Thursday, October 09, 2008

T. S. Eliot joking about himself

It was almost a relief to find this poem by T. S. Eliot in which he jokes about common (mis)conceptions of him as a person. He was often believed to be aloof, withdrawn, far too formal and rule-abiding. Virginia Woolf has many entries in her diary about Eliot, on how he seemed to dress more English than the English themselves, and how he once took to a strange habit of dabbing his face with green-white face powder. His on-the-whole unhappy marriage to his first wife spawned many malign rumours, and his personal life does seem packed with contradictions and personal oddities. But the more I read about him, the more it seems to me that he was just uncomfortable being around many people, and that in his intimate relationships to women, first and foremost, another, more alive and straightforward Eliot acted out.
In this enjoyable little thing called "Lines for Cuscuscaraway and Mirza Murad Ali Beg" (just the title, it's hilarious!) Eliot shows a ready mind for self irony which is not a common thread in his poems. A timely feature in such a formal being, I find.

Here it is:

Lines for Cuscuscaraway and Mirza Murad Ali Beg

How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
With his features of clerical cut,
And his brow so grim
And his mouth so prim
And his conversation, so nicely
Restricted to What Precisely
And If and Perhaps and But.
How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
With a bobtail cur
And a porpentine cat
And a wopsical hat
How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!
(Whether his mouth is open or shut).


Isnt't it enjoyable?

Or maybe my deep dive into Eliot's life and works has made me blind to what is humurous to those not so into his work...


Jonathan Wonham said...

Have you read his book called Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats? It is full of this style of light-hearted verse. It is indeed a very different side of Eliot from "The Wasteland". I seem to remember that Virgina Woolf also referred to Eliot's face as "marmoreal", or marble-like.

Thekla said...

Hello, and thanks for kind and interesting remarks! I have of course known of the Old Possum poems for a long time, but I have actually never read them, until I did a few of them today – and I find them inventive and entertaining, basically full of life. They present such a contrast to most of Eliot’s other poetry and plays that you could almost believe them to be written by another poet! Glad you find some of my posts useful, it makes writing them all the more rewarding. :-)