Whispers of Immortality

Original Text: 
T. S. Eliot, Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920): 31-32. E546 A753 1920a Fisher Rare Book Library.
2And saw the skull beneath the skin;
3And breastless creatures under ground
4Leaned backward with a lipless grin.
5Daffodil bulbs instead of balls
6Stared from the sockets of the eyes!
7He knew that thought clings round dead limbs
8Tightening its lusts and luxuries.
10Who found no substitute for sense;
11To seize and clutch and penetrate;
12Expert beyond experience,
13He knew the anguish of the marrow
14The ague of the skeleton;
15No contact possible to flesh
16Allayed the fever of the bone.
. . . . . . .
18Is underlined for emphasis;
19Uncorseted, her friendly bust
20Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.
23With subtle effluence of cat;
25The sleek Brazilian jaguar
26Does not in its arboreal gloom
28As Grishkin in a drawing-room.
29And even the Abstract Entities
30Circumambulate her charm;
32To keep our metaphysics warm.

Notes

1] The poem's title alludes to William Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."
Another homage to Théophile Gautier, this time his "Bûchers et tombeaux" (Émaux et Camées [1858]):
Le squelette éait invisible
Au temps heureux de l'Art païen;
L'homme, sous la forme sensible,
Content du beau, ne cherchait rien.

[You could not see the skeleton
in the happy days of pagan art!
Man, viewed from the perspective of the five senses,
content with beauty, searched for nothing.]

(Poésies Complètes, ed. René Jasinki [Paris: A. G. Nizet, 1970], III, 72).

Eliot wrote an essay on the plays of John Webster, a Renaissance playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare, and included it in his The Sacred Wood in 1920. Back to Line

9] John Donne (1572-1631), English poet and (at his death) Bishop of London. In his essay on "The Metaphysical Poets," published in 1921, Eliot wrote that "A thought to Donne was an experience; it modified his sensibility." Back to Line
17] B. C. Southam, following Ezra Pound, identifies Grishkin as "Serafima Astafieva (1876-1934), a Russian dancer with the Diaghilev company who opened her own ballet school in London. Pound introduced her to Eliot, `with the firm intuito that a poem wd result & intention that it should'; and elsewhere Pound recollected that once `I took Parson Elyot to see the Prima Ballerina and it evoked "Grushkin"'" (A Guide to The Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot, 6th edn. [San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1994]: 110).
Cf. Gautier's "Carmen":
Carmen est maigre, -- un trait de bistre
Cerne son œil de gitana.

[Carmen is unsubstantial, some shading
outlines her gipsy's eye.]

(Poésies Complètes, ed. René Jasinki [Paris: A. G. Nizet, 1970], III, 91). Back to Line
21] couched: lying as if on a couch or sofa. Back to Line
22] marmoset: a type of arborial monkey. Back to Line
24] maisonette: `little house,' a term describing a flat in a house with its entrance and, hence, with privacy. Back to Line
27] rank: coarse, offensive, ruttish.
feline: catlike. Back to Line
31] our lot: our sort of people, i.e., the type Eliot consorts with, those who have a philosophical bent of mind and who, even when they appreciate the senses (as Webster and Donne do), tend to see it in the context of skeletons and death (that is, the world of "dry ribs"). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1918
Publication Notes: 
"Four Poems," Little Review 5.5 (Sept. 1918). In England published in an almost identical book, Ara Vos Prec (London: Ovid Press, [1920]). Donald Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (London: Faber and Faber, 1969): A4b, C45.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: 
Special Copyright: 

© T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber Ltd 1974