Good Books Monday (on Tuesday): T.S. Eliot

Since I neglected to do my “Good Books Monday” post yesterday, I decided that “Good Books Monday” would make a guest appearance on Tuesday this week. I thought a while about what book to highlight, and flipped through lots of volumes, but wasn’t really “feeling it” this morning. Then inspiration struck and I decided to read T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Have you read Eliot? If not, please do. “The Waste Land and Other Poems” is a good volume to start with, but he also wrote quite interesting essays on a variety of topics in another volume I own, which is titled “Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot.”

Prufrock is a great poem for strange imagery. For example, the poem begins:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Later in the poem (which follows Prufrock imagining declaring his love during tea):

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:-
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

Another good part towards the end:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question…

I also like this quote from Eliot’s essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”:

The historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.

{Note: the painting above is Monet’s “The Road in Vetheuil in Winter.” It doesn’t have much to do with this post, except it kind of has a Eliot-esque feel to me, for what it’s worth.}

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