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Comment 11 of 111, added on April 11th, 2006 at 5:24 PM.
It is a pleasure to read the comments on this site. For five years I taught
this poem as part of courses in [then] modern poetry at Clemson, a state
school in the United States, and the US Naval Academy. I traded the
academic world for the life of a business trainer in part because in much
of academia there is less interest in actually "learning" than there is in
the world of websites like this one.
As several postings here suggest, Eliot is demanding, but not difficult. He
was influenced by his friend Ezra Pound ["il miglior fabbro"--"the better
maker"--in the dedication to _The Waste Land_]; Pound intentionally made
his poetry inaccesible to people he felt beneath him. Eliot, especially in
his notes to _Waste Land_, tried to do the same, but his essentially
democratic and catholic (both with lower-case letters) inclinations
overcame him before and after that central work. Unlike Pound, Eliot wants
readers to understand him, and unlike Pound he also has a relatively
straightforward message to express that, despite a great deal of
intelligent artistic and psychological enhancement, is readily accessible
to most readers. Several postings in this sequence have identified some of
them. I suggest a single additional step for those who want to appreciate
"Gerontion," as well as the rest of the Eliot canon and much other poetry.
This step requires a very small step backwards in order to advance. Simply
stated, it is this: think of a work of art--any work of art--as an _opera_
in the literal sense of the word: a collection of individual "opuses" (that
word is a barbarism). "Opus" means "work"; the plural, "opera," means
"several works, presumably acting as a whole."
So, if you listen to the opera _Boris Godunov_, you will react emotionally
and intellectually to the whole collection of music, drama, costumes and
text before you begin worrying about the actual relationship between Poland
and Russia, or the Orthodox Church and political strategy. In other words,
you will start with the whole and then--once you have formed an
opinion--you will look at its components.
Similarly, if you go to the Rijksmuseum and look at what is called _The
Night Watch_ you won't start by evaluating the details of the little girl
in the yellow dress in the middle of the picture. Instead, you will respond
to the painting as a whole, look at the armament, faces and body language,
and form an opinion about Rembrandt's depiction of a state and a time. That
is the _opera_--the painting as a whole. Later you can consider what that
rooster is doing in the girl's hands. That's an opus, or a detail.
One should approach a poem the same way. Read the whole thing very fast.
Don't stop to anguish over a word or even a phrase. When you do that with
"Gerontion," you get what several postings here have noted: regret, age,
sorrow over bad choices.
But the poet, like the painter or the composer, didn't stop with large
broad areas of art. There are many small details--after all, Marina in
_Boris_ _is_ caught up in the center of the conflict between power,
ambition, the Church, Poland and Russia, and Mussorgsky uses that to speak
to the human conditions of ambition and obligation. The mascot of the armed
patrol in _The Night Watch_ really does have something to say about the
community, the family and the vigilantes [not a bad word] that protect them
both. Likewise, Eliot is suggesting things about history, choices, and
outcomes that people of all ages--especially the young, whose choices lie
before them--need to consider. But, for the love of all that is holy (which
many would say includes art), don't get caught up in scholarly exegeses
about textual subtleties in this or any other poem. Not now, at least. Just
read it. Again. And then again. And then again, this time aloud. Listen to
the sounds; hisses are not the same as murmurs. Good poets are musicians.
Trust your instincts. A recent study (Griffiths and Tenenbaum, published in
_Pyschological Science_) demonstrates what common sense knew all along:
most people's reactions lead to reliable conclusions. If yours don't, you
will realize that you need to reassess your core beliefs, and that's useful
What will that tell you about "Gerontion"? Much more is going on there than
the immediately obvious, but the obvious opera forms the matrix in which
the detailed messages occur. Just listen to it--ask what it means to say
about giving, for example. And if you want to become a scholar, just read
_The Waste Land_, _Ash Wednesday,_ and the _Four Quartets_ and look for
that word and see where it leads you. Do the same with other words and
phrases; ask what Christ is doing in these poems, or simply search for
words you don't know, look them up and ask what they're doing there. This
is the poet's equivalent of a B flat, or Naples yellow. If you take the
time to do this, you will enrich yourself--and, as Griffiths and Tenenbaum
demonstrate, you also will become more "successful" (however you define
that) in the rest of your life as well.
Best wishes from a stranger who loves those who learn.
Gerry Poster from United States
Comment 10 of 111, added on April 6th, 2006 at 10:19 PM.
Why do people overcomplicate things? People as they age must face the
regrets of past action and past inaction, and bad decisions long after
there's anything to be done about it.
That's all this poem is, regret.
Comment 9 of 111, added on March 1st, 2006 at 10:54 AM.
It's a brilliant poem, and you destroy it if you try and work out what it
means. You can feel a mood, the allusions are phrases that you might or
might not recognise but they still mean something to each reader. They're
illusions, not allusions, and if you start chasing them you'll never stop
and he'll be snickering with the Eternal Footman at you. Look at his notes
to the Waste Land. He uses them to make fun of people who try and
out-intellectual him when his poems AREN'T intellectual. Just
Ian Burrows from United Kingdom
Comment 8 of 111, added on January 26th, 2006 at 1:24 PM.
No, no you've got it all wrong
Ok so Eliot was an elitist, yes we've established that. Ofcouse we can
research every allusion but we would be here for years. But poetry is
objective, you don't have to understand everyreference to understand the
poem. "I would meet you upon this honestly" Beatrice from the Changeling,
but does that change my conception of the poem? no.
Ellie from United Kingdom
Comment 7 of 111, added on November 11th, 2005 at 11:31 AM.
Millenium Hand and Shrimp, eh? Like many Eliot poems, the narrator feels
the approach of death. Like Prufrock, he feels himself a failure, dying in
a rented house. And like Foul Ole Ron, he rambles in a disconnected way.
Rustic? Rustication was considered a punishment; exile from the city.
Whatever he was once, now he's old and near goat merds. He's failed, and is
he expected to thank God for a fine life? As to using the quote, EVERYBODY
takes lines out of context from poor old Tom; help yourself.
baked scrod from United States
Comment 6 of 111, added on October 21st, 2005 at 11:41 AM.
The practice of allusion, justified in "Burbank" by the need to
characterize the tourist, performs in "Gerontion" the function of
condensing into decent compass a whole panorama of the past. If any notion
remained that in the poems of 1919 Eliot was sentimentally contrasting a
resplendent past with a dismal present, "Gerontion" should have helped to
dispel it. What are contrasted in this poem are the secular history of
Europe, which the life of Gerontion parallels, and the unregarded promise
of salvation through Christ. Gerontion symbolizes civilization gone rotten.
The mysterious foreign figures who rise shadow-like in his thoughts--Mr.
Silvero, Hakagawa, Madame de Tornquist, Fräulein von Kulp--are the
inheritors of desolation. Against them is set the "word within a word,
unable to speak a word"--the innocent Redeemer, swaddled now in the
darkness of the world. But Christ came not to send peace, but a sword; the
Panther of the bestiaries, luring the gentler beasts with His sweet breath
of doctrine, is also the Tiger of destruction. For the "juvescence of the
year," in which He came, marked the beginning of our dispensation, the
"depraved May" ever returning with the "flowering judas" of man's answer to
the Incarnation. And so "The tiger springs in the new year," devouring us
who have devoured Him. Furthermore, the tiger becomes now a symbol not only
of divine wrath but of the power of life within man, the springs of sex
which "murder and create." "Depraved May," the season of denial or
crucifixion, returns whenever, in whatever age, apostolic or modern, the
life of sense stirs without love. Eliot's The Family Reunion repeats the
horror: "Is the spring not an evil time, that excites us with lying
voices?" So now it returns and excites the memories of Gerontion. The
source of his grief--the passionate Cross, the poison tree, "the
wrath-bearing tree"--is both the crucifixion yew tree and the death tree of
the hanged traitor, a token of Christ and Iscariot, redemption and the
universal fall in Eden.
The futility of a world where men blunder down the blind corridors of
history, guided by vanity and gulled by success, asserting no power of
choice between good and evil but forced into alternatives they cannot
predict--this is the futility of a labyrinth without an end. Someone has
remarked that Eliot's obsessive image is the abyss. It is not: it is the
corridor, the blind street, the enclosure; the "circular desert" and "the
stone passages / Of an immense and empty hospital," imprisoning the
inconsolable heart. At the center is the physician, the Word, enveloped in
obscurity. But without is the abyss also, yawning for those who in their
twisted course have never found their center. "Gerontion" points no way
inward; it shows the outward, the eccentric propulsion of the damned, who,
as Chaucer says, echoing the Somnium Scipionis, "Shul whirle aboute
th'erthe alwey in peyne." Alone in his corner, having rested, unlike
Ulysses, from travel (and indeed having never taken the highways of the
earth), the old man sits while the wind sweeps his world "Beyond the
circuit of the shuddering Bear / In fractured atoms." The opposite
movement, which discloses "a door that opens at the end of a corridor,"
opening, as one reads in "Burnt Norton," "Into the rose garden" and "Into
our first world," leads to "the still point of the turning world," where,
as Eliot put it in Ash Wednesday, "the unstilled world still whirled /
About the centre of the silent Word." "Gerontion" describes only "the
unstilled world," the turning wheel, the hollow passages--not "the Garden /
Where all love ends," the ending of lust and the goal of love. The point at
which time ends and eternity begins, at which history disappears in unity
and the winding spiral vanished in the Word, is lost to the world of the
poem. Yet the Word exists; it is only history which cannot find Him,
history with a positivistic conception of the universe, a deterministic
view of causation, a pragmatic notion of morals. As Chesterton's Father
Brown remarks, "What we all dread most ... is a maze with no centre. That
is why atheism is only a nightmare." Eliot's symbol of the mazelike
passages, or the clocklike wheel of time, or the whirlwind of death, the
gaping whirlpool, is the antithesis of the single, unmoving, immutable
point within. History is the whirlwind, for history is of the world, and
history like the world destroys all that dares the test of matter and
From T.S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meaning.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.
Graciela Perillo from Argentina
Comment 5 of 111, added on September 12th, 2005 at 10:46 PM.
This poem seems very bad as well as a rustic creation by you.
Comment 4 of 111, added on July 18th, 2005 at 3:46 PM.
Eliot is speaking about the House of Judah.
Jay G from United States
Comment 3 of 111, added on November 29th, 2004 at 1:24 PM.
This poem can be easily understood if you can Decipher the many literary
references in the poem. If you can't the the whole thing just appears to be
a great big load of nonsense! The key to understanding this poem, is in the
last two lines, "tenants of the house, thoughts of a dry brain in a dry
season" which could mean two things A) "tenants" being those who inhabit
the house along with Gerontium, such as the foreigners, eg "madame de
B) "tenants" are the thoughts in gerontium's head, therefore explaining the
way he is looking back on his life, rather depressed.
I prefer option B myself!
from United States
Comment 2 of 111, added on September 28th, 2004 at 1:40 PM.
His poems are deep in thought and contains things that most people my age
and probubly older don't quite understand. The concepts aren't clear but
maybe it's just me!
Do not reccomened to young people1
from United States
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