Archive for T.S. Eliot

April is the cruellest month

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on April 15, 2021 by telescoper
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

So begins Part I, The Burial of the Dead from The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. I thought of it yesterday when I was working in the garden, though I have no lilacs.

The poem is rightly regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th Century and Eliot one of the most important poets but in my opinion one thing he wasn’t good at was reading his own work. I always found his readings of his own work rather flat and dreary. He’s not the only poet I think that of either, but perhaps that’s just me.

Anyway, here is T.S. Eliot reading all of The Waste Land so you can make your own mind up:

Little Gidding – V read by Paul Scofield

Posted in Literature with tags , , on December 3, 2016 by telescoper

A small taster of the late Paul Scofield‘s magnificent reading of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. This is the last section of the last part, Little Gidding.

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on January 15, 2015 by telescoper

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
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?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

. . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

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,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

. . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)



To make an end is to make a beginning

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on January 1, 2014 by telescoper

So, it’s New Year’s Day again. I’d like to take the opportunity to convey my very best wishes to everyone who follows this blog and to thank you all for showing an interest in my ramblings.

The beginning of a new year seems an appropriate time to post something from T.S. Eliot’s remarkable poetic meditation on the redemptive nature of time, Four Quartets. This is the last section, Part V, of the last of the four poems, Little Gidding.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Little Gidding, Part V, the last of the Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot.

Time Present and Time Past

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on June 6, 2011 by telescoper

Up early this morning to set off for the airport. No time for a proper post until I get to Copenhagen so I thought I’d just put this up, as it popped into my mind after I’d written yesterday’s item. I’m a bit reluctant to post a bit of a poem, rather than a whole one, but here goes.  This is the opening passage from Burnt Norton, the first of the Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot. If you haven’t read the whole thing, you should.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.


Posted in Cricket, Football, Literature with tags , , , on January 6, 2011 by telescoper

So here we are then, it’s “officially” the last day of Christmas.

Last night was Twelfth Night, traditionally marked by an evening of festive merrymaking. And so it came to pass, as I sat with a cup of Ovaltine watching TV highlight’s of the third day’s play in the final Ashes Test in Sydney followed by Match of the Day, featuring coverage of Newcastle’s 5-0 thrashing of West Ham.

Today, 6th January, is Epiphany which traditionally marks the arrival of the three Magi and the presentation of their gifts to the baby Jesus. As far as I’m aware there’s no actual evidence that this actually happened on January 6th, but there you go. It’s a tradition nevertheless. In fact, I seem to remember that the Magi only appear in one of the four gospels (Matthew) and it doesn’t even specify that there were three of them..

Here in the United Kingdom, January 6th is when the holiday season really finishes, when Christmas trees and decorations come down, and when we’re allowed at last to stop eating Turkey curries. Some years ago I discovered that in other countries Epiphany is actually observed rather differently and is in fact one of the main events of the Christmas period. I only discovered this when I tried to arrange a meeting with Spanish and Italian representatives of an EU Network I was involved with on January 6th, only to be greeted with howls of protest. It actually makes sense, though, as presumably the exchanging of gifts at Christmas is supposed to commemorate the visit of the Magi. Why not, therefore, do it at Epiphany?

All this reminded me of the following (very famous) poem, called The Journey of the Magi , by T.S Eliot. I’m all out of gold, frankenstein and myrrh (whatever that is) – and I’m not a particularly wise man anyway – so I’ll offer this in lieu of a gift.

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no imformation, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


The Waste Land

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 4, 2010 by telescoper

The first line of this poem sprang suddenly into my mind this morning. I don’t really know why. It mentions the month of April, of course, but nothing especially cruel has happened so far, at least not to me. In fact, I’m in an unusually good mood, considering I have a bit of a hangover. Any excuse will do, though, for posting (the first part of) the definitive modernist poem, The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot.

The opening section of the wikipedia article I linked to above sums this poem up beautifully:

Despite what is seen by some as the poem’s obscurity – its shifts between satire and prophecy, its abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, its elegiac but intimidating summoning up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures – the poem has nonetheless become a familiar touchstone of modern literature.

Although it’s undoubtedly dense with cross-cultural references, and for many people it crosses over into sheer pretentiousness, it has always come across to me as an intensely humorous piece, somehow brilliant and dark at the same time. Its meaning is often cryptic, sometimes impenetrably so. Nevertheless, I keep returning to it, partly in the hope of understanding it better and partly just to enjoy the words on the page and the sounds they make when you read them out loud.

“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo.”


  April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,    
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

   What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,                                  
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
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.                              
        Frisch weht der Wind
     Der Heimat zu
      Mein Irisch Kind,
      Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
––Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,                                    
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

  Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.                                                
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

  Unreal City,                                                           
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!                           
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frere!”

As an added bonus, here is the poet himself reading it, in his characteristically clipped but very nuanced style.

The full text of The Waste Land can be found online here.

Also Sprach Zarathustra

Posted in Biographical, Music, Poetry with tags , , , , on September 8, 2009 by telescoper

Today is the 60th anniversary of the death of the great composer Richard Strauss in 1949. I’ve already used up the music which is probably the most appropriate for this occasion, so I thought I’d mark it instead with a clip from the work that is probably most familiar to my likely readership, Also Sprach Zarathustra, as used in the closing stages of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This little clip is from the final stages of the film, though the music itself is from the opening segment of the Strauss work, the part that represents the Sunrise.

For people of my age, this music is inextricably linked not only with the film, but also with the TV coverage of the moon landings that happened about the same time as its release, about 40 years ago, and for which it also provided the theme music. I don’t know which came first. I’d love to be able to say that these events are behind what made me become an astrophysicist but, as I’ve explained before, the truth is somewhat different.

Anyway, the theme of transfiguration and rebirth depicted in the movie  seems to me to be one more closely related to Strauss’ earlier work Tod und Verklärung,  and it always makes me think of the following lines from East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets by TS Eliot:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

The Waste Land

Posted in Poetry, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on April 1, 2009 by telescoper

APRIL is the cruellest month, sending
Clover into the dead land, ditching
The great for the dire, erring
Dead heads caused spring pain.
Keith Mason fucked it up, smothering
Good science with tons of shit, ending
Our little dream; we’re the losers.

After The Waste Land, Part I: The Burial of the Dead, by T.S. Eliot.