That was not it at all; that is not what I meant at all
A poet told me this but his lines
Said something else, reading between,
Something else again. How am I to think
With so much meaning?
A poet rustled up a love song
Where emotion flickered: a lamp
Gone dim and intermittent; a bare bulb
That cast no shade; love so stark
Its beauty burnt out, so shredded
It crumbled into careless ash.
A poet, as once he was, rose from the grave,
Lessons still to give, his sense in layers
Like the earth sediments he was laid away in.
Compressed he might have become stone
The same as that above his dead old head
Whereon his name was chiseled not too long ago.
It was, I swear, his ghost came at me
In some hot foreign night; in fevered darkness
The horseman, my dream, carried us up,
Him stern with his classics and allusions,
Me with illusions only. Striving to understand,
I flew across these jungled memories of mine
Trying to recollect which of us knew anything
A poet I read once for study, he was reckoned
A literary force of nature, an elemental intellect.
So I placed his work in vaguest memory, put
His lines to a simple tune my tuneless voice
Could never render. I let the past alone. I thought.
I thought I understood.
From some black midnight before, he found me,
A rising Brockengespenst, a halo around my own shadow
Now I had become so old, so old
My flesh was rumpled in its folds.
A poet, he was, told me this but his lines say
‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Should I presume?’ or like the smog
Blur the streets of definition too, till the grey of day.
Reading between, I learned that meaning, like the sky
Is only a pen of coloured light scrawling hues in air.
I thought I understood but, in truth, it was his yellow fog,
Scattered light in droplets, like molecules or beach sand shifting.
Sifting through the fingers, meaning merely lingers
In time’s scant briefness to assume some other form;
And I thought, I think, ‘How am I to understand?’
© BH, 2016
I confess this came to me in less than an hour on a rainy Dallas afternoon. I confess, too, I’ve been wrestling with TS Eliot. After all these years who would have thought?
I set myself the possibly impossible task of reimagining The Waste Land in Scots. All because of some disparaging remarks about the Scots language being a mere dialect incapable of rendering anything with the force, depth, complexity, breadth (blah, blah) of Eliot’s masterpiece.
See my first thoughts on that here…
Well, it’s coming along but Tommy’s no slouch in the force, depth, complexity, breadth departments. Not to mention allusions!
I’d just bashed my way through A Game of Chess and leaned back. Then this fell into my laptop.
The illustration is taken from the Wikipedia article on the Brocken Spectre plus the Italian epigraph to Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (one of my favourites, by the way) taken from Dante's Inferno. Translated here as:
"If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy."