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T.S. Eliot reads some minor poems: La Figlia Che Piange, Whispers of Immortailty, Sweeney Among the Nightingales, and Difficulties of a Statesman

La Figlia Che Piange

T.S. Eliot looked all over Italy for a statue of a weeping girl. He couldn’t find her, but then one day a real one appeared. How do you say hello to a beautiful woman? Sometimes you don’t; you write a poem instead. Writers often write what they wanted to say.

“O quam te memorem virgo” is from Virgil, the Aeneid. Aeneas sees his mother Venus and asks, “What should I call you, maiden?” He doesn’t know it’s his mother, but he does suspect he stands before a goddess, and wants to be very polite on that account. Not only should we respect a goddess, but remember that all that beauty can burn us up if she wants to in her splendor. Always be polite to strangers. You never know who you’re talking to. And that seems to be the tact Tom Eliot is using here.

La Figlia Che Piange

O quam te memorem virgo

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.


Whispers of Immortality

Whispers of Immortality

Webster was much possessed by death
And saw the skull beneath the skin;
And breastless creatures under ground
Leaned backward with a lipless grin.

Daffodil bulbs instead of balls
Stared from the sockets of the eyes!
He knew that thought clings round dead limbs
Tightening its lusts and luxuries.

Donne, I suppose, was such another
Who found no substitute for sense;
To seize and clutch and penetrate,
Expert beyond experience,

He knew the anguish of the marrow
The ague of the skeleton;
No contact possible to flesh
Allayed the fever of the bone.
. . . . . . . .

Grishkin is nice: her Russian eye
Is underlined for emphasis;
Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.

The couched Brazilian jaguar
Compels the scampering marmoset
With subtle effluence of cat;
Grishkin has a maisonette;

The sleek Brazilian jaguar
Does not in its arboreal gloom
Distil so rank a feline smell
As Grishkin in a drawing-room.

And even the Abstract Entities
Circumambulate her charm;
But our lot crawls between dry ribs
To keep our metaphysics warm.

Vanitas Vanitatum

by John Webster (1580 – 1634)

All the Flowers of the Spring
Meet to perfume our burying:
These have but their growing prime,
And man does flourish but his time.
Survey our progresse from our birth—
We are set, we grow, we turne to earth.
Courts adieu, and all delights,
All bewitching appetites!
Sweetest Breath and clearest eye
Like perfumes goe out and dye;
And consequently this is done
As shadowes wait upon the Sunne.
Vaine the ambition of Kings
Who seeke by trophies and dead things
To leave a living name behind,
And weave but nets to catch the wind.

Holy Sonnet 10

by John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.


Sweeney Among the Nightingales

Many will argue, and be right, that Sweeney Among the Nightingales is not one of Eliot’s better poems; and yet for such an inconsequential one, if you look, there is a lot going on. Every line serves up. Sweeney is a brute, more animal than man; the modern world seems doomed with the likes of Sweeney, just a bunch of stupid murdering brutes.

It is 1919. We are in a brothel perhaps in Uruguay. Some will argue that prejudice also rears its ugly head here; the Irishman Sweeney is slovenly and the Jewish lady is eating grapes with murderous paws, a little bit of an animal herself.

The epitaph in Greek at the beginning is from Agamemnon by Aeschylus. When stabbed, Agamemnon yells: “Alas, I am struck and dying!” Perhaps the women in the poem are going to murder Sweeney just like Clytemnestra did to Agamemnon as soon as the last line is spoken; we’ll never know, although the poem does end with nightingales shitting on a shroud, and that’s not a good sign for a happy ending for the coming 20th Century. Enjoy the language and the imagery, not one of the greater perhaps but still a lot of fun.

Sweeney Among the Nightingales

Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
The zebra stripes along his jaw
Swelling to maculate giraffe.

The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the horned gate.

Gloomy Orion and the Dog
Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
The person in the Spanish cape
Tries to sit on Sweeney’s knees

Slips and pulls the table cloth
Overturns a coffee-cup,
Reorganized upon the floor
She yawns and draws a stocking up;

The silent man in mocha brown
Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
The waiter brings in oranges
Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;

The silent vertebrate in brown
Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
Rachel née Rabinovitch
Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;

She and the lady in the cape
Are suspect, thought to be in league;
Therefore the man with heavy eyes
Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,

Leaves the room and reappears
Outside the window, leaning in,
Branches of wistaria
Circumscribe a golden grin;

The host with someone indistinct
Converses at the door apart,
The nightingales are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

And sang within the bloody wood
When Agamemnon cried aloud,
And let their liquid droppings fall
To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.


Difficulties of a Statesman

Politics in 491 BCE, politics in 1932: politics as usual? Can politicians make everybody happy? And if they can’t, do folks tend to kill them? Resign or stay resolute, what is the answer?

Difficulties of a Statesman

CRY what shall I cry?
All flesh is grass: comprehending
The Companions of the Bath, the Knights of the British Empire, the Cavaliers,
O Cavaliers! of the Legion of Honour,
The Order of the Black Eagle (1st and 2nd class) ,
And the Order of the Rising Sun.
Cry cry what shall I cry?
The first thing to do is to form the committees:
The consultative councils, the standing committees committees and sub-committees
One secretary will do for several committees.
What shall I cry?

Arthur Edward Cyril Parker is appointed telephone operator
At a salary of one pound ten a week rising by annual increments of fiveshillings
To two pounds ten a week; with a bonus of thirty shillings at Christmas
And one week’s leave a year.
A committee has been appointed to nominate a commission of engineers
To consider the Water Supply.
A commission is appointed
For Public Works, chiefly the question of rebuilding the fortifications.
A commission is appointed
To confer with a Volscian commission
About perpetual peace: the fletchers and javelin-makers and smiths
Have appointed a joint committee to protest against the reduction of orders.
Meanwhile the guards shake dice on the marches
And the frogs (O Mantuan) croak in the marshes.
Fireflies flare against the faint sheet lightning
What shall I cry?
Mother mother
Here is the row of family portraits, dingy busts, all looking remarkablyRoman,
Remarkably like each other, lit up successively by the flare
Of a sweaty torchbearer, yawning.

O hidden under the… Hidden under the… Where the dove’s foot rested andlocked for a moment,
A still moment, repose of noon, set under the upper branches of noon’s widest tree
Under the breast feather stirred by the small wind after noon
There the cyclamen spreads its wings, there the clematis droops over the lintel,
O mother (not among these busts, all correctly inscribed)
I a tired head among these heads
Necks strong to bear them
Noses strong to break the wind
Mother
May we not be some time, almost now, together,
If the mactations, immolations, oblations, impetrations,
Are now observed
May we not be
O hidden
Hidden in the stillness of noon, in the silent croaking night.
Come with the sweep of the little bat’s wing, with the small flare of thefirefly or lightning bug,
‘Rising and falling, crowned with dust’, the small creatures,
The small creatures chirp thinly through the dust, through the night.
O mother
What shall I cry?
We demand a committee, a representative committee, a committee of investigation
RESIGN RESIGN RESIGN

(1931-1932)

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