The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript

 

Here is a poem from TS Eliot, which I should think harks back to his roots in New England, although he spent most of his life in the UK, working and writing in London. I suppose the Boston Evening transcript is an evening newspaper, like the London Evening Standard or the Birmingham Evening Post, although I don’t know if it is real or invented. Anyway, it harks back to a time when newspapers were important, and people would eagerly await the arrival of the latest edition. That lasted until quite recently, and it used to be the case in my house when growing up. Of course, as with much of Eliot, it is also a nod and a wink to an aspect of a very middle-class life style.

The Boston Evening Transcript

BY T. S. ELIOT

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.

When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173473&gt;

There is a sly, wry humour running through this poem. The readers of the newspaper are like ears of corn shifting in the wind, ie they are malleable, do not exercise their own free will or faculties of critical thinking. Might he have said like sheep?

And then he contrasts the impact of evening on those whose appetites for life are awakened with those who are merely waiting for the newspaper, implying the latter are more like zombies. The poet is himself carrying the newspaper home to his cousin Harriet and as he goes in to the house he bids farewell to intellectual stimulation, as epitomised by the image of La Rochefoucauld, the great French wit and author of epigrams, and enters the house where the newspaer will reign over barren, unthinking discourse. This is a very inventive metaphor, with La Rochefoucauld standing for adventure and intellectual stimulation, the street becoming a time machine and Cousin Harriet and the newspaper the mind-numbing intellectual torpor of the conventional middle-classes.

The Poetry Dude

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