T S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot |
Thou hast committed—
Fornication: but that was in another country,
And besides, the wench is dead.
The Jew of Malta.
AMONG the smoke and fog of a December afternoon
You have the scene arrange itself—as it will seem to do—
With “I have saved this afternoon for you”;
And four wax candles in the darkened room,
Four rings of light upon the ceiling overhead,
An atmosphere of Juliet’s tomb
Prepared for all the things to be said, or left unsaid.
We have been, let us say, to hear the latest Pole
Transmit the Preludes, through his hair and fingertips.
“So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul
Should be resurrected only among friends
Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom
That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room.
—And so the conversation slips
Among velleities and carefully caught regrets
Through attenuated tones of violins
Mingled with remote cornets
“You do not know how much they mean to me, my friends,
And how, how rare and strange it is, to find
In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends,
[For indeed I do not love it .
you knew? you are not blind!
How keen you are!]
To find a friend who has these qualities,
Who has, and gives
Those qualities upon which friendship lives.
How much it means that I say this to you—
Without these friendships—life, what cauchemar!”
Among the windings of the violins
And the ariettes
Of cracked cornets
Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins
Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own,
That is at least one definite “false note.
—Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance,
Admire the monuments,
Discuss the late events,
Correct our watches by the public clocks.
Then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks.
Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in his fingers while she talks.
“Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
What life is, you who hold it in your hands”;
(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
“You let it flow from you, you let it flow,
And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
And smiles at situations which it cannot see.
I smile, of course,
And go on drinking tea.
“Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
My buried life, and Paris in the Spring,
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful, after all.
The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune
Of a broken violin on an August afternoon:
“I am always sure that you understand
My feelings, always sure that you feel,
Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand.
You are invulnerable, you have no Achilles’ heel.
You will go on, and when you have prevailed
You can say: at this point many a one has failed.
But what have I, but what have I, my friend,
To give you, what can you receive from me?
Only the friendship and the sympathy
Of one about to reach her journey’s end.
I shall sit here, serving tea to friends.
I take my hat: how can I make a cowardly amends
For what she has said to me?
You will see me any morning in the park
Reading the comics and the sporting page.
Particularly I remark
An English countess goes upon the stage.
A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance,
Another bank defaulter has confessed.
I keep my countenance,
I remain self-possessed
Except when a street piano, mechanical and tired
Reiterates some worn-out common song
With the smell of hyacinths across the garden
Recalling things that other people have desired.
Are these ideas right or wrong?
The October night comes down; returning as before
Except for a slight sensation of being ill at ease
I mount the stairs and turn the handle of the door
And feel as if I had mounted on my hands and knees.
“And so you are going abroad; and when do you return?
But that’s a useless question.
You hardly know when you are coming back,
You will find so much to learn.
My smile falls heavily among the bric-à-brac.
“Perhaps you can write to me.
My self-possession flares up for a second;
This is as I had reckoned.
“I have been wondering frequently of late
(But our beginnings never know our ends!)
Why we have not developed into friends.
I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark
Suddenly, his expression in a glass.
My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark.
“For everybody said so, all our friends,
They all were sure our feelings would relate
So closely! I myself can hardly understand.
We must leave it now to fate.
You will write, at any rate.
Perhaps it is not too late.
I shall sit here, serving tea to friends.
And I must borrow every changing shape
To find expression .
Like a dancing bear,
Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape.
Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance—
Well! and what if she should die some afternoon,
Afternoon grey and smoky, evening yellow and rose;
Should die and leave me sitting pen in hand
With the smoke coming down above the housetops;
Doubtful, for a while
Not knowing what to feel or if I understand
Or whether wise or foolish, tardy or too soon.
Would she not have the advantage, after all?
This music is successful with a “dying fall”
Now that we talk of dying—
And should I have the right to smile?
Barry Tebb |
It brings to mind Swift leaving a fortune to Dublin
‘For the founding of a lunatic asylum - no place needs it more’.
The breathing beauty of the moors and cheap accommodation
Drew me but the total barbarity of the town stopped me from
Writing a single line: from the hideous facade of its railway
Station - Betjeman must have been drunk or mad to praise it -
To that lump of stone on Castle Hill - her savage spirit broods.
I remember trying to teach there, at Bradley, where the head
Was some kind of ex-P.
teacher, who thought poetry something
You did to children and his workaholic jackass deputy, obsessed
With practical science and lesson preparation and team teaching
And everything on, above and beneath the earth except ‘The Education
Of the Poetic Spirit’ and without that and as an example of what
Pound meant about how a country treats its poets "is a measure
Of its civilisation".
I once had a holiday job in a mill and the
Nightwatchman’s killer alsatian had more civilisation than
Huddersfield’s Deputy Direction of Education.
For a while I was granted temporary asylum at Royds Hall -
At least some of the staff there had socialism if not art -
But soon it was spoilt for everyone when Jenks came to head
English, sweating for his OU degree and making us all suffer,
The kids hating his sarcasm and the staff his vaulting ambition
And I was the only one not afraid of him.
His Achilles’ heel was
Culture - he was a yob through and through - and the Head said to me
"I’ve had enough of him throwing his weight around, if it comes
To a showdown I’ll back you against him any day" but he got
The degree and the job and the dollars - my old T.
But that was typical, after Roy Rich went came a fat appointee
Who had written nothing and knew nothing but knew everyone on
The appointing committee.
Everyday I was in Huddersfield I thought I was in hell and
Sartre was right and so was Jonson - "Hell’s a grammar school
To this" - too (Peter Porter I salute you!) and always I dreamed
Of Leeds and my beautiful gifted ten-year olds and Sheila, my
Genius-child-poet and a head who left me alone to teach poetry
And painting day in, day out and Dave Clark and Diane and I,
In the staffroom discussing phenomenology and daseinanalysis
Applied to Dewey’s theory of education and the essence of the
Forms in Plato and Plotinus and plaiting a rose in Sheila’s
Hair and Johns, the civilised HMI, asking for a copy of my poems
And Horovitz putting me in ‘Children of Albion’ and ‘The
Statesman’ giving me good reviews.
Decades later, in Byram Arcade, I am staring at the facade of
‘The Poetry Business’ and its proprietors sitting on the steps
Outside, trying to look civilised and their letter, "Your poetry
Is good but its not our kind" and I wondered what their kind was
And besides they’re not my kind of editor and I’m back in Leeds
With a letter from Seamus Heaney - thank you, Nobel Laureate, for
Liking ‘My Perfect Rose’ and yes, you’re right about my wanting
To get those New Generation Poets into my classroom at Wyther
Park and show them a thing or two and a phone call from
Horovitz who is my kind of editor still, after thirty years,
His mellifluous voice with its blend of an Oxford accent and
American High Camp, so warm and full of knowledge and above all
PASSIONATE ABOUT POETRY and I remember someone saying,
"If Oxford is the soul of England, Huddersfield is its arsehole".