Poetry and the American; Readings of T.S. Eliot
This is poetry in the American series of broadcast produced and recorded by KPFA in Berkeley California under a grant from the Educational Television Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This program has a discussion with readings of the poetry of TS Eliot. The program is given by Anthony Ostrov. There is a poem by TS Eliot. It is the first of five lyrics called landscapes. It is not among Elliot's well-known poems but it may serve as an introduction to this program in suggesting a little discussed aspect of Eliot's poetry which is a lyric Grace rarely matched in modern verse. The poem is called New Hampshire and as a response not only to a landscape but also to childhood and innocence a response tempered by mature experience of time. New Hampshire
children's voices in the orchard between the blossom and the fruit time Golden had a crimson head between the green tip and the root black wing round wing hover over 20 years and the spring is over. Today agrees. Tomorrow trees cover me over light in Lee's Golden had black wing playing swing spring seeing swing up into the apple tree. I have begun with a reading of this short poem in the hope it may suggest a personal
temper and lyricism which are characteristic of much of Elliott's poetry but difficult to convey in any discussion of his work. And because if one is unaware of these qualities in it his poetry may be made to sound austere and for getting beyond interest. TS Eliot is probably both the most complex and the most fascinating American poet of the 20th century. If he may be called American being now a British subject certainly he is one of the most influential and controversy figures of modern letters. His work far more than that of any other man defines for the English speaking world. But we continue to call modern poetry no poet in our time has been so much disputed and so much imitated as Eliot. No critic has had so profound an impact on literary thought in this century. For some time now ever since the subsidence of the storm of popular doubt and protest which greeted his early publication in the first quarter of this century and which raged again through much of the 30s it is a great poem The
Wasteland and the following poems announcing his conversion to look at all a system there has been little room for doubt of Eliot's importance and greatness as a poet. It must be said that what little room may be imagined continues to be well filled. Many people still regard Elliot's work as insultingly obscure or morbid beyond toleration some people resent his authority or if not the fact that he judges the world which any good artist must do. The particular judgments he appears to make some object to his religion or his politics and of course there are always a few who will simply for one reason or another resist great accomplishment. Indeed we seem to be entering a time when fashionable taste which until recently embraced much of Eliot's poetry is beginning to turn away from it. But the poetry remains and it is splendid poetry. It is also poetry peculiarly relevant to our own time as the size and continuance of the controversy about it may testify. I should like here to try to provide
some introductory sense of that poetry and to dispel one or two of the more unfortunate myths that have grown up around it. Certainly it is true that much of Eliot's poetry is formidable both in its originality and consequent difficulty and in the vast scope of its subject. But it is also true that much of it is quite readily and pleasurably available to the ordinary reader who would turn to it for the first time. For example here are two of his early poems written in 1915 when he was doing graduate study at Oxford. They are immediately impressive in their ironic judgments of refined New England Society and they show the beginnings of that intelligence and voice which was before long to indict all of modern society for its failure of commitment to any real values. But though the poems say a good deal more than may at once appear they can hardly be called Obs secure or even difficult. The first is untitled. The Boston Evening Transcript.
The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn when evening quickens faintly in the street wakening the appetites of life in some and to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript. I mount the steps and ring the bell turning warily as one would turn to nod goodbye to Rochelle Co. If the street were time and he at the end of the street and I say Cousin Harriet Here's the Boston Evening Transcript. A companion piece to this is called Aunt Helen. Miss Helen slings baby was my maiden aunt and lived in a small house near a fashionable square cared for by servants to the number of four.
Now when she died there was silence in heaven and silence at her end of the street. The shutters were drawn and the undertaker wiped his feet. He was aware that this sort of thing had occurred before the dogs were handsomely provided for. But shortly afterwards the parrot died to the Dresden clock continued ticking on the mantel piece and the footman sat upon the dining table holding the second housemaid on his knees who had always been so careful while her mistress lived. We need to ride and amusing ironies of these poems. Obviously there is an attack and a complication which will not permit them being dismissed as merely little jokes in them that staunch New England aristocracy the custody of our virtue is no longer most of the national wealth seem not so worthy after all.
