to Eliot's reading of the poem. (And, hey, he wrote about cats... !);0)

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Ruth said...

I love this poem. My daughter (15) is in an Eliot phase right now, and always pushing me to look at him again. Thanks for this post!

Karen Edmisten said...

Robyn, isn't it great to hear him read it? And Ruth, listen to your daughter. :)

Amber said...

Oh, Karen, that is beautiful! Thank you for selecting it. I am not that familiar with Eliot (I know, I know) or with much poetry in general, but I'm finally getting to a place where I can appreciate it and even enjoy it. I even read my first book of poetry in 2012 - slowly and carefully, savoring and enjoying and considering. It is a whole new world for me!

Karen Edmisten said...

Amber, I'm so glad you liked it! My love for poetry has definitely grown over the years. When it's well done, it's an incredible form of expression. Enjoy!

TS Eliot Society said...

Anyone who is now encouraged to discover more about TS Eliot and his works is invited to visit our website at The TS Eliot Society UK, where there is a wealth of links and resources for enthusiasts and scholars.