Today we have a short and relatively uncomplicated poem by TS Eliot, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek poetic portrayal of his Cousin Nancy. It sounds like it was written in the first quarter of the 20th century when women were breaking out of domesticity, campaigning for the vote and beginning to live independent lives of work and leisure. The reaction from men in positions of power and influence could be resistance, ridicule, vague amusement or support. I think this poem puts Eliot in the vague amusement category, which is really just as demeaning to women as outright opposition.
BY T. S. ELIOT
Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them —
The barren New England hills —
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.
Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.
Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.
Cousin Nancy is portrayed as a modern woman, full of energy and resolve, striding across the hills without regard to people’s opinion. She rides in foxhunts, probably not sitting side-saddle; she smokes and dances, which causes her more traditional aunts to raise their eyebrows.
I’m not sure what is meant by the references to Matthew and Waldo at the end of the poem, presumably they might be some iconic representations of traditionalism, put there to remind cousin Nancy that a woman’s place is in the home.
I wander if Nancy appreciated the poem?
The Poetry Dude