Last week, like many weeks here at ETTO, we touched on T S Eliot’s The Waste Land. I think it was writing a little about it which made me think to wake up early one morning to listen to the recording T S Eliot reading the poem himself. This recording, which is the same as the one I own, and shows that despite poetry being the oral tradition, there’s nothing to stop the author absolutely mangling their own great work. He makes it feel staged, the voices insincere, and the delivery entirely starched rigid for a poem so full of rhythmic intelligence.
As far as I can tell, there is no good reading of the poem in it’s entirety, although this Jeremy Irons reading (with wonderful preamble and analysis at the start, on Radio 4 of course) is pretty close.
I think my dissatisfaction with it is the requirement to make it much more staged and theatrical than my reading of the poem allows it to be. Naturally, when recording something like this, filled with voices, seemingly cut into acts, and with scene changes — there is an easy path to consider the option of getting an ensemble cast to read each part. Equally, putting on excessive voices (yes, I know the poem’s working title was “He Do The Police In Different Voice”) draws me away from what I consider a central understanding of the poem — it feels a little too literal to suggest that this is just a Dickensian wander down the street.
To suggest that the places and voices are literal an not figurative, takes me away from the idea that this is a single view of history (or a moment in it), that the poet is involved in the transmission of this view, and the the observation of these things is an expression of how that poet sees the wounded world. I think of the voice in The Waste Land as belonging to one person, narrating with their last authority — maybe the wounded king of Arthurian legend whose wound causes the land to fall fallow — and the other voices only aspects of his.
Maybe you’ve heard a good version of The Waste Land — or maybe you’ve ever recorded one — reply to let me know!
This kind-of-elegy by Alex Dminitrov is all the frustration of a regretfully wasted existential Sunday afternoon:
If you want an answer
ask the trigger
not the target.
And every boy thinks,
when I maim,
I won’t maim
And finally, an affirmation of life from Safia Elhillo:
Thanks for reading this week’s Etch To Their Own. I have been frolicking away as many calories as possible this week as I attempt to achieve what I thought I always looked like, in my head. Of course this is fiction, but it’s nice to run across the countryside and hear birds trying to murder each other. Oh yeah, they found a giant dead thing. Sometimes a mistake can stick. As always, this was by you, written by me and you can tell me about the typos though any means necessary. Probably through twitter or replying to this email. Alternatively, tell me about your adventures in poetry — whether there be dragons or not.