As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved

Here is one of TS Eliot’s shorter and more accessible poems. And despite being considered as a poem, it is clearly written in prose-like sentences with primary and subsidiary clauses, as if it were a fragment of a longer story or memoir. So when reading this I was trying to figure out what is it that makes it a poem.

Would love to hear thoughts on this, either through posted comments or by email to poetrytreasures@gmail.com.

HYSTERIA

by: T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved
in her laughter and being part of it, until her
teeth were only accidental stars with a talent
for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps,
inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally
in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by
the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter
with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading
a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
green iron table, saying: “If the lady and
gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden,
if the lady and gentleman wish to take their
tea in the garden …” I decided that if the
shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of
the fragments of the afternoon might be collected,
and I concentrated my attention with careful
subtlety to this end.

 
From <http://www.poetry-archive.com/e/hysteria.html&gt;

I think the answer of what makes this a poem rather than a prose fragment is the accumulation of rich images, metaphors and adjectives which would be considered overblown and possibly pretentious if this was not a poem. “Her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill” is a wonderful phrase portraying both the sparkle and the regularity of the girl’s teeth as she has a fit of hysterical laughter. The way the waiter nervously repeats his request echoes the hysteria of the girl. Only the poet remains calm and collected, and the poem ends with his resolve to capture these fragments and make something of them “with careful subtlety”. To me this refers to the writing of the poem itself, bringing a self-referential symmetry to the end of the piece.

 

The Poetry Dude

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