Thursday, March 12, 2009

Inventions of the March Hare

T. S. Eliot wrote a lot of poems between 1909 and 1917, the year when he gained fame with the publication of Prufrock and Other Observations. I have always preferred the poems from 1917 over the poems from 1920 onward. The only parts of, for instance, "The Waste Land" or the "Four Quartets" that I even really enjoyed were those reminiscent of pre-1920 Eliot.

And so there is this Notebook of over fifty poems which is now available, things which he never wanted to see the light of day, and I feel now I have the Eliot I was always looking for but could never find. The Eliot which in Prufrock spoke to me and then in "Gerontion" disappointed so grievously has now been re-discovered. I only need One Book from a great thinker or writer; but it has to be a Great Book, ideally, it must be a Thick Book. The thinness of Eliot's books, so to speak, made me hate him. He gave you a whiff of the good stuff and then took it away. This, of course, was not his fault. The fact is that his natural impulses jib with my own. But he wanted more than that. He wanted something else, and he changed and developed. Now I care absolutely nothing for change or development. The best things to me are those which are spontaneously derived. I usually only answer a question right when I answer it off the top of my head.

In any case, the early Notebook, sardonically titled (and then scratched out) by the poet himself, Inventions of the March Hare, contains not only the principal poetry from Prufrock, but also additional episodes of Prufrock himself, and a host of other poetry in the same spirit. It's what I thought "poetry" should be before I ever read any. What a relief.

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