The Collapse

“They had been married for more than 10 years: each of them a disappointment to the other, both of them aware of what they had become in each other’s company.”

Page 159, Peter Ackroyd’s “T.S. Eliot: A Life”

Part 1 of senior thesis project was to read a biography of T.S. Eliot, and specifically this biography, over break. Progress? I’ve gotten through half of it, right until the part where he and Vivien split up.

If anything, I’m amassing a collection of random facts about T.S. Eliot, and it’s definitely giving me a picture of T.S. Eliot not merely as poet but as a man. Some of these facts are amusing: did anyone know that he used to commit whole passages of Sherlock Holmes to memory and recite them at parties? Others are disturbing, such as his propensity to wear green powder on his face near the end of his marriage. The biographer is really good, both in his evaluation of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, and in his description of Eliot himself; there are some really good lines. Here, from page 106:

That spontaneous genius with which he dramatized his experiences also allowed him to transform his private preoccupations into persuasive abstractions.

Regarding “Gerontion,” a poem with which I am only faintly familiar:

“But the language is borrowed, drained of its meaning, a form of rhetoric which disqualifies itself because it does not provoke action.”

Page 93

Such a powerful line! In other words, “Gerontion” is about a man who is so “lost in the contemplation of the futility of history and the worthlessness of action that he remains immobile and alone.” I would give anything to write like Peter Ackroyd, eventually. Short phrases are packed with punch, but not in a way to be merely economical. It kind of reminds me of the way  my literary criticism professor writes. I’m not sure how to describe it.


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