memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘T.S. Eliot’

The Journey of the Magi

January 6th (the Epiphany, la fête des Rois, die Drei Konigen, the Three Kings) seems an appropriate date to post another favourite poem by T. S. Eliot.

 

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The was deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

 

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

 

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

 

The end of the world

END OF THE WORLD

21. 12. 2012

For all seven billion plus of us

It’s a win-win situation

 

A win because the magic number

Zero, three ones and four twos

Is predicated on an erroneous

Dating system

The Christian calendar.

(They made a mistake)

 

And also a win because I have

 Something to say to all

The faithful and the faithless

The hopeful and the hopeless

Old and young and in between

Rich and poor and in between

Black and white and in between

Good and bad and in between

 

we who dwell in the slums of

Great cities

Green mansions

Country pastures

Wet Forests

Dry bush

Frozen tundra

Searing deserts

Flooded deltas

And the islands

 Those thousand islands

This quote is for all of us:

 

This is how the world ends

This is how the world ends

This is how the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper

T. S. Eliot – «The Hollow Men»

Mr, Eliot’s peaceful Xmas

I woke one morning last month with the memory that I was in possession of a Christmas card from T.S. Eliot, in his capacity as director of the Publishing house of Faber & Faber, to my aunt Mary G. Milner as a published Faber author.

It is a rather stylish document with the cover and back designed by Barnett Freedman, the noted lithographer, illustrator and book designer, who did a lot of work for Faber.

It was the first Christmas of peace after the war – a time of paper shortage for publishers – and I suppose that Faber had decided to splash out a little.

Let’s trace the journey of this particular copy (which by the way is still in its original brown envelope – dated 15th Dec. 1945 and a little blue George XI tuppeny-happney postage stamp ).

Firstly T.S. Eliot (the great seminal modernist poet of the 20th century) conscientiously signs it and on the envelope writes out my aunt’s name & address and adds it pile of cards for the post.

On its arrival in South Yorkshire it is redirected back to London by my grandfather where he happens to know that his daughter is spending the first Christmas of peace at my parents’ gaff in Hampstead.

(Cool address, isn’t?

We had no money in those days, my mother used to say airily.

Well, I asked her once, what did you used to eat, then?

Oh, you know, just omelettes and things …)

Now let’s go back to the card: beautiful art & craft design by Barnett Freedman – very period

And on the back too.

You open it up the A3 size and best quality Faber paper and voilà, the poet’s signature (or autograph perhaps I should say).

I handle it with reverence.

And that’s it, I say to myself as I’m about to publish this onto Word Press, a nice neat little blog, of rather narrow interest admittedly but not totally without interest … but I then pause and continue my musings … what shall I do now with this piece of literary/family memorabilia? If is merely found among his things after my death, my successors might not appreciate it so much i.e. they might know/care diddly squat about early 20th century English modernist poetry.

But it’s marketable.

I might sell it on e-bay and buy one those George-Clooney-type espresso coffee machines with the proceedings.

or there again, I might not. E-bay is rather vulgar, isn’t it?

Dance of the Seven Veils

The man whom history knows as St. John the Baptist came to rather a macabre end.

He was a desert preacher and an outspoken radical activist who taught Abramic Law but with a non-orthodox twist – that a Messiah or King was on the way who would sort out the rot and lead his people back onto straight and narrow path of righteousness. (And he famously baptized Jesus of Nazareth in the waters of the river Jordan).

News of his doings reached the court of the Tetrarch of Jerusalem, Herod Aggripa, who had succeeded his brother Philip Aggripa on his death and also Philip’s widow, Herodias, a member of the same Romano-Judeo dynasty; Herodias and Philip had had a daughter named Salomé; (thus the girl was Herod’s niece as well as his step-daughter).

Herodias, alluring and manipulative, was very much the power behind the throne, (not unlike  Madame de Maintenon at the court of Versailles seventeen centuries later).

When the preacher John seemed to implicitly challenge the King’s authority, she had him imprisoned.

HERODIAS – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

She soon perceived that Herod was besotted with her 16 year-old daughter, Salomé, and accordingly she coached the young girl in all the subtle Eastern arts: never actually give him anything, daughter, but promise him everything with your eyes …

Thus it is, that on a state occasion in front of the whole court, Salomé demurely begins to dance; she slowly sways her hips and shivers her body; she glides up to Herod and then retreats like a wave on the pebbled beach; she writhes and pirouettes and claps her hands and snaps her fingers; in the Eastern manner she artfully flourishes a number of veils both to conceal and accentuate her the curves of her slim body …

(how many veils? Well actually it was about five and half but hey, let’s just call it seven shall we, just as Rome was built on seven hills, just as there are seven deadly sins and seven cardinal virtues, just as there are the seven wonders of the world and the seven pillars of wisdom – if you want to get anywhere in posterity with lists just stick seven in front of it; Lisbon, the city founded by Ulysses, is built on guess how many hills?)

