Like most students educated in western society, I had heard the name T.S. Eliot uttered by teachers and professors when discussing poetry. However, the majority of my time in school, even through college, was spent on writers like William Shakespeare, John Milton, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Walt Whitman. College forced Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Emmanuel Kant, and Sigmund Freud into my hands to absorb their knowledge and ideas. My interests in martial arts pushed me toward Buddhism, Lao Tzu and Confucius.
As I delved deeper into my own poetry, I began to search 'greatest poet of all time.' Of course, with that search I read about a plethora of people's greatests and the name T.S. Eliot came up more than once. Reading and hearing that poetry wasn't read or published as much as it used to be made me search 'greatest or best modern poet,' and the name T.S. Eliot came up again. I read about Eliot and even read some of his opinions on Shakespeare's work and learned of is love for Coriolanus, and his thought that Hamlet, which many consider to be a masterpiece, he consider to be'an artistic failure.' He goes as far as to call Hamlet the Mona Lisa of literature. Read more about Eliot's opinions on Hamlet.
Eliot's opinion on Hamlet, coupled with what I had read and heard of him made me want to delve into some of his work. Surely, the man who many considered to be the greatest modern poet could inspire the burgeoning poet in me.
Eliot's masterpiece is considered to be The Waste Land which I picked up at Barnes and Noble. Reading it I found it to be a difficult read with his use of the French language couple with English and the many references to historical figures and places. Where I was equipped with knowledge of the people, places, ideas, and books he used that were not his own, made reading and understanding the poems a lot easier. However, there were other uses that I had little or no knowledge of and had to flip to the footnotes to find clarity. With some footnote reading I found clarity, but in some instances the connections did not exist at all.
My favorite poems were Gerontion, The Hippopotamus, A Cooking Egg, Whispers of Immortality andFire Sermon. What The Thunder Said and Rhapsody on a Windy Night was also very enjoyable. While some footnotes exists in these poems, it is easier to grasp their meaning. Eliot is an incredible writer with a vast vocabulary that the casual reader could get lost it. Thus, these particular poems for all their beauty had a simplicity that I believe most any reader can grasp. Most of these poems are at least two pages in length, but I never felt lost or felt that the ideas were disjointed as they were with A Game of Chess. With that poem I really didn't get it's meaning until half way through the text. It was an interesting look at how a man saw a woman's position in relation to her husband and what she should provided for him. But the 'ugh' moment was that the game of chess never seemed to occur, or perhaps it was the conversation, as symbolism for the actual game of strategy.
What helps the reader even more than the footnotes is the commentary from other writers and sources throughout the years that have studied Eliot's work. I believe the quote '-from The Nation (December 6, 1922)' which was written in Eliot's time really hammers home the quality and nature of Eliot's work. It reads: 'It seems at first sight remarkably disconnected, confused, the emotion seems to disengage itself in spite of the objects and events chosen by the poet as their vehicle. . . . ' And that is exactly the way I felt reading through much of the work.
All in all I agree with Edith Wharton. 'The Waste Land...seemed to her to lack even the enlivening presence of Walt Whitman; it was a poem, like Joyce's novel [Ulysses] ridden by the theory rather than warmed by life.'
Thus in retrospect I say that few poets rival Eliot's intelligence and use of the English language. The French I would have to have translated in order to read. I did not. But ultimately what I grasped from the work is a man who used half of his own original ideas to explain the world around him and everything else he'd read or known about. I'd venture to say that picking up The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot is not the poetry to read if you are simply looking for escape and perspective to cheer up your mood, or affirm your sadness immediately. One read through this will not help unless you are well versed in French, The Holy Bible, some Greek Literature, and knowledge of London; along with a host of other information. Be prepared to read Eliot's notes and the footnotes that are plentiful in this work. However, I do not want to exclude the writer's brilliance and quality. Eliot can surely be learned from, but you'll probably need a little time for research to fully understand his work. I know I'll have to read it again to fully understand and appreciate it more than I already have.
Until next write...
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