“So this is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” ~ T.S. Eliot {poetry}

 

{Henri Cartier Bresson}

 

Before entering the Poetry Lounge, I must shake the debris of popular kitsch off my overcoat and turn a deaf ear away from the hue and cry of current American politics.

Three overstuffed chairs invite us to sit — one for me and one for you and the last contains the figure of a legend. The venerable Grand Master of Poetry is in the house. Say hello to T.S. Eliot.

{T.S. Eliot via cdn.counter-currents.com}

 

Anticipating my need, for I’ve been in a state of quantum uncertainty of late, he first regales us with my favorite.

The Hollow Men

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

 

A penny for the Old Guy

     I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

     II

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

     III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

     IV

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

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

     V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
                               For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
                               Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
                               For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

{Design by Zach Harris}


There are poems that need explanation but this is not one of those.

Oh, we can delve deeper into the mysteries between the idea and the reality and between the conception and the creation, but I will leave that to you, if you wish. Later.

But, now, let us leave the world of 1925, when The Hollow Men appeared, and look back a decade to the genesis of Eliot’s genius.

Every published poet has a first born child of the muse that is presented to the world, but not every fruit of the brow is heralded as the second coming.

T. S. Eliot was a month shy of his twenty-third birthday when he finished composing The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in August of 1911, back at Harvard after a year spent studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Years later, while Eliot was just beginning his life-long expatriate act in England, the poem came to the attention of Ezra Pound—who was acting as foreign editor of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry: A Magazine of Verse—and he urged Monroe to publish it, gushing to her that Eliot “has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.”

 

Said Eliot.

The year 1915 was filled with the sensational.

The Great War in Europe was spreading rapidly like a cancer from the center and fears of death and disease were a constant preoccupation.

The year began with news of a hospital cook named Typhoid Mary in New York and more than 29,000 people perishing by earthquake in Avezzano, Italy. Defiance took the human form of a straight-jacketed Harry Houdini, spurning the advances of his would-be lover, Death.

The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was published in the June 1915 issue. It was Eliot’s first published poem outside the university. For many of the men and women with a finely tuned poetic ear, living through the second decade of the 20th century, it was a revelation.

You can read it alone or next to Anthony Hopkins as you listen to “the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.”

 

The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . .

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—

[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
       .     .     .     .     .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
       .     .     .     .     .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet–and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

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.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

 I do not think they will sing to me.

 I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

 

 

***


We, moderns of the future, a hundred years later, may find it quaint that a comparison of the evening sky to “a patient etherised upon a table,” was considered shocking and offensive at the time. But, the poem has a timeless feel that people of any age can understand.

There is much written about the symbolism that permeates the poem. On the surface, it is a stream of conscious lament of a man, characteristic of the Modernists of the time. But, the literary elements of Hamlet and the aura of Dante plunge the reader to deeper levels.

Stay as long as you wish in the lounge—after the cups, the marmalade, the tea—away from the kitsch and oblivious to the hue and cry. Go deeper into these two songs of humanity—both terrible and wonderful and beautiful in the fullness of expression.

In this last of meeting places, we can cast off deliberate disguises, disturb the universe, and talk of Michelangelo.

*****

 

More from the Poetry Lounge: 

>> “After a while, you learn.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges

>> “To be nobody but yourself.” ~ e.e. cummings

>>”I love you in secret, between the shadow & the soul.” ~ Pablo Neruda

 

 

{And this is how the world starts.}

 

 

Richard La Rosa

Richard La Rosa

Richard La Rosa is a writer currently residing in the land of California, a state most Americans consider to be only loosely connected to the rest of the United States. He has been a regular contributor to Rebelle Society since August of 2012. When not engaged in the "real" world, you will find his virtual doppelgängers whimsically carousing on Facebook & Twitter.
Richard La Rosa

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