Shifting Scenes–A poem

My first-year-in-college son is reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in one of his classes. Interestingly enough, NPR interviewed poet Paul Muldoon about Eliot’s great poem recently. The poem hasn’t lost it’s glamour, Muldoon says. No doubt.

Back when I thought I could write poetry, I began the poem below as part of a poetry in response to poetry series. I was reading Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, e.e. cummings, and Eliot at the time. What always struck me as powerful about Eliot’s poem is his ability to capture the fragmentation of a world losing its hold on the shared mythological knowledge of the past. In essence, Eliot’s poem is an admonition that we must remain connected through narrative or we risk losing our sense of humanity: love becomes lust and we become the young man carbuncular, groping our way down unlit stairs. The stories Eliot alludes to, these shared myths of Western and Eastern tradition, connect us, allowing us to give, sympathize, and recognize our place in the universe.

Simply put, I tell my students, Eliot tell us that art and narrative keeps us human because they remind us we are part of a much larger enterprise. For Eliot, it’s not necessarily about religion: it’s about the stories that create the religious experience. When we stop paying attention to those stories, we create a sterile, meaningless existence.

It’s easy to forget, in an era of never-ending news cycles, that we need to take a few minutes to enjoy the arts. Here of late, the world, as Whitman might say, has been too much with us and we need what Frost called that momentary stay from the confusion of daily life. I encourage you to hit the link above and read Eliot’s poem. If you’ve never read it, you might need to move in with it for a few days. But, I assure you, the payoff is worth the effort.

Feel free, of course, to enjoy or ignore the poem below. I certainly make no claims that I’m producing great art, but if you get some small enjoyment, that’s enough.

Shifting Scenes

His disinterested touch
The impersonal grope.
A force of habit years in the
Making.
This is not a movie
Where the years
Melt away
And the fire stays kindled. The
Books on marriage said “Don’t
Go to bed angry.” They said
Nothing about apathy.

She almost flinches
Pretends to be asleep while she
Stifles a weary groan,
Hoping he will not press his case.
He rolls out of bed
Tired of wondering what happened
Unable to imagine that
Repetition destroys beauty.
He
Stumbles out of bed,
Finding the bathroom unlit.

Nothing so exciting as
Starnbarghese or hyacinth girls
At the breakfast table.
Kids asleep:
“How many times did he cry out?”
“I have a meeting at 4:00.”
“You making breakfast or lunches?” “The
Car needs gas?” “What’s for
Supper?” “The eggs are
Burning.”
No one listening.

A peck on the way out
No passion, nothing
Solved. Her smile
Masking indifference. Her
Relief palpable when he’s
Gone.

The scene shifts.
The camera pans to
See children
Stumbling
Into the room
While the credits
Roll and
She turns to
See them
Sitting,
Expectant,
Hungry for a
Break in their
Fast.

Advertisements

About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to Shifting Scenes–A poem

  1. Nick says:

    The resounding ring of the familiar in your work gives me pause – based on experience? And thanks for the Eliot…I first discovered it, along with Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” as happy accidents from reading Stephen King’s Gunslinger stories; I loved them all, except the ending of the series (no spoilers, if you don’t know I won’t tell)

  2. My poetry education is sorely lacking, so I will be sure to read the poem you referenced. I like this particular thought in your work: “Repetition destroys beauty”. It’s something to think about as we go through the motions of our daily lives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

%d bloggers like this: