The Canadian years,37 Dead letters and Elliot

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Wednesday 17 December 08:10


Dead letters and Elliot

My days at school passed pleasantly, school was like a point of rest, in my life. Mrs. Sotby was our teacher of historical literature. You learned a lot of information about Coleridge or about Milton and Eliot who would remain my favorite poet for many years. ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ was the poem that I recognized with an inner voice which I had never heard before. The opening stanza invited with hypnotism, further reading.


Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets That follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question. . . 10

Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"

Let us go and make our visit.


Eliot invited in the opening stanza and the subsequent 120 perfectly balanced word images, to follow him to  find an answer to a question. He catches your attention as a reader with the preamble and takes you on a voyage of exploration through the London of his time. The time? The evening, but an abstraction of the evening as if living in his memories. An evening hanging motionless in the air, similar to a patient who has just had his anesthesia and can essentially be lively, at other times, but now is as mired in peace and given over to what has to happen.


Where? He takes you leave half blocks, drawnback districts, neighborhoods with whores with reaturants where sand and sawdust cover the floor to  make cleaning  easier, covered with oyster shells. The harbor area. Why? To give the reader insight into a question that bubbles up in his mind. What is the question? The question will  form itself  after the visit.

A beautiful poem with each stanza growing in strength,. The author speaks from the dead or classical letters to you and make you part of his life and the statements he found necessary to form the question that is to be formulated by the reader. If you read it out loud, you will hear the voice of the author, who by the meter in time accelerates the pace or just slows down in a phrase to give it more meaning or  weight. It was a difficult abstract block. I enjoyed it and with me three classmates, the other 36 followed the block because it was mandatory. Each cycle ended with an essay which you had to write to demonstrate what you had learned, including what had been handed to you in dictation form, to prove your progress. My love for ancient literature was born. After the Eliot block and Coleridge's rime of the ancient mariner, with the familiar phrases that you'll still hear in contemporary language and expressions, after so many hundred years, ‘Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink 'and ‘I fear tea ancient mariner, I fear thy dreadful eye’.. we would treat the works of Shakespeare, the tragedies and lighter pieces.


I had a weird experience, I understood the texts, I was open to them. I saw the splendor of the chosen words and intellect that hid in those choices. A door was opened to a different time and as a witness I could observe how life went on behind that door. Grades in English and American schools were given in letters, from A to F, where F ', fail meant and' A 'is similar to the European 10, on a scale of 1 to 10. Mrs. Sotby had the corrected essays handed out. They went from high to low. There were five 'A' essays a bigger stack 'B' and'C 'and there was one unfortunate student that had to resit the block because a F’ had been given to his work and then the stack was gone. I looked surprised, I had submitted an essay as well. I raised my hand. ‘Mrs. Sotby, madam.’ She looked over her glasses at me. ‘Yes, young Daniel ?’ ‘I did not get my work back.’ ‘I know,’ she smiled. ‘Your handwriting is terrible, really terrible but Eliot's handwriting seems to have been virtually unreadable as well. I would suggest for you, until you reach Eliot's fame, to write more clearly. You write too fast, I guess, because your ideas, cannot be captured quickly enough by the pen. That Young Daniel, is a matter of concentration.’ I hoped that she had read my essays and I resolved to start writing a bit neater  in the future.

‘You, young Daniel’ write, poetically and analytically, your essay transcends the dictation that I have given to all of you for hours. I cannot however find some aspects of my dictation back in your essay. I find that objectionable’. ‘Phew I got a scolding,’ she had there in front of her my essay. Was I to be ridiculed in front of all? ‘The insights that transcend the dictation,’ Mrs. Sotby continued, ‘have added knowledge to my understanding of Eliot. Our grand T. S. Eliot has spoken to you, young Daniel!’

