Saturday, March 31, 2012

companions collecting Waste Land

Two plump pigeons in Bray the small village  on The Thames in Berkshire which is home to two of the four three  Michelin star restaurants in the UK.

In The Grove two crows are collecting twigs for their nest, or at least one is.  A couple of years ago I noticed the same thing-  a piece of sexual stereotyping I suppose. One is picking up twigs while the other looks on. I cannot tell a female from a male crow, but it  goes without saying that the female is working while the male is watching.

T S Eliot's Waste Land is on the radio this afternoon. It was first published in 1922 and should by the time I was at school in the late 1940s have been recognised as a significant work of literature defining the first half of the 20th Century alongside James Joyce's Ulysses. I have  read and reread the poem many times since. But looking back it strikes me as odd that neither Eliot nor Joyce was ever mentioned in English lessons at school. I discovered both because boys of my own age or slightly older recommended them. Eyebrows I can remember were even raised when I requested Ulysses as one of my prize books in my last year. By then, I was reading Eliot on my own, unguided by teachers. I still have the Penguin edition of Eliot's Selected Poems with its distinctive blue and white cover. It is falling to pieces and my pencil notes alongside The Waste Land are beginning to fade but still show references to Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance, The Books of Ezekiel and Ecclesiastes, Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, Tarot cards and Beaudelaire, Andrew Marvel and Webster's White Devil and of course to the Sanskrit conclusion  Datta. Dayadhvam  Shantihhvam . Damyata.  Shantih shatnih  shantih.  What surprises me this afternoon is how accessible the poem has become a lifetime later, how much a part of the world I now live in,  and how obscure and inaccessible  and dazzlingly modern it seemed then.


Roderick Robinson said...

I suppose that might constitute the definition of a good school: that it encouraged you to go beyond the boundaries arbitrarily set within its own classrooms. And yet... why were the boundaries set anyway? Let me finally say something positive about Bradford Grammar School sixty years after I emerged with a mind almost as pristine as when I entered. I have a character in Blest Redeemer who did badly at school (for various reasons) and I am now able to wrestle usefully with that and offer opinions as to why it happened. Good. However, if I'd been better taught I might now be coming up with better answers. Ah, I see - not so positive after all.

I am full of wonder about your asking for Ulysses as a prize. Thank goodness we were living two hundred miles apart at the time. Such knowledge might have stayed my hand years later when I tackled your first MS. On it the typing was maintained almost to the bottom of the page but thereafter the remainder of the article was squeezed into far too small a space in jagged black-ink calligraphy. There's no room here for me to insert my edited material, I thought. Since these hand-written interpolations were to prove a regular feature of your articles it's just as well I decided to seize the bull by the horn (cliché; extirpate). I mention this to point out that your education was in fact incomplete. You received no instruction in hand-writing. I on the other hand was beaten regularly in a vain attempt to improve mine. Both of us were born too early and finally found serenity when the word processor was invented.

Lucy said...

Ulysses is impressive, I'd just about got as far as Portrait of the Artist by that stage. I did get a smile of benign approval for choosing The Vicar of Wakefield. In fact that was mostly because we were just told to go and choose or order a book to a not very high value from the local bookshop, which was not astoundingly well-stocked, and it was a nice little edition so I thought why not? Oddly I enjoyed it, and it ended up saving my exam-phobic bacon and dire A-level grades, by getting me a special paper distinction when off the top of my head I wrote a compare-and-contrast of it with Sense and Sensibility.

The Waste Land was off the syllabus for us, but we were sort of encouraged to read it, I seem to remember my English teacher reading us passages from it even though we weren't studying it. We had a lovely hardback Faber Eliot at home, with the bold grey, black and white cover, which my mum had, I think, ordered for my brother, and I immersed myself in that, puzzled and dazzled and frustrated by turns. I wish I still had that copy, I have the poem elsewhere of course, but I'd like to hold that book again. I wonder if my brother has it?

I like to think it still seems obscure and mystifying and inaccessible and tantalising to anyone coming to it at the same age now. I remember a friend saying he had found his mother's copy, with her troubled and youthful pencil annotations in it, made as she carried it around post-war Europe in her student days. I hope they don't teach it too much.

I must look up that reading on the radio and listen.