Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.

HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.
I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign!”
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger
In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;

By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fräulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use them for your closer contact?
These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.

Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem Gerontion

21 Comments

  1. muneesa says:

    the poem is best understood if v consider it as a lack of spirit and passion in modern man..

  2. Greg S says:

    Write it backwards, not word for word but line for line. Remarkable.

  3. Hasan khan@Aligarh Muslim Univ, u.p says:

    Gerention is a dramatic monologue of an old man who reminisces about his lost power to live and his last hope of spiritual rebirth which is the symbol of sterility and paralysis. It is the most important poem me 1920 volume. The poem is interesting largely as a training ground for the Waste Land. This poem foreshadowing the more sophisticated use me all me them in The Waste Land. The title brings to mind other literary old men as in the Dreams of gerontius by cardial Newman.

  4. Mamunalpha says:

    Curiosity comes on my mind about Gerontion…I just wanna know the full appreciation about Gerontion. Will u help me…???

  5. jack says:

    I really wish all these kids that had to do projects on poetry would go to Facebook or something to complain. I’m sick of looking for actual analysis, and having to sift through ‘omg im soooo bored this poem sucks it don’t make sense!!11!1’. Seriously, that’s why they invented Facebook is to get this crap away from these sites and where it belongs. No one here cares if you’re bored and you have to do a project, so go say it on Facebook.

  6. Tariq says:

    I Gerontion is one of the most loved poems in Eglish literature.It is a poem by T.S.Eliot .

    “Gerontion” is a poem by T. S. Eliot that was first published in 1920. The work relates the opinions and impressions of a gerontic, or elderly man through a dramatic monologue which describes Europe after World adulterated. Thispoem ends with words that convey a defeated man, in….War I through the eyes of a man who has lived the majority of his life in the 19th Century. .[1] Eliot considered using this already published poem as a preface to The Waste Land, but decided to keep it as an independent poem.[2] Along with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land, and other works published by Eliot in the early part of his career, Gerontion discusses themes of religion, sexuality, and other general topics of Modernist poetry.I think the poem itself has more interpretion within the title of it.To be analysed.it needs succesful poit like Eliot himself to explain its unclear and clear interpretations.

  7. shubho says:

    poetry gets boring when it is overcomplicated, just like in this case. what we agree upon or disagree with is decided by what explanations we get from other sources. what a waste….

  8. Ness Q says:

    I can’t help but think that there is a third option whilst reading this poem- why say you either have to read it in terms of its allusions, or not in terms of its allusions, when you could do both? Eliot himself said (and I’m kicking myself to remember where I read the quotation..) that if you read the poem, and enjoy it purely for the poem’s sake, then that is enough. But if you want to continue on the journey it suggests, to enjoy the allusions it makes and experience the poem as a combination of all these, then it makes for a richer reading. He also thought (from what I read, anyway) that we should build on the thought of those who have gone before us. I think his allusions are his way of doing that- because how can you expect to think anything new if you are unaware of what has gone before you? To quote eliot on the matter:

    ‘Our civilisation comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislcate if necessary language into his meaning.’

    So to me, it works both ways. Reading it for the first time, I appreciate lines:

    ‘In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
    To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
    Among whispers’

    My first idea of them was of the secrecy of whispers and the notion of decay sprang to mind in the invasive ‘eaten’, ‘divided’, and ‘drunk’. But I enjoyed it even more when I realised it was a reference to communion, and the breaking of the bread- it puts a different spin on the meaning of the line, and enhanced my ideas about it.

    So why do it either way, when you could do it both?!

    Thanks also to Gerry Poster for his inspired and inspiring approach to reading Eliot. It has grounded me again- an invaluable lesson.

  9. dièye says:

    gerontion must to be according to me emblèmatic of the life of modern man who is powerless in front of the ordeals of the existence and whose appeal to love religion and history for salvation is vain.

  10. rosie says:

    this poem is his worst i reckon. He well over complicates things. I think he needs to geta job and stop whining, the tramp. mind you, prufrock is well banging and rhapsody is pretty good, but gerontion – baa! its poor. i mean, he just completely rattles on about crap that doesnt make any sense. id rather watch the film gerontion by Jo King. omg im so bored. this is how bored i am. this is the way the world ends (not with a bang but a massive great KEFF). Eliot 4eva
    love me
    x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
    ps im well gonna fail my modular exam next week haha oh well maybe if i revised instead of completely dissing the E to the Eliot. luv ya xx

  11. Nikhilesh Dhar says:

    Gerontion,’a representative human consciousness’,is a character in a dramatic situation.Not being a poet’s personality,he is the means whereby the poet effects ‘an escape from personality’and the poem may, therefore,only be interpreted when its terms are related to the character,Gerontion,rather than to the poet himself. – Nikhilesh Dhar, Bankura,India.

  12. Gerry Poster says:

    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 knowledge, too.

    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.

  13. hermesbird says:

    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.

  14. Ian Burrows says:

    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 incomprehensible.

  15. Ellie says:

    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.

  16. baked scrod says:

    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.

  17. Graciela Perillo says:

    On “Gerontion”
    Grover Smith
    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 time.

    From T.S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.

  18. liku says:

    This poem seems very bad as well as a rustic creation by you.

  19. Jay G says:

    Eliot is speaking about the House of Judah.

  20. Loz says:

    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 tornquist”
    OR
    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!

  21. Whitneyvanderbloemen says:

    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

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