T.S. Eliot’s poetry is like that old paperback novel where the pages are dog-eared and well read. Each word becomes a morsel savored as it etches into the essence of the man. Follow the laments of J. Alfred Prufrock to the enigmatic “Waste Land” to 1939′s mischievous Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to the fruits of “Ash Wednesday” and you find yourself immersed in the roadmap of an old soul trying to find his way through a world gone mad.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born September 26, sharing his birthday with the likes of Johnny Appleseed, Pope Paul VI, George Gershwin, Winnie Mandela, Olivia Newton-John, Serena Williams, and Shamu, the whale. Funny that music, politics, and religion are associated with some of those names on that list as Eliot’s poetry defined those themes in his modernist musings–searching for solutions; rather, resolutions, to a world, which in his lifetime (1888-1965) succumbed to two world wars and a pathos of service to the self. No wonder Eliot hungered for personal fulfillment.
The Waste Land by TS Eliot
Prufrock feels life is meaningless as he struggles to fit in and find a meaningful relationship; and “The Waste Land” (1922), depicts life’s burgeoning poverty as WWI ended leaving deep scars on the face of humanity that no amount of salve can heal. Eliot reeks in these earlier works of a poet trying to reconcile what he sees ailing in himself and in the world, but coming up despairingly short and sad. As he evolves spiritually, he finds that emptiness just may be fulfilled through Christianity. His later works, such as “Ash Wednesday” (1930) find those resolutions just may lie in the world’s conversion to a healing spirit.
T.S. Eliot converted to Anglo-Catholicism in 1927 while residing in Britain. However, his conversion might be likened to walking up to a door, where you knock and the owner shouts “Come in!” and then you just stand there wondering whether to enter or not. If he had entered fully into the house of Christianity with zeal rather than stand and wait to see what happens with it, perhaps the impact of his latter poetry would have converted others to a much higher extent.
But that puts a lot on this man who loved Sherlock Holmes, and whose whimsical musings on the mischievous life of cats became the fodder for the musical Cats; and who, as an editor, rejected George Orwell’s Animal Farm as did twenty-two others.
The journey of a poet is one of need and of self-discovery, sharing it with a world that may or may not accept him. It means holding yourself up to the mirror and finding out there’s much more than what you see, which is pretty scary and fulfilling at the same time.
Perhaps Eliot’s hunger has subsided in death now that he is kicking back with St. Peter discussing whether the world still has madness as its ambrosia.
Perhaps from a little pub in Wales, they are throwing back a couple pints of Pils or Stout wondering why it took 70 years to figure out that “Usk” (1935) was not such a riddle.
Perhaps it is better just to join old T. S. in a toast of his much enjoyed ale from earth to Heaven’s ears, and nod imperceptibly with a wry little smile after all, it was his journey that the world still seems to delight in devouring.
Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.