I still have my copy of the Collected Poems of TS Eliot, bought whilst studying English Literature years ago. I needed it last week. You will see why.
Elder daughter and I were spending a few days' quality time together. We went for a walk. Normally, we have her Dad with us, and we just follow him blindly, chatting away effortlessly while he holds the map and navigates.
This time we had to work it out for ourselves. We got lost. We passed the most beautiful house, set in the middle of nowhere. High up overlooking a beautiful view, lovely 17th century proportions. Golden Cotswold stone.
I wondered what the name of the house could be, thinking that perhaps we could then identify it on our map. Gazing about, I noticed a figure emerging from behind a hedgerow.
This was the helpful head groundsman, who told us we were trespassing. He also told us the name of the house - "Burnt Norton". Of course I asked if it was connected to the poem by TS Eliot, and he confirmed that it was, and that Eliot had also been trespassing when he roamed around the garden and found some dry ponds which appear in the first section of the poem.
It was rather exciting to feel that we were following in the footsteps, quite literally, of one of the most famous writers of the 20th century.
Now my experience of TS Eliot whilst a student was mixed. I found some of it amusing and easy to remember .
"The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock", for example, still springs to mind from time to time when one is eating a peach, or feeling one's age ("I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled...").
"The Waste Land" is harder, but stuffed like a plum pudding full of quotations which other authors have purloined for their later work. ("The Grass is Singing" to name but one).
I remember thinking how difficult the Four Quartets were, and I feel no different now. Inaccessible, repetitive in beat, emotion and thought process, and depressing.
But I am glad I have the book, and could look up the reference to the dry pools the gardener told us about. Here it is:
"So we moved ....
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool".
The gardener gave us permission to go and look into the drained pools likewise, but we felt that we had pushed our luck in trespassing quite enough already, and progressed on our way instead.