(Poem #468) Chard Whitlow
(Mr. Eliot's Sunday Evening Postscript) As we get older we do not get any younger. Seasons return, and to-day I am fifty-five, And this time last year I was fifty-four And this time next year I shall be sixty-two. And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself) To see my time over again - if you can call it time: Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair, Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded tube. There are certain precautions - though none of them very reliable - Against the blast from bombs and the flying splinter, But not against the blast from heaven, vento dei venti, The wind within a wind unable to speak for wind; And the frigid burnings of purgatory will not be touched By any emollient. I think you will find this put, Better than I could ever hope to express it, In the words of Kharma: 'It is, we believe, Idle to hope that the simple stirrup-pump Will extinguish hell.' Oh, listeners, And you especially who have turned off the wireless, And sit in Stoke or Basingstoke listening appreciatively to the silence, (Which is also the silence of hell) pray, not for your skins, but for your souls. And pray for me also under the draughty stair. As we get older we do not get any younger. And pray for Kharma under the holy mountain.
Reed doesn't parody any particular poem, but he 'cleverly manages to summon echoes from almost all Eliot's work' . Some examples: - from 'Little Gidding': What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from... - from 'Gerontion' Vacant shuttles Weave the wind. I have no ghosts, An old man in a droughty house Under a windy knob... - from 'Ash Wednesday' If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent If the unheard, unspoken Word is unspoken, unheard; Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard, The Word without a word, the Word within The world and for the world; - from 'Choruses from 'The Rock'' I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told: We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor To Hindhead, or Maidenhead. If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers. In addition there are little touches like the title (reminiscent of Eliot's fondness for proper nouns in _his_ titles) and the subtitle (a take on 'Mr Eliot's Sunday Morning Service', a rather impenetrable early poem whose main claim to fame is that it starts with the word 'poliphyloprogenitive' - I kid you not). Not to mention the Latin and (pseudo-)Sanskrit words, the rather abstruse religious concerns, the philosophical speculations... ... indeed, every single line recalls one or the other of Eliot's original verses; Reed captures the tone of voice to perfection. And this is _precisely_ what makes the poem so sidesplittingly funny: phrases like 'the simple stirrup-pump' deflate the whole with enviable finesse and utter ruthlessness. Beautiful. thomas.  Kenneth Baker, in his footnote to this poem, in 'Unauthorized Versions' - which, as has been mentioned several times before in this forum, is an utterly _brilliant_ anthology (Faber and Faber, 1990). The rest of his footnote follows: "[this poem] won a competition in the New Statesman. Eliot himself commented: "In fact one is apt to think one could parody oneself much better [than most]. As a matter of fact some critics have said that I have [already] done so. But there is one [parody] which deserves the success it has had, Henry Reed's 'Chard Whitlow'."" [Moreover] Henry Reed is, of course, a celebrated poet in his own right - this poem by him thus merrily contradicts my comments (made a long time ago on the Minstrels, but I don't remember exactly when) that parodists and poets were a non-intersecting set. Oh well.