My love affair with the works of TS Eliot extends as far back as high school, if not before. I knew of the poet via a piano adaptation of “Memory” from Cats, but it took meeting a boy to inspire me to read. (In those days everything seemed to begin with a boy.)
It’s simply strange coincidence that I attended the university Eliot’s grandfather founded – and as well, I suppose, that I’ll be teaching at the other school William Greenleaf Eliot founded. Or maybe it’s kismet, or at the very least serendipity. Whatever it is, it fits.
I’ve been reading TS Eliot for so long now that I find he pops into my head more than is probably good for me. On my vacation to the UK in May, I spent half my time hearing his voices in my head – fragments and half-lines and misremembered moments of poetry. It’s odd and yet strangely comforting to walk through a city you’ve only dreamed of visiting, all the while hearing the poet in your head. (In New York City, I hear Ragtime and Rent and other musicals instead.)
Yesterday afternoon I ate my first peach of the summer season, and as the juice dribbled down my fingers and chin I heard J. Alfred Prufrock echo in the back of my mind – “Do I dare to eat a peach?” Of course, it’s not really about eating the peach at all, but all at once I remembered last summer, which I’d already buried in the back recesses of my mind as I try to move forward from the dissertating life.
Last summer, I spent July and August hunched over my laptop at the kitchen table, madly writing and revising Chapter 6 before settling in for the first round of major dissertation revisions. I practically lived for my daily peach break, when my dog Sirius and I would adjourn briefly to the back porch step for a brief moment of daring to eat a peach while taking in the world.
I missed the peaches when autumn came.
If it was one boy who introduced me to TS Eliot in high school – via Prufrock, which I confess I did not understand at all but found entirely entrancing (in part because of the fog and the mermaids) – it was a college friend and former crush who opened my world to The Waste Land. My obsession with the poet remains; my friend has long since grown up and become a family man. We never speak of it, but I’m sure he thinks of Waste Land from time to time. (Personally, I think of it every April, although for me March and August are the cruellest months.)
Then there was the college professor who let me take his graduate-level course on poetry in purgatory. There, we read Four Quartets, and at the end of the semester I turned in a paper in which I attempted to argue that The Waste Land is a purgatorial poem. While I don’t think I was entirely successful in that argument – my classmate who looked at Four Quartets that way probably did much better – I still find Waste Land to be something not entirely damning. (At least by the final three words. There is something hopeful, after all, about the thought of peace that passes understanding.)
Which reminds me that there’s an app for that now; I keep meaning to download it.
“There will be time, there will be time”