In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle rereads T. S. Eliot’s classic poem about a Britain in decline
It’s nearly a century since T. S. Eliot, having just turned thirty, announced his intention to write a long poem about the contemporary world. Several letters he wrote in 1919 see him declaring this ambition to move beyond the dramatic monologues of his first volume (most famously ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ but also ‘Portrait of a Lady’) and the witty quatrain poems of his second collection (of which ‘Sweeney among the Nightingales’ is a notable example). But what form this new poem would take, Eliot did not know at the time. He just knew that it would be longer than anything he’d attempted before.
Now, in 2018, returning to Eliot’s The Waste Land is a strange experience which reinforces the sense I’ve had for a long while that phrases and images from Eliot’s poetry read like some sort of uncanny prophecy of a future world which he couldn’t know. In 2005, shortly after the terrible tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and in the immediate wake of the 7/7 London bombings, including the Edgware Road bombing which killed six people, I remember r Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the work of a forgotten war poet
The poetry of Wilfred Owen is the most widely-studied writing about the First World War, written by a man who experienced the fighting first-hand. Poets like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound – who, unlike Owen, were part of modernism as well as being modern – didn’t experience the horrors of the trenches themselves, although they both wrote about the war afterwards. Eliot’s The Waste Land is full of war imagery, while Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley contains one of the most brilliantly angry and impassioned diatribes about the war’s sheer waste of life to be found anywhere in modern literature.
Owen is loosely associated with the Georgians, a group of poets writing in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war, whose most famous member was probably Rupert Brooke, another soldier-poet who lost his life in the war. It’s easy to divide ‘war poets’ up into Read the rest of this entry
On a remarkable war poem by D. H. Lawrence
Although he is better-known as a novelist, D. H. Lawrence also wrote a great deal of poetry. ‘New Heaven and Earth’, a long poem he wrote in 1917 during the First World War, captures Lawrence’s anger and despair over the destruction of the war, and might be regarded as a forerunner to greater (and longer) poems written by Lawrence’s fellow modernists, such as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.
New Heaven and Earth
And so I cross into another world
shyly and in homage linger for an invitation
from this unknown that I would trespass on.
I am very glad, and all alone in the world,
all alone, and very glad, in a new world
where I am disembarked at last.
I could cry with joy, because I am in the new world, just ventured in.
I could cry with joy, and quite freely, there is nobody to know. Read the rest of this entry