Tag Archives: T.S.Eliot

Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Raggle-taggle music,
straight from a funfair,
roller-coasters in,
as you mope in your lair,
sullenly grooming your
existential despair.

You look out the window:
a shabby white van,
Mr. Softee, the ice-cream man,
Orange Maids, Mivvis,
Strawberry Splits.
Your childhood comes back;
the rough magic of it.
Noddy and Big Ears, Rupert Bear,
Nutwood, the animals living there.

Your sins, deceits,
little white lies,
all swallowed up
By a huge pair of eyes,
silver coins held
in small, grubby hands,
the wonder of
those fairytale lands.
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five,
perhaps, after all,
it is good to be alive.

It smashes into
your self-imposed shell,
frees you from the stress
of your personal Hell,
for you know it betokens
that all will be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things
shall be well.

Long-time followers of this blog will be aware of the fact that I frequently get ideas for poems whilst relaxing in a warm bath, browsing through anthologies of poetry.  I was engaged in this activity recently, when the joyful sound of an ice-cream van suddenly intruded into my musings, and immediately provided the inspiration for the above poem.  Please excuse the fact that the last three lines are a blatant borrowing from Julian of Norwich’s “Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love”.  I have always loved those lines, and have finally found an appropriate place to quote them; besides, T.S.Eliot quoted them in “Little Gidding”, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me!

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War and Peace

WAR AND PEACE

“Do I dare to eat a peach?”
Or should I, instead, read “War and Peace”?
In a few months’ time, it’s on BBC;
a series I shall be compelled to see.
Jim Broadbent’s in it: good enough for me!
But then, the book will forever be
an unread classic. I hang my head;
so many of these I should have read.
Now in my sixties, still I feel
lacking in resolve, the essential steel.
I identify with Ethelred,
forever unready, forever in dread;
this Tolstoyan epic, this massive tome,
a sword of Damocles over my head.
A man’s ambition should exceed his reach;
perhaps life’s too short to read “War and Peace”.

I recently read a highly entertaining, stimulating, amusing book: “The Year of Reading Dangerously” by Andy Miller.  It’s an autobiographical account of how he decided to read his way through a list of fifty books in the course of a year.  The fifty books on his “List of Betterment” are generally literary masterpieces or popular cult classics, and included Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”.  It was partly reading Andy Miller’s book that made me think about whether I should read “War and Peace”.  Then, just a few days later, I saw that the BBC are planning to show a major dramatization of “War and Peace” early in the new year.  I suddenly realized that, if I didn’t read “War and Peace” before the BBC show it, then I would probably never get around to reading it.

My poem has two quotations in it; one correct and the other one deliberately incorrect.  The correct quotation is “Do I dare to eat a peach?”, from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.  This line has had many interpretations over the years, many of them with sexual connotations; but I just liked the sound of it, and the way it rhymes with War and Peace.  The incorrect quotation I used is Robert Browning’s “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”, which – purely for the sake of the rhyme – I’ve changed to “A man’s ambition should exceed his reach”.

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Yet More Bath Time Reading

THE GREAT VERSES (8):

He reads the great verses in the bath;
his relaxing mind absorbent, he hopes,
as the sponge, nestling next to his soap.

T.S.Eliot: Little Gidding, The Wasteland;
another heroic effort to understand.
He gets glimpses, at times; signals, from afar.
Chinks of light glimmer, from a distant star.

It seems to make sense; meaning coheres;
bubbles in his bath foam swell, become spheres.
But, just moments later, it is as he feared:
sense now non-sense, bubbles disappeared.

The water turns chillier; more time passes.
Words fade and blur; he should wear his new glasses.
No good, he can’t grasp it.  Frustrated, he sighs.
Why deceive himself, believe his own lies.
He must grasp some of it, before he dies!
But his brain now less pliant; he’s getting too old.
(“Too old. . . too old. . . trouser-bottoms rolled. . . “)
Mind rambling now, focus difficult to hold.
He clambers out, slowly, shivering, cold.

I thought I had done with the subject of my habitual reading anthologies of verse in the bath, but, it turns out, the subject has not done with me!  T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” and “The Wasteland” are poems that have often enticed me and then frustrated me with their opaque imagery.  It was while I was making yet another attempt at the “Four Quartets” recently that the entity I like to think of as “my muse” stirred into life, and I thought: ok, I’m struggling to understand this, but I can at least try to write a poem about my struggles to understand these undoubted masterpieces. 

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