Picked His Bones in Whispers

Caravaggio. “Saint Jerome Writing” 1605

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. -T.S. Eliot

Lately I’ve heard a few lit teachers lament the lack of analytical skills in students these days, particularly where the humanities are concerned. It’s an odd complaint since, if it’s true, then surely a large portion of the blame falls directly on their own shoulders. But let that pass.

The problem for me is when these people start blaming the analytic deficiencies on emotion, even to the point of calling emotional engagement with art dangerous if it’s not leavened with analysis. Nonsense.

1. When a person encounters a piece of art, if they begin analyzing immediately they will miss the experience. It is impossible to experience and analyze at the same time. Experience––feeling––must come first, then analysis. When analysis comes first, it is nearly impossible to to have an untainted experience afterward. The untainted experience with art leads us into thought and further emotion. Without it, the emotional possibilities are diminished. As we learn from Waiting for Godot: dance first, then think; it’s the natural order. Also, experience and analysis are not equal parts of the process of engaging with art. Experience is a higher, much more serious way of engagement. If an “artist” has created a piece of art whose sole purpose is to be analyzed, she has created a piece of rubbish.

2. In my observation, analysis is all the students know. Again, whether or not they’re good at it is actually a different conversation. But rare is the student who understands how to take part in the ritual of art––how to feel it, in other words. Because they’ve been so indoctrinated by academics, students think of a piece of art as something they need to figure out, as if the artist is trying to outsmart them. Those who are good at analysis pat themselves on the back because they’re sure they’ve “got it,” when in fact they’ve totally missed the experience. Those who are bad at analysis give up and tune out. Neither becomes an art lover. Only those who feel art really experience it. And it is they who then delve deep. It is they who become art lovers.

3. No matter how much academics fantasize about it, real artists do not create art the way academics take it apart. Only lousy artists do that. The creative process is not a reverse of the analytical process. Not even close. And though academics desperately want them to exist, there are no equations to good stories, poems, paintings, dances, songs, or plays. For example, only terrible playwrights try to write plays by plugging parts of a story into Aristotle’s structure.

4. It is not anti-intellectual to point out that the academy is not the authority on how we should experience art. On the contrary, understanding this is where the intelligent art lover begins.

Rothko. “Black on Maroon” 1959

  "Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
  vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
  Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo."


  April is the cruellest month, breeding
  Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
  Memory and desire, stirring
  Dull roots with spring rain.
  Winter kept us warm, covering
  Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
  A little life with dried tubers.
  Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
  With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
  And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,                            10
  And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
  Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
  And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
  My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
  And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
  Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
  In the mountains, there you feel free.
  I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

  What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
  Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,                                  20
  You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
  A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
  And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
  And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
  There is shadow under this red rock,
  (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
  And I will show you something different from either
  Your shadow at morning striding behind you
  Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
  I will show you fear in a handful of dust.                              30
       Frisch weht der Wind
       Der Heimat zu
       Mein Irisch Kind,
       Wo weilest du?
  "You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
  "They called me the hyacinth girl."
  --Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
  Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
  Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
  Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,                                    40
  Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
  Od' und leer das Meer.

  Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
  Had a bad cold, nevertheless
  Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
  With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
  Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
  (Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
  Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
  The lady of situations.                                                 50
  Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
  And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
  Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
  Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
  The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
  I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
  Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
  Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
  One must be so careful these days.

  Unreal City,                                                            60
  Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
  A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
  I had not thought death had undone so many.
  Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
  And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
  Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
  To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
  With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
  There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying "Stetson!
  "You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!                            70
  "That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
  "Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
  "Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
  "Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
  "Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
  "You! hypocrite lecteur!-- mon semblable,-- mon frere!"


  The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
  Glowed on the marble, where the glass
  Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
  From which a golden Cupidon peeped out                                  80
  (Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
  Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
  Reflecting light upon the table as
  The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
  From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
  In vials of ivory and coloured glass
  Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
  Unguent, powdered, or liquid-- troubled, confused
  And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
  That freshened from the window, these ascended                          90
  In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
  Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
  Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
  Huge sea-wood fed with copper
  Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
  In which sad light a carved dolphin swam.
  Above the antique mantel was displayed
  As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
  The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
  So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale                             100
  Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
  And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
  "Jug Jug" to dirty ears.
  And other withered stumps of time
  Were told upon the walls; staring forms
  Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
  Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
  Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
  Spread out in fiery points
  Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.                        110

  "My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
  "Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
  "What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
  "I never know what you are thinking. Think."

  I think we are in rats' alley
  Where the dead men lost their bones.

  "What is that noise?"
                               The wind under the door.
  "What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?"
                               Nothing again nothing.                     120
  "You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember

     I remember
  Those are pearls that were his eyes.
  "Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?"
  O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag--
  It's so elegant
  So intelligent                                                          130
  "What shall I do now? What shall I do?"
  I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
  "With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?
  "What shall we ever do?"
                                       The hot water at ten.
  And if it rains, a closed car at four.
  And we shall play a game of chess,
  Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

  When Lil's husband got demobbed, I said--
  I didn't mince my words, I said to her myself,                          140
  Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
  He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
  To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
  You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
  He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
  And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
  He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
  And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said.
  Oh is there, she said. Something o' that, I said.                       150
  Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
  If you don't like it you can get on with it, I said.
  Others can pick and choose if you can't.
  But if Albert makes off, it won't be for lack of telling.
  You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
  (And her only thirty-one.)
  I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
  It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
  (She's had five already, and nearly died of young George.)              160
  The chemist said it would be alright, but I've never been the same.
  You are a proper fool, I said.
  Well, if Albert won't leave you alone, there it is, I said,
  What you get married for if you don't want children?
  Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
  And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot--
  Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.                    170
  Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
  Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.


