”My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
”Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
”What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
”I never know what you are thinking. Think.”
I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
”A Game of Chess”, T.S. Eliot (”The Waste Land”, 1922)
”The Waste land” is about the spiritual death of modern civilization. Since people are spiritually dead, they feel no genuine relationship to others, no meaning and thus no hope in their lives. Spring symbolizes hope, thus ”April is the cruelest month” (the famous opening line) to these people. Being already spiritually dead, they wish for real death as well.
So far everything seems clear and the poetic lines quoted should of course be read in the context of the whole poem but there are limits to my attention span regarding such a long and difficult – but at the same time strangely entertaining – poetic code. Nonetheless there are sequences and images by Eliot that are so immensely beautiful and striking by themselves, such as the lonely, almost solipsistic (you believe that only you exist) desperation of this piece. Well, that’s the way I read it, experts might disagree. The brilliant Camille Paglia, yes the feminist, said that you should read poetry, the oral tradition is insufficient because the eye is involved in taking in the beauty of the text. However I often do memorize the lines as if they were spoken, and sometimes when I am somewhere between awake and asleep, the poem comes alive with the intensity of a dream.
By the way, Samuel Beckett (who also got the Nobel Prize) didn’t like Eliot’s poetry. He said that it belongs in a place named as when spelling ”t eliot” backwards. Eliot himself suffered from a depression, maybe because – it was rumoured – Betrand Russell had an affair with his wife.