Public Sightings

compiled by David Chinitz

Uh, no. In the Sherbrooke [Quebec] Record, Dian Cohen explains: “T. S. Eliot was writing his 64-page poem called The Waste Land exactly 100 years ago. It’s about depression and elation and how April is the cruelest month because the life and colour of spring so often gives way to a sudden return of cold and snow and dashes our hopes that things are getting better.” Yikes! (“Is April the Cruelest Month?” 5 Apr. 2021)

And, uh, no. In the Berkshire Edge, William P. Perry writes about “the remarkable quality of the poetry written during both the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II.” His article ends with a list of “Three poems from the Reign of Elizabeth II”: Betjeman’s “In Westminster Abbey,” Auden’s “Carry Her Over the Water,” and Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” not one of which actually dates from the reign of Elizabeth II. Nor does Macbeth’s final soliloquy, listed in “Four poems from the reign of Elizabeth I,” actually date from the reign of Elizabeth I. Yikes! (“The Two Elizabeths … 115 Years of Poetry,” 18 Sept. 2022)

A Christmas turkey. Edward Short, who recently edited The Saint Mary’s Book of Christian Verse, states that he lowered his standards to include Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” in order to “encourage the young, who may aspire to write well but are disappointed with their own fledgling efforts. To these young people I would say, read ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees’ and take heart. If Eliot could write such a pedestrian poem and yet write ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ The Waste Land, ‘The Journey of the Magi,’ and Four Quartets, there is hope for us all.” (Carl E. Olson, “What Makes a Good Christian Poem Good?” catholicworldreport.com, 17 Sept. 2022)

A fading star-wipe. Stephen Colbert, monologuing on 14 Dec. 2021 about the revelations from Mark Meadows, who had given the Congressional Investigative Committee “a PowerPoint document filled with extreme plans to overturn the 2020 election”:

“PowerPoint?! They weren’t just trying to overturn democracy—they were trying to bore it to death! Reminds me of that famous quote from T. S. Eliot [photo of elderly TSE on screen]: ‘This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with a star wipe.’ [Star-wipe transition brings in smiling picture of elderly TSE w/ caption:] ‘I just learned how to do that!’ [Laughter] So he seems happy. Proud of himself. Let us go then, you and I.’” [Applause]

High on “The Hollow Men.” In a New Yorker profile of Natasha Lyonne, the actress recalls making the movie Everyone Says I Love You at age fifteen. Lyonne felt uncomfortable among her A-list costars, including Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda, Natalie Portman, and Julia Roberts, “like they all had a shared secret I wasn’t in on.” After filming, she applied to a bridge program at NYU “with an essay comparing her costars to the characters in T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men. ‘It was very over the top, like how I would not be a part of the lost generation and was going to show up and be the real deal because mendacity makes me sick,’ she said. ‘So, basically, me now, but high and sixteen.’” (Rachel Syme, “Showtime.” New Yorker 11 Apr. 2022: 18-19)

Dare forward. Porsche’s slogan for its latest model is “Dare Forward”—a play on the phrase “Fare Forward,” from The Dry Salvages, whether the sloganeer knew it or not. A sample of the advertising copy:

The new Porsche Macan. For when everyday life needs an endorphin kick. Five doors, five seats, yet incomparable, unmistakable and unstoppable. The redesigned front and rear aprons of its exterior is [sic] just one mark of the refinements made to drive the Macan’s elevated efficiency and performance. This is how to dare forward.

Very romantic. Gail Dontigney Wills, owner of the Lord Randall Bookshop in Marshfield, Massachusetts, died recently at age 87. According to her obituary, her husband, Arthur A. Wills, “won her heart” when they were college-aged “by reciting ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T. S. Eliot from memory.”

By John Whittier-Ferguson

John Whittier-Ferguson is Professor of English at the University of Michigan and is the current president of the International T. S. Eliot Society