It is a hundred years since Eliot wrote
The Waste Land, publishing it in his journal
The Criterion, a quarterly
review of literature which he owned
and edited. The poem runs to several
pages and became a lovely book
with mottled purple hardback cover
when the Woolfs, Virginia and Leonard
ran it through their print machine at home,
the so-called Hogarth Press, and so The Waste Land,
which is often called the greatest English
poem of last cent'ry, issued from
the tragic aesthetes of the Bloomsbury Group.
The poet was y-born in eighteen eighty
eight (the Ripper year - another tour)
in anglicised industrial St Louis
Missouri on the Mississippi river.
The youngest of a family of six,
his father ran a building firm while mother
wrote unpublished poetry. They prized
their education and appreciated
art in its refined variety.
T.S. Thomas Stearns (ma's maiden name)
studied English Lit'rature at Harvard,
read Philosophy at The Sorbonne
and finally at Oxford where he had
a scholarship at Merton College to
pursue his studies for a doctorate
although he spent the whole time here in London.
He was put off it seems by a debate:
'This house believes that Oxford should oppose
americanisation' which was aimed
at Merton's large contingent of his yank
compatriots. He spoke against and won
the day by saying that his countrymen
and women had progressed the culture of
the English, not diluted it, but found
the episode too petty and parochial.
He married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in nineteen
fifteen but the pairing never worked.
Before he died, he said, : 'to her the marriage
brought no happiness; to me it brought
the state of mind which would produce The Waste Land.'
The poem has five acts: The Burial of
the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon,
Death by Water, What the Thunder Said.
Each contains fragmented scenes from life,
a cubist work, no outlines, no subheads,
just shapes that merge in language. Music plays.
The Rhine becomes the Thames when Richard Wagner's
Rheinmaedchen appear. You sometimes hear
beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street
the pleasant whining of a mandoline
and oh that Shakespeherean rag.
The tour begins at Blackfriars tube
where music crept by me upon the waters
and along the Strand up Queen Victoria Street.
And so on. You get, I hope, the picture....