‘Curiously Coleridge also enlightens you as well, although it is a writer from a different time and a different genre. There too I miss essential insights which I have dictated. But those are offset by analytical comments on your part. What should I do with such essay, an unreadable pearl, shall I say? What would you do with that young Daniel?’ ‘I, madam,’ I said, ‘I would assess it at 'face value' on contents, if you can find yourself willing to do so.’ ‘I did just that,’ said Mrs. Sotby. ‘You can pick them both up’. I both got them back, they were stapled together, and there were two big 'H's' on them. There was some scribbling in red in the sideline. She looked at me, that is an addition of Mister Boston who is going to deliver the Shakespeare block after me. I have consulted with him. In almost illegible handwriting, I could make out  ‘impressive insight into difficult matter.’ ‘Well, you have not lost your tongue, now’, asked my teacher. ‘No, Mrs. Sotby, madam,’ I said,’ but I do not know what I got’ ‘You have two ‘H’s’ she said, don’t you know what that means?’ I shook my head. ‘Did you say something, young Daniel? I do not like non-verbal language.’ ‘No ma'am,’ I said. Your mark in my view does fit not on the scale of A to F so I have given you an Honour. I give that out only once a year and sometimes I don’t. The H of Honour say an A plus. ‘Thank you, Mrs. Sotby madam,’ I said sincerely relieved.

‘You are not off the hook that easily,’ she  smiled. ‘I  will recite the last verse and you can explain that to us in order to compensate for my lost time, that I hung over your miserable handwriting. I expect explanations simultaneously. The focus of the class was there now. They wanted to see how it would expire.


Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.


I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

   I do not think they will sing to me.


   I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.


   We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown 130

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


Mrs. Sotby recited it paying great attention to and following the meter and it was Eliot who spoke to me as if we sat together in armchairs, exchanging thoughts.’ I don’t have the text in front of me so I will have to rely on my memory’, I said. ‘We are waiting’ said mrs Sotby. ‘It's about aging and assessing what you can still permit yourself in life’ I said. ‘How can you keep your youthful look? The mermaids conjure up a picture of the sirens of Ulyssis  in mythology trying to seduce you with their singing and it is also about the question that he asks of the reader in the beginning stanza. How to deal with your life as you get older and no longer appear as a young god?’


Walking along the sea with rolled up trouser legs is a reference of walking through life, water as a symbol for life, filled with youthful inviting temptations and pants rolled up because your body shrinks, the physical deterioration ensures that clothes no longer fit’. I thought a moment and added,’ he had an absence, he had memories in mind and he is awakened to consciousness by the voices around him, he returns with his head in the company, which has not noticed that he had been lost in his memories and reflections. And the recoil to reality is considered as not pleasant by him, he sees that as drowning in reality, he’d rather go on with sweet memories of temptations.’

‘That was extraordinary,’ mrs Sotby said, ‘why do you think the speaker would rather stay in the dream world of memories.’ ‘You have not recited it’, I replied,’ but I know so from another stanza. The stanza about having seen everthing already’.’Verse 50,’ I said, after some concentrated digging. ‘What is that,’she asked surprised? ‘May I mrs Sotby, madam’, and I recited:


 For I have known them all already, known them all;

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,        50

I have Measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

   So how should I presume?

Shelly blew me a kiss and formed the word sugar lips. ‘That is extraordinary,’ said Mrs. Sotby. ‘Are you listening to me still young Daniel?’ My eyes were still trapped by those of Shelly. ‘Mrs Sotby pardon, me madam,’ I said, ‘I was just serenaded by a nymph.’ Shelly blew me second a kiss, and Mrs. Sotby said,’ in this life you will still encounter many nymphs,’ the bell rang and we awoke to the harsh reality that Eliot had formulated 100 years earlier.

San Daniel 2014

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Reacties (3) 

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I have learned a lot by reading this.
What I Do not really understand is
why they say the scale is simular to european scale 1 - 10

It seems 10 to 5. 5 or less = inadequate
. A -B- C -D- E- F
10- 9- 8- 7- 6- 5- 4-3-2-1

or on a scale 10-1 ( this can not be it)
A --- B -----C---- D---- E ----F
10 -9- 8- 7- 6- 5 -4 -3- 2 - 1

Germany is also European.
and they use other grades 1-6 most simular to abcdef
They say number 1 is the best and 6 the worst.
It is funny Josh, how different countries use alternate ways to express me a scale from 1- 10 seems a logical one..
When someone get a 3 minus , it`s still funny it always can be worse.