The Waste Land and Other Poems (1917 – 1954)
T. S. Eliot
Faber and Faber, 80pp
I picked up a box set, Faber and Faber Poetry Essentials a number of months ago, and this collection by T. S. Eliot is just one of the entries in the ten box set. It is a small sampling of Eliot’s Collected Poems, including the most famous works – The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Ash Wednesday and Journey of the Magi amongst others.
I had not read much of Eliot before this – I knew The Waste Land, and perhaps that was it. I admit to enjoying this collection immensely; Eliot is the recognised genius of modern poetry, and beginning with Prufrock I was enveloped in the rhythm and cadence of his work. Though not always clear what is occurring, Prufrock struck me as a series of somewhat disconnected – but more connected than you think – thoughts within a day in the life of Prufrock; the leaps Eliot makes are psychological, intuitive, rather than logical.
“I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”
There is humour to the insights. Following Prufrock Eliot’s work seems to become more structured, wearing his learning more clearly – his poems become puzzles to unlock, the apotheosis of which seems to be The Waste Land, a stunning piece of work that reveals more upon each reading. There has been allusion in Eliot’s work, even in Prufrock, but here it is a real game, a challenge to know more than Eliot. This can distance some, I am sure, but for the true reader of poetry, a joy, it is what makes poetry such a powerful force. Even so, there is simplicity here, a plainness to some of the images that almost conceals how crafted and beautiful they are:
“And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.”
That from The Waste Land. A simple image that sparks so much.
I will say little more on Eliot now as his Collected Poems is to be read in the future and I will save my thoughts for then.