Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Poems of TS Eliot / The Annotated Texts, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue / Digested read

The Poems of TS Eliot: The Annotated Texts, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue – digested read

‘The Waste Land could be a forerunner to the works of Pam Ayres. Note the driving urgency of its commas’

John Crace
Sun 8 Nov ‘15 17.00 GMT

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (1)

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo (2)

I have measured out my life with coffee (3) spoons.

  1. Ralph Hodgson has suggested the J stands for Joseph, though other commentators have made a convincing case for James. The use of the initial mirrors Eliot’s own struggles over his name. In the earliest versions of the poem, Eliot first signs himself Thomas S Eliot, then T Stearns Eliot, before formalising his authorial poetic as TS Eliot.
  2. Conan Doyle was adamant that Michelangelo referred to the Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor. Twelve years of close textual study have led us to conclude that this is indeed the most likely explanation, but some critics have been more hesitant about jumping to conclusions. Tristram Makeanameforhimself of the University of Texas has suggested Eliot was subconsciously alluding to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
  3. Much as Eliot liked to consider himself a naturalised Englishman, the use of coffee spoons betrays his American roots. A true Englishman measures his life out in tea spoons (cf Ode on an English Tea Spoon by John Keats, English poet, 1795-1821)

The Waste Land (1)

April (2) is the cruellest month, breeding 

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 

Memory and desire, stirring (3) 

Dull roots with spring rain

  1. The title of the poem has been the subject of much contention. Jessie L Watson was convinced the title alluded to his “Wasting of the Land” while Thomas Malory (1405-71) believed Eliot to have been guilty of plagiarising “the Waste Londe” from Le Morte D’Arthur. TSE was insistent on both the use of the word The and the gap between Waste and Land. In the earliest written versions of the text, TSE left 10mm between Waste and Land, suggestive to some he intended the title to be THE Waste Land.
  2. According to Stephen Spender, April is not the cruellest month at all as February is far crueller. Spender believes TSE was well aware of this and that the first line was just a bit of a joke and that the whole poem should be read as a forerunner to the works of Pam Ayres. Andrew Marvell (English poet 1621-78) makes much the same case by pointing out that had TSE been using the Julian calendar, the poem would have begun in August.
  3. Many modern scholars assert that the comma before the last word of each of the opening three lines, followed by a distinctive gerund, was deliberately written by TSE to create a startling, driving urgency. Analysis of the hand-written first draft shows this view to be misplaced, as the lines had so many crossings out in them that it was force majeure that created the opening effect as he had just run out of space.

The Four Quartets (1)

In my beginning is my end (2) 

We shall not cease from exploration (3) 

And the end of all our exploring

  1. This is merely circumstantial speculation. Vivienne Eliot always insisted there was a lost fifth quartet, Chipping Norton, which was TSE’s masterpiece and that Valerie had burnt it (hence the reference to Burnt Norton). CR and J McM spent many years pointlessly searching for this MS.
  2. As Robert Graves observed, this is not strictly true as the poem East Coker goes on for pages and pages thereafter.
  3. There is an ongoing court case between William Blake (1757-1827) and TSE over this usage. Blake believed TSE to have been trying to copy his poem, Jerusalem, in order to sell it to the English Rugby Football Union for a profit of 25/-.

Macavity: The Mystery Cat

Macavity’s (1) a Mystery cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw 

For he’s the master criminal (2) who can defy the Law.

  1. Believed to refer to Ronald Macavity, who attended Milton Academy two years behind TSE, though Elizabeth Trussell of 9, Mornington Crescent, has argued it is more likely to be Ronald’s older brother, Gerald.
  2. Conan Doyle was certain TSE was referencing his character Moriarty but Valerie Eliot was adamant it referred to Andrew Lloyd Webber whose musical Cats she could not stand. As Faber and Faber would have been broke long ago without ALW and we would never have been given the money to complete this textual analysis, CR and J McM are inclined to the Doylean view.
Digested read, digested: I have measured out my life with matchsticks (1)

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