Back to Salomé’s dance which is nearing a crescendo and is of such erotic power that the Bible blushes to recount it.

Anyway the upshot was that the hypnotized Herod promised anything in the world to the gorgeous girl and she (after a quick consult with Mum) asked the king for the head of John the Baptist.

The last words of this sorry tale belong to J. Alfred Prufrock  (T. S. Eliot)

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) bought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have the seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

Because I do not hope to turn again

Today is Ash Wednesday.

Yesterday was Carnival, which, being a good Englishman, I resolutely ignored.

Today is the first day of Lent, which I shall likewise ignore as being a complete irrelevance in today’s social context.

But every year on this day I make a point of reading T. S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday.  I know that sounds a tad pretentious but there it is, (why would I make that up at this late stage) and I also know you will become even more irritated when I add that I read it in an edition of the poem that my father bought when it was first published in April 1930 (not one of the first 600 signed and numbered copies at the beginning the month but one of the ordinary run of 2000 copies that appeared towards the end of the same month).

 (pass the sick-bag Alice).

ASH-WEDNESDAY – T.S. Eliot

ROBERT HUGH MILNER

I settle down in my wheelchair and, holding the slim, light 82-year book in my hands, begin to read:

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

I’m Home-sick

Noise, noise, noise
Loud voices cracked and graceless
Bounce around the walls
Of the chamber
Of my damaged skull.
Irritation blurs my vision
Sunspots inside my eye-lids.
I am depressed but I can’t think why.

The figures wrapped in blankets slump
Lacklustre and inert, crouched to
Withstand some in-coming stuff
The bombardment of imprecation
The barking tirades
The high whine of moral indignation
The boom of the opinionated
The squawking and the bluster
«Oh she’s so stubborn, that one»!
(No, not stubborn, just old;
Old and weary and quirky
Just as you will be one day my dear).

After the skirmish the captain has a debriefing session with his Sargent
–    Well Sargent, any casualties?
–    Yes Sir; one Sir, Fernandes Sir, blanket-job Sir
–    Was she stubborn at all would you say Sargent?
–    Ooh yes Sir, she could be so stubborn, that one!
–    I see. Anyone else?
–    Two others lightly injured Sir; they was caught in the-friendly-crossfire- of-verbal-abuse Sir.
–    Jolly good; any other business Sargent?
–    Yes Sir, permission to request transfer, Sir!
–    Good lord, Sargent, any special reason?
–    I am Home-sick, Sir.
–    But I thought this was your Home Sargent!
–    Yes it is, Sir, and I’m sick of it!

I am depressed but I can’t think why
I can’t paint, I can’t paint, my hands tremble so.
I am demotivated shred by shred
And please witness the dismantling
Of my fragile self-esteem.

I am on the terrace now,
Soothed by the cold evening sun
And contemplating a misshapen cactus
Against a brick-red wall.
On the terrace
In my peace.


«Midwinter-spring is its own season, sempiternal
Though sodden towards sundown»
So I think, quoting the Poet, as I gazed through smoky chimneys
Then lift my eyes towards the open sea.

MID-WINTER SPRING

The Three Kings 2

COLOGNE

As a special treat we used to eat our dinner in a restaurant, specializing in chicken roast on a revolving spit over a hot charcoal fire, in the cathedral square.

We always had the same – chicken und chips and guess what! There were no knives or forks, what fun! What a lark! (What a hoot!)

Cutlery-anarchy/ hunter-gatherers sitting round the fire tearing at the succulent, unctuous golden-skinned  meat with improbably white Hollywood teeth/ imagine Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan/ two days in an assault-landing-craft/ chundering and heaving his guts out all over the place/ followed by a hairy battle to wrest Omaha Beach from the unspeakable Hun /God is on our side/ catches up with his platoon for a much-needed spot of significant dialogues with the blokes and guess what, he opens his mouth to reveal gleaming white Northern Californian dental-work.

(The chips were to die for too; they tasted … just like real chips used to taste).

After the meal waiters brought round bowls of warm water with sliced lemon and warm-moistened hand-towels.

And across the square, the lit-up cathedral’s twin spires look down benevolently on us – all is forgiven. Gutten appetite

The Journey of the Magi

By T. S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,

    Just the worst time of the year

    For a journey, and such a long journey:

    The ways deep and the weather sharp,

    The very dead of winter.’

    And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

    Lying down in the melting snow.

    There were times we regretted

    The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

    And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

    Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

    And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

    And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

    And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

    And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

    A hard time we had of it.

    At the end we preferred to travel all night,

    Sleeping in snatches,

    With the voices singing in our ears, saying

    That this was all folly.

 

    Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

    Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

    With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

    And three trees on the low sky,

    And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

    Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

    Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

    And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

    But there was no information, and so we continued

    And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

    Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

 

    All this was a long time ago, I remember,

    And I would do it again, but set down

    This set down

    This: were we led all that way for

    Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

    We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

    But had thought they were different; this Birth was

    Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

    We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

    But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

    With an alien people clutching their gods.

    I should be glad of another death

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