We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) was an American-born English poet, playwright, and literary critic, arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. The poem that made his name, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock—started in 1910 and published in Chicago in 1915—is regarded as a masterpiece of the modernist movement, and was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including Gerontion (1920), The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930), and Four Quartets (1945). He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Harvard, Eliot studied philosophy at the Sorbonne for a year, then won a scholarship to Oxford in 1914, becoming a British citizen when he was 39. “[M]y poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England,” he said of his nationality and its role in his work. “It wouldn’t be what it is, and I imagine it wouldn’t be so good … if I’d been born in England, and it wouldn’t be what it is if I’d stayed in America. It’s a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America.” Eliot completely renounced his citizenship to the United States and said: “My mind may be American but my heart is British”.

Eliot died of emphysema in London on January 4, 1965. For many years he had had health problems caused by his heavy smoking, and had often been laid low with bronchitis or tachycardia. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. In accordance with Eliot’s wishes, his ashes were taken to St Michael’s Church in East Coker, the village from which his ancestors had emigrated to America.

There, a simple wall plaque commemorates him with a quotation from his poem “East Coker”: “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.” On the second anniversary of his death, he was commemorated by the installation of a large stone in the floor of Poets’ Corner in London’s Westminster Abbey. The stone, cut by designer Reynolds Stone, is inscribed with his life dates, his Order of Merit, and a quotation from his poem, “Little Gidding”: “the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond / the language of the living.”

T. S. Eliot and literary culture: Dare we ask, “What is it?”

The Library of America

Like clockwork, Joseph Epstein’s recent lament in Commentary that “literary culture . . . seems to be slowly but decisively shutting down” set off a series of online exchanges whose very liveliness seems to challenge Epstein’s thesis. Reviewing the revised edition of The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 1, 1898–1922 and the newly published Volume 2, 1923–1925, Epstein questioned why no poet or critic currently has the same cultural impact as T. S. Eliot:

The unsolved mystery is why no poetry written since the time of Eliot, Yeats, Stevens, Frost, or possibly Auden has anything like the same memorability as theirs . . . Wallace Stevens’s poetry is more beautiful, and Robert Frost’s often more powerful, than Eliot’s, but the latter’s, once read, refuses to leave the mind. . . Eliot was the equivalent in literature of Albert Einstein in science in that everyone seemed to know that these men were immensely significant without quite knowing for what.

Daniel E. Pritchard on The Wooden Spoon took up the gauntlet, noting that plenty of publishers, magazines, and blogs, including “The Quarterly Conversation, Jacket, Maggy, Pen & Anvil, Dark Sky, Dzanc Books, Fulcrum, The Critical Flame, and others . . . have persisted under the fantasy that through hard work and imagination we can make something worthwhile. Make literary culture vibrant. . . that we are literary culture.” To prove his point: when Frank Wilson responded by commenting that “while there are plenty of good writers around . . . the culture as a whole no longer seems to . . . take literature seriously,” Pritchard used that as a springboard for a follow-up post:

Well, it’s absolutely fair to say that no single person has the stature that Eliot did then. Ashbery or Heaney are closest. But I’m not sure that such a figure is possible any longer. First, the narrative has changed: as an audience, we no longer anoint demigods because we no longer adhere to the same hegemony and homogeneity that existed at mid-century. . . Second, we have largely unmasked / undermined the pretension of high culture. People no longer feel the need to pay lip service to so-called high art, and alternate traditions have been legitimized in kind.

Besides, there are so many excellent poets writing today: John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Geoffrey Hill, Rae Armantrout, D.A. Powell, Mark Levine, Ange Mlinko, Maxine Kumin, Ben Lerner, Mark Strand, Seamus Heaney, Tim Donnelly, and many more. Beyond that, there are even more young poets uncounted: scribbling, sweating, reading. . .

Related LOA works: American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, volume one: Henry Adams to Dorothy Parker (includes 14 poems by T. S. Eliot); John Ashbery: Collected Poems 1956–1987

Bloggers Get Their Due From ‘The Tonight Show’


It was almost a blink-and-you-missed-it moment, but early Wednesday morning “The Tonight Show” made good on its word and gave credit to two bloggers for providing a montage of Taylor Swift video clips that  Jay Leno had played for the country singer on Monday’s broadcast.

The credit that appeared moments before Mr. Leno signed off for the night read: “Last night’s Taylor Swift montage provided by Rich Juzwiak of fourfour.typepad.com and Kate Spencer of thefablife.com.”

Mr. Juzwiak wrote Tuesday on his blog that he had been contacted by a “Tonight Show” research coordinator, Sean O’Rourke, who wanted to use on the program a Web video that Mr. Juzwiak and Ms. Spencer created, showing Ms. Swift reacting with apparent surprise to her victories at various awards shows.

The video that Mr. Leno played for Ms. Swift on Monday was very similar to Mr. Juzwiak and Ms. Spencer’s work, using many of the same scenes in the same order, but neither Mr. Leno nor “The Tonight Show” mentioned the bloggers’ involvement.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday morning Mr. Juzwiak said he almost preferred that “The Tonight Show” had credited him and Ms. Spencer after the fact rather than up front, explaining that this paid him higher dividends in “the economy of attention.”

“It’s preferable just in the sense that it gets me more attention,” Mr. Juzwiak said. “A lot more people cared. I feel like a few people would have high-fived me on Twitter if they had seen this thing go down. This reached people who don’t care about Jay Leno whatsoever, who weren’t watching his show any way.”

