Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Prose About Poetry

Twenty-two (twenty-one?) year old Columbia student Barack Obama, on T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, in a letter to friend Alexandra McNear, who was writing a paper about the poem at Occidental College:
I haven't read The Wasteland for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements—Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Munzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he's less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there's a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it's due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter—life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot's irreconcilable ambivalence; don't you share that ambivalence yourself, Alex?

I can't mobilize my thoughts right now, so I paraphrase Nietzsche—something to the effect that perfection, ripeness, does not care for the future, progeny. A perfection, a ripeness, of a moment, or housed in an individual. I leave you to piece together this jumble. Since I began writing this postscript, snow has covered the earth and filled the air, the city disappearing like a dream.

—Quoted in Barack Obama: The Story, by David Maraniss

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


One Sandy Hook mother, interviewed on CBS's 60 Minutes, on the passage of time, delivered as prose, received as poetry:

Four months, to them?
It feels like it just happened a moment ago.
And yet, and yet
it's been years
since I've seen my son.