Tag Archives: the wasteland

What Constitutes a Tired Old Simile or Metaphor in Poetry

In a Youtube video, Zoe B discusses what makes a poem good. She argues that poetry does not need to be complex (indeed she states that it is being taught incorrectly in many schools). Somewhat controversially she labels Eliot as an “ass” for his poem “The Wasteland” which, she argues was deliberately made difficult in order that only academics could comprehend it’s meaning. Zoe does, however quote with approval the final stanza of Eliot’s “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” later on in her discussion of poetics.

This is an interesting and in places provocative view as to what constitutes poetry. Whilst I agree with some of Zoe’s points, I take issue with other aspects of her argument. For example she contends that comparing love to fire is old hat and that tired old comparisons of this nature should be avoided. In my opinion there is nothing new under the sun. It has, to some extent at least all been said before. That does not, however mean that writers of poetry should avoid comparing love to a fire or their lover to a flower. It is all about how language is used and the word fire or love are employed in the poem in question.

I must at this point declare an interest. One of my earlier poems is entitled “Fire” and runs as follows:

“I have felt the fire’s power;
It kindles brightly and sinks within the hour.
I have watched the embers dying fast;
Looked into the future and gazed into the past.
I have raked the ashes cold, felt the bleakness in my soul”.

Whether the above poem is any good is, of course a matter of opinion, which will depend on the views of those who read it. However if one deems it to be a mediocre or bad poem, this does not imply that any modern poems which draw a comparison between love, passion and fire are, automatically poor or mediocre compositions. It is, as I say above, all about how the use of the metaphor and/or simile is utilised in a given poem.

You can watch the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arE2yyQe1PY

“Fire” first appeared in Dalliance; a Collection of Poetry and Prose. It can also be found in my Selected Poems, which is available here, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WW8WXPP/.

You can find a video of me reading my poem Fire here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtr7wJgnkqo

Should Poets Write to be Understood?

Recently, an acquaintance related how her father had given her, and other members of his family a book of poetry he had written. The result? None of the recipients of his gift understood his work.

My acquaintance argues that poets ought to compose poetry their readers are able to comprehend, rather than using obscure metaphors and references to mythology which comparatively few people can understand.

Whilst I agree that poets should not be deliberately obscure, I am of the view that the first duty of a poet is to be true to themselves. It is, undoubtedly odd for poets to deliberately compose obscure poetry (and I am sceptical that many do so). However the fact that a poem or series of poems is difficult to interpret does not imply that the poet deliberately made them so.

One can not converse with the dead. But where one to have this privilege, and where one to be able to ask T. S. Eliot about The Wasteland (which many struggle to interpret), he would, I suspect say that his readers should make an effort to understand his poetry, and that he had to write the poem as he did.

I have not met the father of my acquaintance. But I am in no doubt that he put his heart and soul into his work, and that I for one would feel impertinent where I to say “sir, I don’t understand your work, you should have made it mor comprehensible”.

Seemingly simple poems can be open to interpretation. In my Selected Poems is one entitled Raining. I awoke one morning and, hearing the rain was reminded of mortality. I will die but the rain will continue as it always has.

A reader interpreted the reference to rain as implying sadness and, in particular tears. In fact I love the rain and my poem flowed from a feeling of contentment on my part. We all die but there is continuity and beauty in the eternal rain, and the knowledge of this fills me with joy rather than sorrow.

Ultimately poets must remain true to themselves and not sacrifice their art merely to bough down to the lowest common denominator. I hope that people understand what I write, but I will not change the manner in which I compose my poetry to enhance the understanding of my readers.

As always, I would welcome comments.

Unreal City

Eliot spoke of an “unreal city”.
I could, perhaps, say something witty.
But, in this great city
A second lockdown starts today,
So there is nothing witty
I can say.

Read “The Wasteland”
For Eliot’s command
Of language surpasses mine.
‘Tis a bitter wine,
But, does, perhaps convey
What I wish to say.

My Review of Philip Larkin’s “High Windows”

I recently read “High Windows” by Philip Larkin, https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009R67L46/. Then, yesterday evening I discussed Larkin’s poetry with my old friend, Jeff.

Where I to be asked by someone unfamiliar with poetry, for a list of poets with whom they might start, Larkin would undoubtedly be amongst my recommendations. His verse is packed with meaning whilst not being overly difficult to grasp, making it an ideal starting place for the person with little, or no knowledge of poetry.

To state the above, is not to imply that Larkin’s verse is devoid of inner meanings – it is replete with them. However, his poetry can, I believe be appreciated by those who would be put off poetry for life where they to be introduced to Eliot’s “Wasteland” as their first taste of poetry. Whilst “The Wasteland” is a literary masterpiece, it is not an easy poem to grasp, and that is putting it mildly!

Turning specifically to “High Windows”, this short collection contains what is, in all probability the poet’s most famous poem, “This Be The Verse”, which begins “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”.

The above poem is not, in my view one of Larkin’s best poems, although I can, of course understand why it appeals to school children, who do, quite naturally, find something slightly subversive in “This be The Verse”.

A poem such as “The Old Fools” is much worthier of serious consideration. In it Larkin describes a group of elderly people, many of whom have (or are in the process of succumbing to dementia. Larkin’s description lacks sentimentality, and he acknowledges that all of us will become, in the end “old fools”.

Larkin can be cynical (or truthful depending on one’s point of view). In his poem, “Going, Going” he decries the destruction of the environment:

“For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts—
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.”

Cynical? or truthful? you pays your money and you makes your choice.

In fact, “Going, Going” contains both elements of cynicism and truthfullness. But it is also a passionate defense of the environment, not from a left-wing perspective (for Larkin was a Conservative). Rather it is a poem decrying the impact of the masses on the natural world. and the commercial interests who are, in Larkin’s view, only too happy to build more shopping centres, factories, houses Etc.

I recommend “High Windows”.