To be intolerant of another’s religion is toleration itself compared to being intolerant of another’s art.
For a few weeks, Eliot was the bane of my existence. I dabbled in his poetry as a teen and appreciated the smooth flow of his words…the subtle hint of brilliancy. As a child admires the Smoky Mountains but cannot fathom creating them, so my eyes ran over Eliot’s lines without my presuming to attempt to imitate them.
In college my reunion with Eliot was far from nostalgic. I nursed an analytical temperament as a source of pride, and reading Eliot’s poems without having an idea of what they meant became increasingly irritating.
“I feel guilty,” I told Dean McDonald one day, “For not being smarter.”
I poured over The Wasteland with an unusual intensity, particularly intrigued by the vague references, the whisperings I did not fully understand.
Earth mixed with fire,
Eliot had recreated the Greek elements of the earth…he had rebuilt the Smoky Mountains, and I could not. I stared sulkily at my book.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
“So how should I presume?
There will be time
I have measured out my life
Time to prepare
So how should I presume?”
I lifted my nose from my book toward Alexa’s voice as she analyzed a hermit crab she found on the beach.
“Why do hermit crabs crawl sideways?”
She asked, wrinkling her nose in newfound perplexion. My own nose returned, quite literally, to my book.
“I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
“So that poets could use him as a literary symbol.” I muttered half-consciously.
Curse you, Eliot. Could you not lower yourself to the level of normal humanity?
Or why could not I rise above it.