Sunday, August 17, 2008

Poets and fogs and cats

I had decided that I would finally get to the collection of poetry of T. S. Eliot this year. I had dipped into the text, _The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909 -1950_ a number of times for specific poems and plays, but there was still much in there that I hadn't read.

Being a rather simple sort, I started with the first poem--"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." I had read this one before, numerous times, so it was settling back for a conversation with a old friend.

"Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table:
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

He's on a quest, and the third line hints that his imagery might be not what one usually gets.

Of course, when I encountered the following stanza, I had to stop and think and smile. Eliot's use of cat imagery to describe the fog seems so apt. I know he's depicting the fog, but the cat comes through so strongly to me that I picture the narrator encountering a cat on his walk.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

This of course brings up another poem, one by Carl Sandburg, which is shorter but just as potent in portraying a cat.


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I guess Sandburg's would qualify more as a short glimpse of one, rather than any lengthy observation, such as Eliot's would suggest. This is a different cat, one on the move, and not one that settles down as Eliot's cat did. I guess that would explain why Eliot goes into more detail than Sandburg did. Perhaps Chicago fogs move more quickly than London fogs.

"And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep."

and Sandburg's

"and then moves on."

I did eventually finish "The Love Song..." that evening, but it took longer than I expected. But, no problem, that's what poems are for, I think.

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