Nesbit Likes: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

TS EliotIn light of Halloween (or perhaps the dark?), I thought this weeks edition of Nesbit Likes should be somewhat horror themed. Of course, the obvious choice would be The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe – no other poem is quite as scary and no other poem is associated more with terror and fear. Whilst Eliot’s The Waste Land isn’t known for being scary, nor particularly frightening, it is unsettling, and I’m certain that word falls under the Halloween category.

The section below is taken from the first part of the poem titled The Burial of the Dead. Because the poem is such a mismatch of themes, it’s sensible to include only this one (also, it’s over 400 lines long!). I studied the poem a few years ago and this stanza always stuck with me. The imagery, of the ghosts of people walking like zombies to the dead tolls of the bell, flowing in a mass of sad, sulking death, shook my bones and rocked my core. It was first to come to mind when thinking of this weeks feature.

It’s clear this isn’t a happy piece, what with the images of the corpse, the dog that could dig it up, the unresponsive Stetson potentially shellshocked by the First Punic War, and it’s all wrapped in references and allusions to Dante’s Inferno which truly exemplifies what kind of a Hell this is.

The opening to the poem really sets the tone for the piece:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

…but I feel it’s with the section below where the depressing nature really catches wind and thrusts the reader into a world they might not want to be aware of.

Along with Joyce, Eliot was considered the most major of poets for Modernism, propelling the movement further than anyone could have thought. This section is only a small example of his work but nonetheless disturbing, and brilliantly depicts a vision that thoroughly haunts. Hopefully, this will be enough to send a shiver through you!

Happy Halloween!


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 frère!”

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Nesbit Likes: Funhouse by Charles Bukowski

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Anyone who knows Bukowski knows he’s straight to the point in his poetry. No fluff, no clutter, just pure, clear moments, pinpointing times in his life and revealing the poetic essence they contain, whether it be morbid or lush.

But I’ll argue his poem Funhouse is a little more open.

Bukowski writes about the distain he has for a burned-down amusement pier; he wishes the pier, and the homeless people (or ‘madmen’ as he puts it) inhabiting the thing were gone, ‘vanished’. He ends on the note telling us that the pier is where he walked when he was eight years old.

If we dive a little deeper, we know that things weren’t all that great in his younger years. His father was abusive, he was bullied for his severe acne as well as his accent of thickly blended English German.

In his interview with Martin Coenen, 1987, when he comments on how other writers bore him, he states:

“…each line must be full of a delicious, little juice flavour; full of power.” 

He does this in all of his poetry. He gives it. No cutting corners, no layers, he just writes about it, beautifully. But does Bukowski defer from this rule of his in Funhouse?

Is Bukowski describing how he wants to have the pier removed because the madmen, and the state of the pier, are invading his joyful memories of being eight years old and his time on the pier? Or does he wish the memories he has of being eight years old were gone, and the pier, sticking out like a sore thumb, is a only a prompt for the rough, early years he had?

We can all agree poetry, or any art form, is open to interpretation; this could be completely estranged and far from original intention, but Funhouse lingered, in that I wasn’t sure if we truly were told everything, and that truth mattered. The poem could have a lot more weight than first conceived, and a darker tone than first understood. Perhaps you could smile after reading, perhaps not.

But as I said at the start, anyone who knows Bukowski knows he’s straight to the point in his poetry. Maybe, that’s the way it always is.


funhouse

I drive to the beach at night

in the winter

and sit and look at the burned-down amusement pier

wonder why they just let it sit there

in the water.

I want it out of there,

blown up,

vanished,

that pier should no longer sit there

with madmen sleeping inside

the burned-out guts of the funhouse . . .

it’s awful, I say, blow the damn thing up,

get it out of my eyes,

that tombstone in the sea.

 

the madmen can find other holes

to crawl into.

I used to walk that pier when I was 8

years old.