We see Aunt Helen for instance through the poem as it best a desolate person and one begins to feel the monstrous onon a careful contemplation of her life. Obviously we have a similar sort of judgement on the cousin Harriet's of this world whose whole life depends on the Boston Evening Transcript of its attack however is not merely on the aristocracy of New England in the four short poems called preludes which are among his most anthologized early pieces and presents a vision of the modern city circa 1910 which finds desolation general but at the same time these poems forces to attention to the aimlessness and desperate homelessness of life in the great grab high of the city. They also view that life with a certain tenderness in the end. Elliot is moved and we with him by the suffering soul of man in this stultifying place. But the tenderness itself proves tragic for in the end all of these scenes represent as prelude to nothing. They may deny it we may
try to laugh and call our vision morbid or melodramatic but in the poems words the world revolves like ancient women gathering fuel in vacant lots. Here are TS Eliot's it's the winter evening settles down with smell of steaks in passage ways six o clock the burnt out and of smoky days and now a gusty shower rep's the grimy scraps of withered leaves about your feet and newspapers from vacant lot the showers beat down broken blinds and chimney pot and at the corner of the street a lonely cab horse steam and stem and then the lighting of the Lamb.
The morning comes to consciousness so faint stale smells of beer from the sawdust crumpled street with all its muddy feet. The press too early. Coffee stand with the other masquerades the time resumes. One thinks of all the hand that are raising dingy shades in a thousand furnished room. You tossed a blanket from the bed you lay upon your back and waited. You doze and watch the night revealing the thousand sordid images of which your soul was constituted. They flickered against the ceiling and when all the world came back and the light crept up between the shutters and you heard the sparrows in the gutters. You had such a vision of the street as a street hardly
understand sitting along the beds where you curl the papers from your hair or clasp the yellow soles of feet in the palms of both soiled hands. It is so stretched tight across the skies that fade behind a city block or trampled by insistent feet to four and five and six o'clock and short square fingers stuffing pipes and evening newspapers and eyes assured of certain certainties the conscience of a blackened street impatient to assume the world. I am moved by fancies that are curled around these images and cling to the notion of some infinitely gentle infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth and laugh. The worlds revolve like ancient women gathering fuel in a vacant lot. These preludes were the first written of Eliot's published poems the first three composed in 1910 and the fourth a 911 at about the same time his most popular early poll on The Love Song of J Alford Prufrock was written. It was then twenty two years old. There is surprisingly little biographical information available on Thomas turns out and perhaps only a little of it is germane to his poetry. He was born in St. Louis in 1888 a family going back in America to the middle of the 17th century and distinguished in the history of both religion and education in this country. He graduated Harvard after three years work and then went on to spend nine more years in graduate study at Harvard the Sorbonne and Merton College at Oxford.
He was a one time a successful banker with Lloyds Bank Ltd in London and has for a long time now been associated with the English publishing house of Faber and Faber of which he is a director. In 1989 Elliott registered in England for the US Navy and apparently at that time continued to think of himself as an American citizen. But by nine hundred twenty seven his increasing interest in the English church and state and perhaps a feeling of responsibility to the country which had by then been his home for some 12 years brought him to become a British subject which he remains. Published reminiscences of friends recall him as a brilliant and charming student as a tough minded businessman as a correct and cordial gentleman and as a warm and entertaining friend. His sense of humor is often remarked and is apparently capable of occasional extremity. There is a famous story about Elliot setting off a cold bucket full of firecrackers under a table at a meeting of the board of directors of Faber and Faber in London when one meeting took place on the Fourth of July.
But over all of this what seems most impressive to the people who know him is that essential and very great seriousness about the nature of life and human obligation. And this could not be doubted by anyone who has read his poems. Nearly all of the poems published before the Wasteland which appeared in one thousand twenty two might be called Poems of disillusionment. They searched the world in which we live and everywhere find human promise betrayed the upper classes are enfeebled vacuous caulked in the meaningless routines of their wealth endless endless repetitions of the correct talk having altogether failed the magnificence of earlier aristocracy. The real ruling class has become the merchant class to which the great inheritance of art and philosophy are only vague puzzles or toys or paraphernalia to be viewed with the aid of a tourist guide. The laboring classes have become mechanized there is no longer pride or personality or tradition in their work for a craft or for the natural rhythms
