Thomas Stearns Eliot. A lot is hidden between those three words. A whole world perhaps. A depth measured by many oceans, a mystery viewed from bewitching lenses, a song marrying numerous notes, a candle thriving on inexhaustible wax.
During his writing season, that spanned over three decades, T S Eliot penned many evocative and luscious poems, with his pen always leaving a signature cryptic mark over his dotted sheets. Often a source of delusion to an enthusiastic poetic heart, his labyrinthine lyricism was like a lashing downpour on a parched heartland: one surrendered to the torrent at the risk of bearing undecipherable strokes on one’s soul. I belong to this clan.
In this volume, his celebrated and most popular poems rub shoulders with their relatively lesser known but still dense cousins. And while my soul may curse my mind for being picky about Eliot’s poems, I might go asunder for a while and share with you three gems, whose themes, narratives, cadence and wholeness can be adorned by adjectives from the ‘superlative’ family alone.
THE WASTE LAND
In his most celebrated poem, his thoughts, meandering through five reverberating alleys of melancholy and despair, purport to create an image that oscillates between our meretricious values and late realizations. It begins with The Burial of the Dead where a collage of pictures bearing subdued trees, stony lands, dried showers and insipid sun leaves a young girl with a heavy heart who is further introduced to the throbbing futility of it all.
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.
Leading us to the next alleys, Eliot plays A Game of Chess, issues A Fire Sermon, condemns us to a Death by Water and lets us hear What The Thunder Said. All through this trail, we are trembling; more with remorse or excitement, is something we can’t guess without ambiguity. Touching the themes of vengeance, repentance, nostalgia, penance and decay, he halts at ”Datta, Dayadhvan and Damyata” as the final rousing call. This mantra in Sanskrit translates to “Give, Sacrifice and Control” respectively. This trinity, capable of resurrecting our being in a more dignified and buoyant fabric, is left for the reader to comprehend and validate.
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
Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.
Thus starts this splendid poem, which is a mighty paean to a person’s journey from youth to mellow. And as always detected by a fatigued eye, this journey is laden with discolored beliefs and stung steps.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or is still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion.
We are always in a vicious circle of creation and destruction. This engaging activity provides momentum to our lives and reinforces our core strength.
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice.
A pity, then, that we can’t always control this rigmarole. What if, dotting the circle, we reach a point from where a deviation threatens to derail our movement, propelling our faith engine to go kaput? The tumultuous fall, then becomes impossible to confine in words, for it pervades everything: our skin, our bones, our heart. Should we be foolish enough to expect a hand to pull us out of this ditch, at this hour, when all we have done till now, in our sturdy capacity, is overlook meek yet expectant eyes? Is hope of such benevolence, an absurdity? Well, there is someone, indeed, to whom we can always look upto.
Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose.
“Shantih Shantih Shantih – The Peace that passeth understanding.”
These poems are like pearls; the metaphorical oyster may pose a formidable guard but caress it with patience and stimulate it aloud and it will open up to a mesmerizing world of mellifluous prose and inspiring gist.
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