Nesbit Likes: The Sightseers by Paul Muldoon

Writing, when it comes down to it, is only a matter of walking. Like placing one foot in front of the other, you select a word and place, select and place. Of course, it becomes far more fluid; in fluency, this happens quickly, as any runner would know. In poetry, it’s perhaps of equal importance in how you arrange these words on the page. The attention to stanzas, in particular, is important in creating atmosphere and story telling.

The Sightseers is a great example of how a poem can shift in tone through the use of stanza length, and how it’s used to aid the climax. The first two quatrains detail how the narrator and his family drive to see the first round-a-bout in mid-Ulster, Ireland. It’s a light adventure. We’re introduced to details of three deaths in a relatively neutral light as he mentions the graveyard; this foreshadows the dark ahead.

The poem shifts to tercets and with it, the tone and feel. The uncle describes his experience with the B-specials (a special constable police force) and the violence and oppression that came with it. The full rhyme at the end assists in delivering the impact and, to be honest, it’s terrifying. The way it is told, as if in an equally neutral light, implies this wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary, furthering the horror and magnitude of the event. To add, the poem is the perfect length. Long enough to carry the information and create the build to the end, and short enough, that when we’re finished we’re left alone with a potent, unforgettable image.

I’m quite new to reading Muldoon’s poetry, having only just got down to the few collections of his poetry I have on the shelf. This was one of the first I read and god did it hit hard. This has been bookmarked for a long time and I hope you enjoy it!


The Sightseers

My father and mother, my brother and sister
and I, with uncle Pat, our dour best-loved uncle,
had set out that Sunday afternoon in July
in his broken-down Ford

not to visit some graveyard—one died of shingles,
one of fever, another’s knees turned to jelly—
but the brand-new roundabout at Ballygawley,
the first in mid-Ulster.

Uncle Pat was telling us how the B-Specials
had stopped him one night somewhere near Ballygawley
and smashed his bicycle

and made him sing the Sash and curse the Pope of Rome.
They held a pistol so hard against his forehead
there was still the mark of an O when he got home.

Nesbit Likes: For a Five-Year-Old by Fleur Adcock

Throughout life, as children, as adults, we make decisions that change who we are. Some of these will be good, some might be bad, a few may be worse. We carry our histories with us, in scars, in behaviour, in personality. Adcock, in my favourite poem of hers, explores this with a dark sense of humour and simple observation.

It is a straightforward first stanza. ‘A snail’ has ‘climbed’ into the child’s room. The narrator, the mother, provides guidance on what to do. ‘I explain,’ she says, ‘it would be unkind to leave it there.’ It is to be ‘carr[ied] outside, with careful hand’ so that ‘no one squashes it.’ It is even fed a daffodil. The language is simplistic, innocent, directional, as one would talk to a young child.

In the second stanza, the mother reflects that this child has had their ‘gentleness… moulded by [her] words’. What she says builds the child and their morals. The thing is, her actions have been very, very different in the past. She has ‘trapped mice’, ‘shot wild birds’, ‘drowned… kittens’ and ‘purveyed the harshest kind of truth to many another’. She has acted the complete opposite to which she instructs her child.

Perhaps this starts to ring bells for us. When our parents said ‘because I said so’, Adcock writes ‘But that is how things are’. Our parents set the rules.

We all have our ‘grey area.’ None of us are all good, none of us are all bad, and it’s that fluctuation between kind and nasty behaviour which is a morally fascinating occurrence. The poem explores this. Yes, the mother has done awful things to other animals, to other people in her history, but right now, the rule is this: ‘we are kind to snails.’

I absolutely love the juxtaposition presented. The mother gives sweet guidance, careful instruction, to look after another living thing. But this is also the same mother who has done terrible things, performed actions beyond a child’s understanding, for better or for worse. This is reflected, too, in the rhyme scheme. It is the same in both stanzas (with the end of the first and last lines rhyming, couplets in between) and it represents the consistency of her person. She is the same, both when looking after the snail and when capturing and harming others, but it is her words that change. It seems as if even she can’t comprehend it, repeating ‘from me’ in disbelief.

