Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Disorder and Outlook © Megan Snider

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

--Eliot's "The Hollow Men"

NOTE: I simply can't get this poem to format right in the editing. I encourage you to read the poem by clicking on the link at the end of this passage. You can't conceptualize what Eliot is communicating correctly with this current format and I apologize.

I think sometimes we see and accept surfaces too easily. Let me ask you something; what do you think the above excerpt from Eliot's "The Hollow Men" is about?

I have known this poem all my life.
When I was little, my mother quoted Eliot to me.
When I learned to read poetry, I read Eliot.
Like all poets, sometimes you think you know what they're saying and sometime later you doubt that assertion.

I was sitting in a class and we were going over this poem and suddenly I realized I knew what this part was about.

I knew what it meant for me.
I don't know what it means for you.
I don't know what it meant for T.S. Eliot.
But, I know what it means for me.

If someone read this who had no knowledge of poetry, it would seem like gibberish.

To a mentally ill person it would probably be an echo of an earlier thought-- disorganized and disturbed--bothered by something.

I believe in this passage the speaker is trying to affirm something, but he can't.

Do you see the stuttering in the lines and the break in thought?

"For thine is the...For thine is the...For thine is the kingdom...Life is very long..."

This may be modern poetry, but it also reads a lot like classical disordered thinking in psychiatric care. I'm not making assertions against Eliot, but I know he did suffer at least one breakdown in his lifetime.
A line in "The Wasteland" confirms this.
Eliot writes so ingeniously:

"'On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect

We can't be sure who the speaker is because if you examine this section, you will see it is in quotes. I cannot tell you who said this, but I can tell you about "Margate Sands". David Seabrook, wrote a book about Eliot called All the Devils are Here. In his book, Mr Seabrook, asserts that Eliot, who was then working at a branch of Lloyd’s in London, went to Margate to recover from a nervous breakdown. (Click on the text for a link to the article.)

A breakdown is just a generic euphemism for mental illness.
(Score one point for my team.)
Eliot's wife was also mentally ill, by the way.

I want to assert three things about this poem:
Disordered thought effects religion
Disordered thought may fuel genius
Disordered thought effects outlook

The thing that really takes the hammer to my heart is the stuttering we looked at earlier. The repetitive "For thine is the..."

This speaker wants to pray...But he can't.

Mental illness skewers and dissects man's relationship with god and humanity.

How do you go about fixing things that are so broken?

...A religion that is swallowed and brought back up and swallowed again...

The church and those eyes of the congregation that can't seem to connect the idea that I no longer believe the god I believe in can really help me.

It reminds me of Eliot again:

"And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?"
--Eliot "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

You may want to argue that I stretch that out of context and you would be right. I won't defend my use and misuse of poetry. But, it's the same thing as arguing over the lyrics of a song. Who is to tell me what that word or that sound or that phrase means to me?

I have been unable to pray for a long time now.

I want to, but I can't.

I'm to the point where I really don't think anything can help.

I'm at the "For thine is the...For thine is the.."

And I don't think I'm the only one saying this.

What is the last line of the poem?

Look at it:

"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."
--Eliot "The Hollow Men"

The acceptance of mental illness and the consequent loss of aspirations does not come with a huge forceful explosion. It was rather a moment where the shoulders slope and the mouth slackens and the words break apart into useless syllables. It's like slowly losing your vision over the years and coming to finally realize you can't define shapes any longer.

The first thing I was told in response to my mental illness was, I quote:

"With the onset of mental illness, many people begin to realize that their dreams are no longer possible."

And I whimpered.

© Megan Snider

Read Eliot's "The Hollow Men" here: http://poetry.poetryx.com/poems/784/
Read Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" here: http://www.bartleby.com/198/1.html