I think "The Waste Land" and the other poems in this collection ("Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and "Gerontion," "Portrait of a Lady" and "Four Quartets") are brilliant. That said, I have to sort of hold T.S. Eliot responsible for everything I hate about modern poetry. Obviously T. Stearns isn't wholly to blame, and I think he has a genius of his own, but I think that his influence on many of his poetic successors has mostly led to a disgusting pretension in poetry, which superficially veils emotions, quotes Latin, and ranks obscurity and abstruseness above art. Yea, I'm staking the claim: T.S. Eliot is the father of the hipster movement
I mean, what could be more hipster than saying that Coriolanus
is the greater tragedy to Hamlet
? ...Right. "Oh yes, of course Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" was great and all, but have you heard their earlier demos, with Stevie singing in iambs, accompanying herself on the tambourine, and Lidnsay Buckingham on the zithern? Oh you haven't? It's sublime
For a American expat working as a bank clerk in London, Eliot was perhaps the first visionary of the caffeinated Brooklyn counterculture-turned-mainstream-turned-counter-counter-culture-ad-infinitum:
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Yea, T. Stearns, let's traipse around Bensonhurst late at night when all the bars stop selling PBRs and take the dusty mixed-nut bowls off the counter, let's wipe the dust off of our hemp-sewn socks, and knock the much off our patent leather high-top shoes, and walk alone and look at the citylights and meditate on what it all means to be alive, and why rents are so high, and what is a good synonym for boredom (boredom - snoredom - apathy - lassitude - yawn - pococurantism (oooh that's a good one) - disinterest - l'ennui
(ooh, nice use of freshman year French, man, high-five)), and why the sea is boiling hot and weather pigs have wings, etc. etc.
One thing Eliot does master is capturing a rhythm without necessarily having a strict structure.
Unlike many of
his successors, Eliot's po-
-etry has a meter and rhythm of its
maybe inconsistent, but lyriccal in its own
not just sentences with
Je ne peux pas mentir. Placet rithimorum.
He is also a master of allusion, which spans all of time, and does not belong to a signular era. He borrows from Shakespeare, from Homer, Henry James, all sorts of authors and thinkers and tinkerers, and blends them with the lowbrow culture which was pervasive in his day, and has a bold rhythm which is counter to its highbrow literary past. However, despite the highbrow-lowbrow contrast, the varied allusions form a beautiful fugue of meaning, which says something about society as a whole in a realistic way. Dovetailing off of Eliot's convergence of the high and low brow cultures in poetry, there is a kind of split between the ultra-obscurism of Wallace Stevens (whom I adore) and Hart Crane, and the self-indulgent colloquiality of Auden, Berryman, etc. While I think these are talented poets, I think they fall short of the kind of musicality of Eliot's poetry. However, I think poetry these days (which isn't to say all of it, or necessarily much of it, but rather the sort of stock-persona of poetry) is highly self-indulgent and pretentious.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
In Williamsburg the hipsters come and go
Talking of Michel Foucault.