Tuesday, July 12, 2011

52 Poems (week 18)

I like to imagine Virginia Woolf hand-setting the type for TS Eliot's The Waste Land, and running off copies on their monstrous printing press that formed the entirety of Hogarth Press at the time. 


I wonder if she marvelled at each letter as she set it, watched the words forming, the lines, the stanzas, and felt the rhythm of the prose as it slipped through the machine sheet by sheet.

The poem itself (in extract here) is a mystery to me. I marvel at what wife Vivian and friend Ezra Pound removed and changed when this is what remains. Such gorgeousness as it opens:

"APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering       
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten, 
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie, 
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter..."

And then through to the end, the sometimes lovely, sometimes opaque prose shifts gears so many times, I'm lost. Damn modernism.

"...I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
            Shantih shantih shantih"

How does a poet go from "April is the cruellest month" to "shantih shantih shantih"?


Photo source: Hogarth press edition

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