22 April 2005

a sniff of Eliot

A moon sighting from T. S. Eliot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night":

A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets
And female smells in shuttered rooms
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.

I picked this out of an essay called "Effects of Analogy" by Wallace Stevens, some of whose sound occupies a similar range. Listen to the beginning of "Sunday Morning":

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

Okay, not that similar. And, of course, Stevens likes to launch into things like this, from "The Comedian As the Letter C":

Portentous enunciation, syllable
To blessed syllable affined, and sound
Bubbling felicity in cantilene,
Prolific and tormenting tenderness
Of music, as it comes to unison,
Forgather and bell boldly Crispin's last
Deduction. Thrum with a proud douceur
His grand pronunciamento and devise.

Such a refined turn scintillates after one's been with Crispin and his creator for a while, once the poem, as Stevens says, "comes to possess the reader and . . . naturalizes him in his own imagination and liberates him there."

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