Why does Nesbit like this poem so much? Because it explores our dark histories, our intentions to protect loved ones. Parenting isn’t an easy thing, and both mothers and fathers will understand. But parenting is also a strange thing, often of inconsistency and contradiction. Children have faith in us, trust, to teach them the ways of the world, even when we didn’t get it right the first time.

I do not own the rights to publish this poem but if you’re looking for somewhere to read it, here’s a quick Google search for you!


Looking for more poetry analysis?

Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Nesbit Likes: Visiting Hour by Steward Conn
You broke the ice with a hammer.
I watched the goldfish appear,
blunt-nosed and delicately clear.

Nesbit Likes: The Sightseers by Paul Muldoon
They held a pistol so hard against his forehead
there was still the mark of an O when he got home.

Any questions? Pop an email to nesbitandgibley@gmail.com

Nesbit Likes: The Epitaph of Gregory Corso

Gregory Corso has an outstanding catalogue of poetry. Even though he was youngest in the solid circle of the beat generation, he had fire and ardor that in many ways was unmatched. His poems Marriage, Destiny and Second Night in NYC After 3 Years are all pieces to add to the staple diet for the beat-loving poets. If you’ve not yet read them, they go nicely with a full voice and a sense of humour.

My first encounter with Corso was reading his epitaph. Corso wrote the inscription himself and it’s beautiful. His writing brilliantly reflects raw human thoughts and behaviour, fears and doubts and his tombstone words echo the purity of his ideas and the strength of his passion. He rests in Rome, Italy, surrounded by Percy and Keats.

— — —
Spirit
is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
endlessly
like a river
unafraid
of becoming
the sea

Nesbit Likes: And The Days Are Not Full Enough by Ezra Pound

If you were ever looking for the shortest poem that spoke the loudest, it might just be this one. The piece is one that is known by many – however, if this is your first time reading this poem, you surely won’t forget it.

Pound encompasses our fears in one, short stanza. Life is fleeting. Keats similarly touched upon the subject and it’s heavy and haunting; there’s just not enough time to complete our goals – whatever they are. Time escapes us. As poets, as writers, it’s a feeling too familiar that although there are thousands of ideas we have in our heads, it means nothing if it isn’t written down.

For me, this poem is the epitome of the wake-up call. Whatever it is you want to do in life, whatever it is you want to achieve, whatever it is you want to become, it requires work, it requires time, and you have to start right now. Turn off the television, put down the book, finish your pint. It motivates me in wanting to not only shake the grass but tear them up from the roots, salt the earth behind and let everyone know that Nesbit was here.

— — —
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Nesbit Likes: On a Wedding Anniversary by Dylan Thomas

It’s an awful day over here; we’ve had rain pounding against the windows and winds rattling the trees – it brought me back to this poem.

Thomas describes the fall of a marriage in three stanzas. It’s powerful, it’s chilling and it’s impressive. The tone delivered from the opening stanza immediately puts a dark cloud above your head and it reads ‘This won’t be pretty.’

Thomas says a lot about marriage and a lot about love; while you may have all the pieces to make it work, to live together, to grow old, things happen in life that puts it to a solid halt. There are wounds that never heal, especially when death isn’t caused by nature.

This has been my go-to poem for when a sombre mood strikes. The lingering rhyme scheme is unforgettable and the last stanza in particular is haunting and has stuck with me for a very long time.

— — —
The sky is torn across
This ragged anniversary of two
Who moved for three years in tune
Down the long walks of their vows.

Now their love lies a loss
And Love and his patients roar on a chain;
From every tune or crater
Carrying cloud, Death strikes their house.

Too late in the wrong rain
They come together whom their love parted:
The windows pour into their heart
And the doors burn in their brain.