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240 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 1963
There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.
That's all the facts, when you come to brass tacks:I always find it curious how much Eliot—quite conservative in character and anxious about what he regarded as a modern cultural evolutionary tendency, abetted by the dry rationalism of an increasingly technical society, towards pressing everything downwards unto the lowermost tier of the coarse, the vulgar, the profane, the commonplace—embraced a modernist grasp of language, with all of its form-fluid possibilities and permutations, in order to work his utterly unique manner of lyrical genius. And it is genius, at the very least by any aesthetic measure; combining words into lines and phrases that leap off of the page in all of their graceful poignancy and grab the reader by the soul, pierce the superficial layers of the memory to embed themselves within the selfsame chambers that house such perduring residents as the framed vista of supernally brilliant swathes of colour that suffused with flowering existence a memorable, cloud-garbed sunset; mayhap an instant when, flush with the harmonious pressure of musical gales, impaled and frozen upon a hook sonically plunged in an arc through the soul, your breath seized-up in a drawn interval balancing between the explosion and implosion of life; or perhaps the roseate, winsome, heart-punching smile of a youthful beauty that captured the entirety of your pubescent heart and cranked the inner thermostat to fluttering scorch; or even the first moment when, still as a statue in the midst of a world in constant motion, that sense of limpid, fulsome connexion with the cosmos in its entirety—with its subtle divine pressure to drive you down upon your knees—hummed through every fiber of your being with a tellurian energy ultimately derived from cosmogonic fuel of the most primordial lineage. And when you can, through the application of diligent reasoning and intuitive sleuthing, discern the implicit meaning behind the elegantly moving textual façade, you realize that Eliot truly belongs in that first-tier of twentieth century poets, masterfully forging personal commiserations by means of linguistic elements invariably held at somewhat of a remove—the better to penetrate the obfuscations of an age engaged in the shedding and shoring-up of beliefs—that it might seize and squeeze your spiritual nuts. An early favourite of mine, and this collection contains one marvel after another from the lengthy span of his versified creativity.
Birth, and copulation, and death.
I've been born and once is enough.
You don't remember, but I remember,
Once is enough.
Well here again that don't apply
But I've gotta use words when I talk to you
When you're alone like he was alone
You're either or neither
I tell you again it don't apply
Death or life or life or death
Death is life and life is death
I gotta use words when I talk to you
But if you understand or if you don't
That's nothing to me and nothing to you.
‘And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together).’
“The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms.”
I think we are in rats’ alleyFinishing these pages, I considered these works, several happily tinged with humor, the musings of a widely acclaimed genius who orbits beyond my gravitational reach. I’m a simple person, though; a friend in college once commented that classical music is best when I can tap my feet to the tune. Give me a straightforward poem with a healthy rhyming scheme, then!
Where the dead men lost their bones.