Slogging, Murder, and T. S. Eliot

I am most definitely slogging through The Art of T S Eliot by Helen Gardner.

katewinsletI should define “slogging” for you because, for me, it has one mental picture whenever I see or hear that word. Remember Kate Winslet in Titanic?  Remember the scene where she is trying to run through the halls of the sinking ship wearing a ballgown and the water is rising?  That, to me, is slogging.  The three elements of a slog are a long dress, water, and running.

As I started reading TAoTSE, I could feel the water rising.  I prayed, Please, God, help me.  The more I read, the more I could feel the water rise — ankle deep, knee deep, almost waist deep.  I wasn’t quite drowning, but I sure wasn’t getting it.

Then I found this sentence:

Any attempt such as this to analyse … must murder to dissect.

My daughter Helen is taking Anatomy and Physiology this year.  She is dissecting a cat.  Because we have a much-loved (although rather annoying) cat, Trinity, Helen knows about cats.  She has stroked her fur, watched her pounce, felt and heard her purr, seen her eat, and maybe even cleaned the litter box.  I’m sure that as Helen looked at the muscles on her dissected cat, she could picture them put to use in Trinity.  In other words, familiarity with a cat makes the dissection a little more meaningful.

Here I must make a confession that may get me thrown out of this group.  I am not terribly familiar T S Eliot.  In fact, I think the only thing I remember ever reading of his was “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” which I read in 10th grade and from which I remember one line, “Do I dare to eat a peach?  Shall I part my hair behind?”

If only we had chosen a book analysing e.e. cummings!  I have read and re-read, savored and pondered his poems.  Or how about Billy Collins;  Owen just gave me a book of his poetry which I love. Or Shakespeare’s sonnets — I have memorized some of those!  In fact, I have memorized poems by Lewis Carroll, Robert Service, Alfred Noyes, A. A. Milne, and so many others.  For whatever reason, I have stayed away from T. S. Eliot.

So please forgive me, dear Greener Trees Reads friends.  I may fall rather behind.  Before I go any further in TAoTSE, I need to track down a copy of The Four Quartets, one that’s in a book that I can hold in my hands and dog-ear the pages.  I need to read and re-read.  I need to familiarize myself with the cat, as it were, before I dissect it.

And, odd as it may sound, I’m looking forward to this slog.

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3 thoughts on “Slogging, Murder, and T. S. Eliot

  1. Sally – A part of me wishes I was where you are. The Four Quartets has been a favorite of mine for over 10 years…I’ve read, re-read, cherished, pondered, wept over, delighted in, reveled with, sorrowed with, been comforted by, caught, and been caught by Eliot’s words.

    Just a month ago I read through the whole thing again, straight through in one sitting. Haven’t done that in a while (incidentally, it takes almost exactly the length of a train ride from the Philadelphia airport to Langhorne on the West Trenton SEPTA line). In recent years I’ve delved deeply into bits of the poem – ten lines, twenty lines at most – rather than looking at the overarching whole. Both exercises are rewarding, though neither is easy. Begin by getting a feel for the cat – what his fur feels like, the length of his tail and the shape of his body. He might reach out with tooth or claw to catch you or with his purr delight you for a moment, but stop to dissect him until you’ve moved through to found the whole feel.

    Keep exploring.

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

  2. Sally, unlike my sister Carrie, I am right there with you 🙂 . While I haven’t had a chance to start the book yet, I will probably come at it similarly, as Eliot and I are not closely acquainted. I do remember a marvelous one of his about the Magi which I studied and taught, but that’s been about all my exposure. Now Robert Frost on he other hand….

    I’m going to dive in and will hopefully find I can swim instead of slog. I’ll be more than happy to do it with you!

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