Friday, April 2, 2010

Poetry Friday: "April is the cruellest month..."

True confession time: In high school, I had a temporary obsession with T.S. Eliot, due mostly to the fact that my friend Daniel, who was the most Serious Writer Guy I knew, said that Eliot was the best poet, period. I had unfailing faith in Daniel's literary wisdom (after all, he was a senior, and I was a lowly underclassman), but what I didn't confess to him was that Eliot's poems didn't actually make sense to me at all. Instead, I spent a few months prominently toting a volume of Eliot's The Waste Land and Other Collected Poems around in public and jotting things in its margins in hopes that people would recognize that I was, clearly, a Serious Writer Girl, too.

Ah, high school.

The discovery, a few years later, that entire university courses were devoted to studying "The Waste Land" made me feel retroactively better about all the parts of it that I just "didn't get" at age fifteen. Those early repeated attempts to read and understand "The Waste Land" left the first handful of lines etched in my brain, though, with an odd sort of fondness attached to them. Perhaps that's why I get such a delight out of this video, which accompanies a recording of Eliot himself reading the opening section. Take a moment and listen, even if you have no erstwhile literary crush on Eliot in your own past--there's something eternally magnificent about hearing an author read his/her own words aloud.

The Waste Land

by T. S. Eliot

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
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.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

Read more of "The Wasteland" here. And happy April--don't forget that it's Poetry Month!

1 comment:

  1. That guy sounds like a tool. I bet he was just trying to impress chicks. ;)

    Seriously, though, Eliot is great to read on a few of levels. 1) To see the use of such "common" lauguage (hardly any SAT words in there) and how he creates mood with it. Also, there's an unusual flow and rhythm, not only of the words, but of the ideas. 2) Once you start getting into the ideas behind this poem, it boggles the mind. That's always fun too. I'm not going to be like your friend and pretend to know everything there is to know about this poem, but what I do know (and can remember), it played into the legend of the Fisher King. And 3) some of his lines are just badass. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

    Anyway, I'm sure that guy is probably at a bar somewhere reciting this stuff to try to impress the chain smokers. ;)