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prufrock and the ignorance of beyond.

June 23, 2011

someone once told me “if a writer is dead, they are not worth reading.”

.

yeah okay whatever my jaw fucking dropped at that. what an ignorant statement to make. what a callous, stupid thing to say – betraying such inelegance, such mulishness.

my love affair for ts eliot began in grade twelve when my out of the box teacher gave us a photocopied sheet of the love song of j alfred prufrock. i remember the class had to sit and read little stanzas out loud, our voices mimicking those of the mermaids’, a sort of singing cadence beginning as some of us stumbled over the words and some of us flew. and of course, about half of the class hated the fucking thing, and about another quarter was just indifferent, and then about another quarter fell in deep love. we thought how can this be. how can something like this be written!? what are all these words?

.

.

fast forward to second year undergrad. my taciturn and genius british lit professor tells us that there are only three poetry books on the syllabus – yeats, auden, eliot – because these are the best, the best array. we roll our eyes but when he goes through the wasteland with us, line by line, a paper world fucking unfolds in our laps. things that we would have never known – soda water as a euphemism for abortion, a head cold as a euphemism for syphilis, april as the cruelest month, referenced all the way back to chaucer –

 

good god, eliot wove – weaves, still, from beyond – a subtle, dangerous world of words. one false step and the reader becomes lost, bumbling, stupid – flat-footed among malicious, stinging references, among writing at its utmost fluid. you have to know what is going on. and if not that, you have to want to know what is going on. you have to make an effort to research the vague references. you have to want it. and nowadays, i find that trait is lacking in some readers.

.

yes, eliot is my benchmark, my goal, my bible, my reference guide. so often i hear “wellllllll this poem is really good i guess but i just dont GET it can you EXPLAIN it a little more? if it was more CLEAR if it was all laid OUT for me i’d like it MORE.”

 

uh no i fucking can’t do that.. you are a reader, and this is your job. what if eliot had included a reference guide for his writing? would have poems have held the same juicy, bitter mouthful, the same glossy and soaring cadence? no. they would have been reduced to baby writing, children’s literature. a joke. they would have become a joke.

sometimes, not knowing is just fine. it’s just as good – better! – than knowing. that nuanced edge of confusions pulls the reader deeply into the writing. it makes the reader want to read and read again to better understand. stop being so lazy. make an effort. we are become a numb, lazy generation when it comes to everything but especially literature. fuck the kobo!!!!! (said like “FUCK THE POLICE”.)

.

 

let’s end on a note of poetry. let’s steer clear of prufrock because it’s all so achingly beautiful that it’s been battered to death all over the internet. so let’s move to the wasteland. of the entire series of the wasteland, two poems make my heart break. one is ii. a game of chess.

“Footsteps shuffled on the stair.

Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair

Spread out in fiery points

Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.”

 

the other poem that makes me weep is v. what the thunder said. first of all what an amazing title. second of all, the cloying refrain of da: datta, dayadhvam, damyata is haunting.

.

“Datta: what have we given?

My friend, blood shaking my heart

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender

Which an age of prudence can never retract

By this, and this only, we have existed

Which is not to be found in our obituaries

Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider

Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor

In our empty rooms.”

 

sigh. if you need me, i’ll be curled in bed dreaming of water, the green man, april, burnished hair, and a patient spread out on a table, sleeping from ether. sounds like nightmares, but really they are the dreams of writers, i suppose.

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