Mr. Juzwiak said he thought it was unlikely that “The Tonight Show” would seek his contributions again.

“I doubt that they’ll ever look at me,” he said. “I doubt they would even consider. I’m sure it’s been a complete hassle for them. But, you know, rightfully so.”

A press representative for “The Tonight Show” declined to comment further on Wednesday.

Galicia’s tower of strength

Rome left an indelible landmark on the coast of Spain’s northwestern region


The Tower of Hercules is in luck, and so is the city that it identifies. Last year, A Coruña experienced a collective high when the world’s oldest operating lighthouse was declared aWorld Heritage Site by Unesco, thus becoming the fourth Galician monument to earn this distinction. Surrounded by a halo of mystery, it achieved mythic status through the tale of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, the Greek personification of strength.

Among other chores, he was tasked with stealing the cattle of the monster Geryon, and after slaying the giant, he ordered a commemorative tower to be built. José María Bello, director of the Archeological and Historical Museum of A Coruña and co-director of the latest digs near the lighthouse, says the tower dates back to the first century after Christ, between the rules of the Roman emperors Claudius and Vespasian.

“Having legions deployed in Brittany required a supply of staple foods in the Roman diet, such as olive oil,” he explains. “That spurred construction of a lighthouse in the last civilized port before embarking on the journey to barbarian lands.” On the outside, the tower can be misleading.

There are even locals who do not believe it is 2,000 years old. The reason for this is that what we see rising atop of a 57-meter hill from which the Eirás point protrudes into the sea is, in fact, the neoclassical exterior completed by Eustaquio Giannini in 1791. On the inside, however, except for the staircase and the dome, the tower has preserved its Roman heritage.

Sapping spiral

The ascent to the top of the Tower of Hercules requires good footwear and warm clothing. Together with its Andalusian counterpart in Chipiona, it is the only lighthouse in Spain that allows in visitors. The parking lot is presided by a Botero-like statue of Charon, by Ramón Conde.

It is the first of 21 sculptures that dot the park surrounding the tower, and which also include a likeness of Breogán, the mythological father of the Galician people. The façade of this imposing pile of stones still bears a subtle relief that spirals all the way up to the top, evoking the ramp that used to surround the lighthouse during Roman times. The cavalry used this outer platform to carry up the firewood that fed the fire within. The scene is graphically reproduced in the sculpted bronze doors that lead in.

Standing 106 meters above the ground, one can easily understand the strategic situation of the Magnus Portus Artabrorum, where the estuaries of A Coruña, Ferrol, Ares and Betanzos come together. The seven Celtic nations are symbolized by the Rose of the Winds underfoot; the archipelago of the Sisargas looms to the west.

This cannot be happening


Among my mother’s memories of the Second Republic are a few vicious satirical verses that each side shot at the other like burning arrows. Among her memories of the Franco era, one phrase stands out among the rest: “Don’t get involved in that.” “That” was politics. Even Franco said it. “Do as I do — don’t get involved in politics. Those were troubled times. Sometimes my mother said: “Perhaps that will not happen again.”

Perhaps. But the atmosphere around us suggests the worst. It suggests that what happened in other times is, indeed, happening now. Vicious sarcasm is making a comeback, by land, sea and air, on the radio and television, in the press and on the internet. The anthology compiled daily by José María Izquierdo in his blog El Ojo Izquierdo has not enough room for them all. He notices too much.

It is happening around us, but we pretend it isn’t, so as not to succumb to shame and embarrassment. This month some things have happened that seemed unlikely to happen. But they happen. Broken things, in the words of Neruda. Things that nobody breaks, but they were broken. And they are still being broken.

For example, it seemed incredible that a woman, a political candidate, might appear in a video simulating a long-drawn-out orgasm, just because she wanted to get her face on television in a political campaign. She simulates the orgasm, and then, within the abstract context of consummated coitus, tells us a confused tale of crime rates and public salaries, muddling one thing with the other. Let’s say her name is Montserrat Nebrera, who in fact appears at the end of the video, saying she is covering herself will a towel “because the script calls for it.”

And it seems impossible that two young women, to give an electoral boost to the Catalan Socialist candidate Montilla, should also moan forth their orgasms in a campaign video — as if you could only vote for someone who gives you the hots sexually. You would think it couldn’t happen.

But there it is, on YouTube. Another thing that it seems can’t happen, is what has just happened on a television channel paid for, with public money, by the regional government of Madrid. Here a well known journalist makes fun of women in general; of the young girls that he would like to feel up; and also of children in Spanish and Moroccan schools.

Grasping at straws that might seem to be extenuating circumstances, those who pay for this show (with our money) have yammered some excuses that are not without their funny side. First, that this happened during the commercial break, so that the journalist’s prolonged sally of boorish wit enjoyed the protection accorded to an utterance that is confidential and private; and second, that being a private utterance, the only people who could have an interest in leaking and divulging it (thus tending to embarrass and discredit the rightist politicos who paid for the program) were a pack of lefties, such as the labor unions and Grupo PRISA (which publishes EL PAÍS).

In other words, it happened in private. A strange kind of privacy: an audience, largely of children, in the studio; the microphone  doing his job; a number of other journalists witnessing the heady outpouring of verbal diarrhea — and the conversation was a private one. The Cuban writer Severo Sarduy once said: “I feel a bloody atmosphere around me.” All this should not be happening. Even talking about it is distasteful. But it happens.

“In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.”