of life they have substituted the certain certainties of the evening newspaper which seems to provide the outer limit of spiritual life of the whole society. The few who can see through the hollowness or horror of their situations are like Prufrock incapable of breaking free to individual life of preserving integrity to their own visions either for reason of the overbearing pressures of the modern world upon them or because of their own fear of not conforming to the pattern which hideous though they find it has become a part of themselves which they have not the strength to abandon. Eliot has been accused of celebration of the past at expense of denial of the present but to make the accusation is to fail to see its point. His method is to use the past to eliminate the present. In the early poems by various ironic contrasts for example in the points Sweeny erect in which we first meet only its famous figure of the beast beneath the human skin. Next week we begin with two stanzas calling for the world of
antiquity not for the sake of its past ness or for the sake of its violence but for the sake of its vigor its vitality echoed are not only the harsh shores of the sickly days which are Aegean Islands but also ill as God of the wind and the story of Ariadne who waited Theseus in penetrating the labyrinth of Crete and killing the Mina TAR only to be betrayed by her lover when after carrying her away with him from Crete. It is around the island of Knox us this heroic setting with its reminders of classic grand juror prepares us for the drama of the poem in which we see Sweeney rising from his bed of lust and beginning to shave his lady in an epileptic or epileptic like agony creates a commotion to which Sweeney remains quite indifferent while the other ladies of The House react in their various ways. The poem is prefaced by this epigraph on the trees about
me let them be dry and leafless let the rocks groan with continual surges and behind me make all a desolation. Look look wenches This is the poem Sweeney Iraq. Paint me a cavernous waist Shore cast in the UN still sick ladies paint me the bold and fracture was rocks faced by the snarled and yelping seize display any illicit above reviewing the insurgent gales which tangle Ariadne's hair and swell with pace the perjured sail. Morning Star as the feet and hand Nasik and policy gesture of orangutang rises from the sheets in Steen this withered root of knots of hair slid below and gashed with eyes this cropped up with teeth the
sickle motion from the thighs jackknifes upward at the knees then straightens out from heel to hip pushing the framework of the bed and clawing at the pillow slip Sweeny addressed full length to shave rock bottom pink from nape to base nose the female temperament and wipes the suds around his face. The length and shadow of a man is history said Emerson who had not seen the silhouette of Sweeney straddled in the sun. Test the razor on his leg. Waiting until the shriek subsided. The epileptic on the bed curves backward clutching at her sides. The ladies of the corridor find themselves involved disgraced. Call witness to their principles and deprecate the lack of taste. Observing that hysteria might easily be mis understood as Turner intimated does the house know sort of good.
But Doris towels from the bath and padding on broad feet bringing solid Vala tea and a glass of brandy. There is of course no direct correspondence between the drama in which we see Sweeney take part and the classical dramas echoed in the beginning of the poem. But the remarkable impoverishment of Sweeney's scene is dramatized by the contrasts of the epileptic woman on Sweeney's bed is no Gnostic or Ariadne nor except in most ironic measure is Doris Sweeney the strong man is no Ulysses no Theseus nor even the dreadful Cyclops Polyphemus who at least did love Sweeney's indifference. His great detachment dominates the whole point so that in the end what has happened is not a drama at all but merely an incident an episode. There is no moral consequence for any of the participants in
nearly all of the early poems. What we are shown is the physical and moral squalor of our world. The total vision of all this is gathered and integrated most powerfully in the wasteland. The long and brilliant poem Eliot published in one thousand twenty two poems difficult and probably the best approach to it is truly its own superb reading of it which is available on recordings. But it should be mentioned that in this poem in which we see the modern world is a chaotic jumble in which love has become sex and sex merely a perfunctory routine and all the great traditions of love and creativity are strewn and lost. Social Order religious order even the order of history have disappeared. A struggle does go on against despair. It can hardly be said to succeed. But in the Hollow Men the shorter point Eliot published three years after the wasteland he reaches the nadir of his despair. There are modern man is seen as a collection of scarecrow figures lacking the volition or the passion to act.
