One of the members of the writing group I belong to is really smart. He’s also a big fan of T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land. I’m always curious about what other people are reading, so I went to my favorite bookstore and got a copy of T.S.Eliot’s poems.
I settled myself comfortably in my favorite spot of said favorite bookstore, got my snack out, got my tea ready, rubbed my hands together in anticipation of the marvelous read I was about to experience, and opened the book at page 52. That’s where The Waste Land started.
Less than a minute and about eight verses later I started squinting my eyes. A few more verses further down I started scratching my head. Still just a few more lines even further down I looked at the cover of the book to make sure I was reading T.S.Eliot and not some anthology of “Poems That Make No Sense”.
Regrettably, the cover did say T.S.Eliot. I shook my head, took a deep breath, and, with tears in my eyes, I steeled myself for what had suddenly turned into a sadistic assignment: finish reading The Waste Land.
I don’t even remember how long it took me to finish it. I kept re-reading parts of it, hoping that they would suddenly make sense. Nope! They didn’t! The only verses I understood where the first seven verses. Notice that I said I understood, not agreed with or liked. Still, I didn’t feel like an idiot after reading those verses.
All that changed starting with verse number eight: “Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee”. Starnber-what? Hmmm, I thought to myself … it must not be important since I haven’t heard of it yet. Or, better yet, maybe T.S.Eliot will clarify this reference in the next verses, right? Nope again! Wrong! Here are the next verses:
“With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.”
Do you see anything that explains what Starnbergersee is? I didn’t. I got even more confused instead. I trudged through the poem hoping that there would be some kind of key, or a less obscure reference to help me make sense of it all. Instead I arrived at “London bridge is falling down falling down falling down”. This is where I decided that one of us (i.e T.S.Eliot and myself) had lost their mind, and this time it wasn’t me!
I wish I could say I was glad to finish reading The Waste Land, but I wasn’t. Instead, I felt like an idiot both for not understanding it and for wasting who knows how long of my precious reading time on a poem that … sucks!!! There, I said it.
To make myself feel better, I started reading a book of quotes. I also got a big chocolate chip cookie from the café and washed it down with a nice white chocolate mocha with extra whipped cream and extra white chocolate syrup.
By the time I got done with my extra-everything-double-the-chocolate treat, I was feeling better about the whole evening, until bits of the poem starting coming back to me. That’s when I realized that maybe that was where its “magic” lay. Maybe it was one of those things that were so nonsensical at first sight that you can’t help but wondering what the heck was going on through the mind of the person who wrote them.
Masochistic person that I am, I decided to go back the following evening to my bookstore and read the poem again. I’ll let you know tomorrow what happened. Until then, here is a link to the full version of The Waste Land. Proceed at your own risk! You might feel extremely dumb after you finish reading it.
If you are one of those people who gets it though, please let me know. I’ll add you to my list of very smart people and buy you a big chocolate chip cookie if we ever meet. I’d love to be able to pick your brain … figuratively speaking, of course.
See you tomorrow. “London bridge is falling down falling down falling down…” Huh? Never mind!
P.S. The picture I chose for this post made me laugh so hard I couldn’t help using it, even though a picture with one of T.S.Eliot’s quotes might have been a better fit. Maybe some other time, after I figure out how many pancakes will fit on the roof!