Here’s my thing about T.S. Eliot: the man is ungodly brilliant and I love almost everything he’s written. Does this mean I understand a single goddamn word of it? Of course not. But (and this is the great part) that doesn’t matter. Eliot has been quoted as saying he’s perfectly aware that no one has any idea what his poems are about, and he’s perfectly cool with that. Understanding Eliot’s poems is not the point; the point is to recognize that he writes with incredible skill and to just lose yourself in the words. My Lit book, How to Read a Poem, said it best:
“Eliot is often see as an intellectually difficult, fearfully elitist writer, and so in some ways he was. But he was also the kind of poet who put little store by erudite allusions, and professed himself quite content to have his poetry read by those who had little idea what it meant. It was form – the material stuff of language itself, its archaic resonances and tentacular roots – which mattered most to him. In fact, he once claimed to have enjoyed reading Dante in the original even before he could understand Italian…In some ways a semi-literate would have been Eliot’s ideal reader. He was more of a primitivist than a sophisticate. He was interested in what a poem did, not what it said – in the resonances of the signifier, the lures of its music, the hauntings of its grains and textures, the subterranean workings of what one can only call the poem’s unconscious.”
Translation: Eliot’s writing philosophy can be summed up as, “Fuck it, man, I just write what sounds good. Chill out.”
So, for those of you struggling to get through the wordy, allusion-tastic, multiple-language maze that is The Waste Land, I can only tell you this: Relax and just enjoy the ride. You have nothing to fear. T.S. Eliot loves you.
Verdict: five out of five stars