  The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
  Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
  Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
  Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
  The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
  Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
  Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
  And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;               180
  Departed, have left no addresses.

  By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
  Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
  Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
  But at my back in a cold blast I hear
  The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
  A rat crept softly through the vegetation
  Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
  While I was fishing in the dull canal
  On a winter evening round behind the gashouse                           190
  Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
  And on the king my father's death before him.
  White bodies naked on the low damp ground
  And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
  Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.
  But at my back from time to time I hear
  The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
  Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
  O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
  And on her daughter                                                     200
  They wash their feet in soda water
  Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole!

  Twit twit twit
  Jug jug jug jug jug jug
  So rudely forc'd.

  Unreal City
  Under the brown fog of a winter noon
  Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
  Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants                                210
  C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
  Asked me in demotic French
  To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
  Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

  At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
  Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
  Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
  I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
  Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
  At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives                       220
  Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
  The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
  Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
  Out of the window perilously spread
  Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays,
  On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
  Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
  I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
  Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest--
  I too awaited the expected guest.                                       230
  He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
  A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
  One of the low on whom assurance sits
  As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
  The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
  The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
  Endeavours to engage her in caresses
  Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
  Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
  Exploring hands encounter no defence;                                   240
  His vanity requires no response,
  And makes a welcome of indifference.
  (And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
  Enacted on this same divan or bed;
  I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
  And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
  Bestows one final patronising kiss,
  And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

  She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
  Hardly aware of her departed lover;                                     250
  Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
  "Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over."
  When lovely woman stoops to folly and
  Paces about her room again, alone,
  She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
  And puts a record on the gramophone.

  "This music crept by me upon the waters"
  And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
  O City city, I can sometimes hear
  Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,                             260
  The pleasant whining of a mandoline
  And a clatter and a chatter from within
  Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
  Of Magnus Martyr hold
  Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

       The river sweats
       Oil and tar
       The barges drift
       With the turning tide
       Red sails                                                          270
       To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
       The barges wash
       Drifting logs
       Down Greenwich reach
       Past the Isle of Dogs.
            Weialala leia
            Wallala leialala

       Elizabeth and Leicester
       Beating oars                                                       280
       The stern was formed
       A gilded shell
       Red and gold
       The brisk swell
       Rippled both shores
       Southwest wind
       Carried down stream
       The peal of bells
       White towers
            Weialala leia                                                 290
            Wallala leialala

  "Trams and dusty trees.
  Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
  Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
  Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe."

  "My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
  Under my feet. After the event
  He wept. He promised 'a new start'.
  I made no comment. What should I resent?"
  "On Margate Sands.                                                      300
  I can connect
  Nothing with nothing.
  The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
  My people humble people who expect
       la la

  To Carthage then I came

  Burning burning burning burning
  O Lord Thou pluckest me out
  O Lord Thou pluckest                                                    310



  Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
  Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
  And the profit and loss.
                                           A current under sea
  Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
  He passed the stages of his age and youth
  Entering the whirlpool.
                                         Gentile or Jew
  O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,                          320
  Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.


  After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
  After the frosty silence in the gardens
  After the agony in stony places
  The shouting and the crying
  Prison and palace and reverberation
  Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
  He who was living is now dead
  We who were living are now dying
  With a little patience                                                  330

  Here is no water but only rock
  Rock and no water and the sandy road
  The road winding above among the mountains
  Which are mountains of rock without water
  If there were water we should stop and drink
  Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
  Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
  If there were only water amongst the rock
  Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
  Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit                              340
  There is not even silence in the mountains
  But dry sterile thunder without rain
  There is not even solitude in the mountains
  But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
  From doors of mudcracked houses
                                                           If there were water
  And no rock
  If there were rock
  And also water
  And water                                                               350
  A spring
  A pool among the rock
  If there were the sound of water only
  Not the cicada
  And dry grass singing
  But sound of water over a rock
  Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
  Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
  But there is no water

  Who is the third who walks always beside you?                          360
  When I count, there are only you and I together
  But when I look ahead up the white road
  There is always another one walking beside you
  Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
  I do not know whether a man or a woman
  --But who is that on the other side of you?

  What is that sound high in the air
  Murmur of maternal lamentation
  Who are those hooded hordes swarming
  Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth                         370
  Ringed by the flat horizon only
  What is the city over the mountains
  Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
  Falling towers
  Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
  Vienna London

  A woman drew her long black hair out tight
  And fiddled whisper music on those strings
  And bats with baby faces in the violet light                            380
  Whistled, and beat their wings
  And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
  And upside down in air were towers
  Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
  And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

  In this decayed hole among the mountains
  In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
  Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
  There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
  It has no windows, and the door swings,                                 390
  Dry bones can harm no one.
  Only a cock stood on the rooftree
  Co co rico co co rico
  In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
  Bringing rain

  Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
  Waited for rain, while the black clouds
  Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
  The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
  Then spoke the thunder                                                  400
  Datta: what have we given?
  My friend, blood shaking my heart
  The awful daring of a moment's surrender
  Which an age of prudence can never retract
  By this, and this only, we have existed
  Which is not to be found in our obituaries
  Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
  Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
  In our empty rooms                                                     410
  Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
  Turn in the door once and turn once only
  We think of the key, each in his prison
  Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
  Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours
  Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
  Damyata: The boat responded
  Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar                            420
  The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
  Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
  To controlling hands

                                       I sat upon the shore
  Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
  Shall I at least set my lands in order?
  London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
  Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
  Quando fiam ceu chelidon-- O swallow swallow
  Le Prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie                                 430
  These fragments I have shored against my ruins
  Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
  Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                             Shantih    shantih    shantih

–T.S. Eliot

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