T.S. Eliot tagged posts

Brilliant Songs #12: Laura Smith’s “My Bonny”

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
—From T.S. Eliot’s “The Sacred Wood” (1920)


When writers and critics cite T.S. Eliot’s maxim above, they often stop with the deadpan funniest/cheeky part: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” It’s a great line, suggesting a mirthful larceny far at odds with the preternatural sobriety and moral seriousness of Eliot’s best-known works—“Four Quartets” and “The Wasteland” perhaps premier among them.

But the maxim’s second part elaborates a valuable guidepost for how all writers and artists should approach and pay homage to the history of their craft.

What Eliot suggests at a much deeper level is that no artist creates in isolation, without standing on the shoulders of all who have struggled in the same way t...

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Reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” on Good Friday

“April is the cruelest month…”

Those first five words of T.S. Eliot’s seminal poem The Wasteland are quoted with regularity this time of year, often with ironic humor, given their almost bitter stance that ascribes cruelty to the burst of flowering beauty across spring landscapes through much of the world. It’s something we Californians might jocularly offer via text message to friends in the East who are stuck with a foot of snow on the ground while we’re making plans for Easter picnics.

Much of what follows in The Wasteland, however, can come across as an arduous slog through obscure literary references, many of them in foreign languages with no translation offered. This is one reason why the poem has long been a kind of feasting ground for academics to offer dense and convoluted interpretations for each other’s sometimes indignant argumentation, with the common reader left out in the cold.


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T.S. Eliot, Classicist Rap King

It is not for nothing that the website rapgenius.com, with its mission of elaborating the lyrics of modern rap music, dedicates space on its site to presenting the entire text of Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, whose persona of buttoned-down English classicism would appear to be about as far removed from rap music as Othello is from modern television sitcoms. But appearances deceive, and to read this Eliot masterpiece some 75 years after its publication is to enter a zone of rhythmic drive and momentum that almost begs for interpretation by a rap artist.

Accompanying the sustained rhythm of the four poems that make up the Quartets is dead-serious imagery of the modern psyche under assault by time, the ravages of history, and the diminution of traditional religious faith. The result is a work of unparalleled power and enduring relevance for our age.

This relevance was also attested to just a week ago at Duke D...

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