Living amid the rubble of past great ages in which man was dignified by belief but which nothing is left but a heap of broken images and modern man seems capable of consummating nothing more than a foolish rhyme. His prayers disintegrate into nothing as he starts the meat falters and fails before death. The one reality confronting him and the poem ends on the lines terrifying in their tawdriness. 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. But Elliot was not a nihilist as has been often claimed. His early poetry shows through the broad and detailed indictment of twentieth century civilization a constant search for value. Often it seems for something in man in which to believe. And the poetry remains alive for us because Elliott's vision of man in his poems is a humane one. Where he sees man as victim of the great terrible system of modern society he always sees him with a kind of affection for lawn lament. A fine sense of
pathos if not of tragedy. The pathos however almost never becomes sentimental for there is nearly always an ironic ambivalence in the situation which inspires it. Doris for example bringing smelling salts and brandy to Sweeney's victim is at the same time she is performing a human gesture for which we are grateful. Acting in the interest of the house and there may be something of the perfunctory in her performance and yet in the case of most of Eliot's characters including even many of the characters in the wasteland at the same time we regard with horror their emptiness or weakness or bestiality we see also a poignance something of that infinitely gentle infinitely suffering thing which is the enduring soul of man and it was perhaps this vision that required Eliot not simply to close up shop with the seemingly total despair of The Hollow Men. Not long after the publication of that point Elliott announced his conversion to Christianity in the Anglican Church and in 1030 confirmed with the
publication of Ash Wednesday his first long religious poem. Almost all of his poems and plays since then have been of a religious order concerned with the problem of salvation. The relation of man to God and the means of redemption for mortality is not possible here to read an entire day or discuss in detail any of that waits later poems. It may be said however that he brought a kind of power and attention to religious verse which was entirely new perhaps especially in the elaboration of the human context in which religious experience must necessarily take place. The struggle for belief. The price of belief and the reward are almost equally his subject. Before long religious poems called the Four Quartets published in 1943 and following the publication of which by a few years Elliott was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. These poems are the crown of his achievement. Perhaps their central point
is that religious belief is not arbitrary that it is not a matter of pure faith. In other words the belief in divinity at least is not without some proof of divinity we can all apprehend within the total of human experience Eliot contends our moments of a more profound experience than that of time. And what is within the moments of real revelation of in fact the direct perception of what we might call Ultimate Reality though because we just believe or do not understand the workings of time. We feel these moments to be only vague intuitions which may be disregarded. It is this fact of religious experience and the way to it express largely in secular terms that is the central concern of the Four Quartets. Of course any such statement is an immense oversimplification. A great deal takes place in the poems and finally there is no way to state it or talk about it successfully outside of the poems themselves. So I would like to close by reading
part of the drive solve ages which is the third of the Four Quartets. The title The Dry Salvages Eliot tells us in a note is the name of a small group of rocks with a beacon off the northeast coast of Cape Ann Massachusetts. In the first section of the poem we have a discussion of the river and sea and the timelessness for which they stand in juxtaposition to human time. Then in a beautiful Sistine which begins the second section the great question is asked what terminations may there be for the agony of mortality the endless dying and pain of dying. And it is proposed that there is no end save for the hardly barely pray of the prayer of the one NCAA the Great Birth of being which is so nearly beyond mortal conception. Bum continues in a discussion of the problem of apprehension of this truth of the moment of reality and the long suffering of human time and the terror of times ambivalence and ambiguity and finally proceeds to the resolution of the problem. It is possible only to read a small
portion of the poem here. So I have chosen the sustainer which begins the second section and I hope it may suggest a little of the total richness of the poem. To close then this program about TS Eliot. Here is the sustainer which begins the second section of his poem The Driesell of ages. Where is there an end of it. The soundless wailing the silent withering of autumn flowers dropping their petals and remaining motionless. Where is there an end to the drifting wreckage. The prayer of the bone on the beat. The UN pray a prayer that the calamitous and NCAA Sion there is no end. But Ed. The trailing consequence of further days and hours by the motion takes to itself the emotionless years of living
among the breakage of what was believed in as the most reliable and therefore the fittest for renunciation. There is the final edition. The failing pride of resentment at failing powers the unattached devotion which might pass for devotion less in a drifting boat with a slow leak in silent listening to the undeniable clamor of the bell of the last dun NCAA. Where is the end of them. The fisherman sailing into the winds tail for the fall colors. We cannot think of a time that is ocean less or of an ocean not littered with wastage or of a future that is not liable like the past to have no destination. We have to think of them as forever a baling setting and hauling while the north east lowers over shallow banks. Changing going to erosion
or drawing their money drying sails a dock it is not as making a trip that will be unpayable for all that will not bear examination. There is no end of it. The voiceless wailing no end to the withering of withered flowers. The movement of pain that is painless and motionless to the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage. The bones prayer to death its god only the hardly barely able prayer of the one and Nancy ation. Poetry in the American was produced and recorded by station KPFA in Berkeley under a grant from the educational television and radio center and distributed by the National Association of educational
- Poetry and the American
- Readings of T.S. Eliot
- Producing Organization
- pacifica radio
- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- A lecture-recital by Anthony Ostroff on the works of T.S. Eliot.
- Series Description
- Twenty half-hour programs designed to further the enjoyment of poetry.
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- Media type
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Ostroff, Anthony, 1923-
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-12-14 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Poetry and the American; Readings of T.S. Eliot,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 7, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-ff3m1h8b.
- MLA: “Poetry and the American; Readings of T.S. Eliot.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 7, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-ff3m1h8b>.
- APA: Poetry and the American; Readings of T.S. Eliot. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-ff3m1h8b