T. S. Eliot is considered one of the major poets of the 20th Century, and for good reason. Thomas Stearns (which is a great name, apparently in Anglo Saxon it means ‘stern’ , surprisingly enough) Eliot is a great Modernist poet, The Waste Land being probably the best known of his serious, grown up poems. It’s excellent and worth a read, but isn’t what we’ll be talking about today.
I say serious, grown poems because I reckon he’s best known for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which is so much fun. However, that’s not what we’re talking about today either.
Today I want to talk about his later work. It’s taken me far too long but I’ve recently read The Four Quartets for the first time, and it’s brilliant. He considered it his masterpiece and I believe it’s thought one of the main reasons that he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. There is a lot of excellent analysis about it available should you be interested, but I want to take a different angle.
I really wish I’d read this as a teenager. I know full well that I’m not doing him justice here, but taken out of context, doesn’t this sound like the kind of poetry an angsty teenager would write, or at least appreciate?
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing
I can image my teenage self writing on my sociology folder at college, next to Black Sabbath and Smashing Pumpkins lyrics:
People change, and smile: but the agony abides.
and it fitting right in.