A poem in tribute from one poet to another, written shortly after the death of TS Eliot by Adrian Henri. Eliot died in 1965, when Henri was in his mid-30s, and his best years of poetry and success were yet to come. I suppose all poets of the second half of the 20th century were very aware of Eliot’s poetry and position as one of the foremost poets writing in English in the first half of the last century.
Poem In Memoriam T. S. Eliot
I’d been out the night before & hadn’t seen the papers or the telly
& the next day in a café someone told me you were dead
And it was as if a favourite distant uncle had died
old hands in the big strange room/new shiny presents at Christmas
and I didn’t know what to feel.
For years I measured out my life with your coffee spoons
Your poems on the table in dusty bed sitters
Playing an L.P. of you reading on wet interrupted January afternoons
Meanwhile, back at the Wasteland:
Maureen OHara in a lowcut dress staggers across Rhyl sandhills
Lovers in Liverpool pubs eating passion fruit
Reading Alfred de Vigny in the lavatory
Opening an old grand piano and finding it smelling of curry
THE STAR OF INDIA FOUND IN A BUS STATION
Making love in a darkened room hearing an old woman having a fit on the landing
The first snowflakes of winter falling on her Christmas poem for me in Piccadilly Gardens
The first signs of spring in plastic daffodils
on city counters
And you `familiar compound spirit’ moving silently down Canning St in a night of rain and fog.
The first stanza of the poem simply recounts how the poet heard of Eliot’s death and its immediate impact on him. The style is conversational and uses everyday language, clear to all. He compares Eliot to a distant uncle, not very well known but kind and benevolent, someone who was clearly a good influence on the younger poet.
The next three lines allude to Henri’s experience of growing up with Eliot’s poems always available, as part of his way of life he had the books and recordings and was able to assimilate both knowledge and easy familiarity with Eliot’s work.
The poem then morphs into a tribute of another sort – replicating the sparse, somewhat obscure allusions and unusual connections of an Eliot poem, such as the Wasteland, but using the language and style of Henri’s own work, evoking scenes from Liverpool and North Wales, each line highlighting another seemingly unconnected image, but the total adding up cumulatively, as in an impressionist painting, to a colourful and affectionate portrait of a time and place. The final line quotes from Eliot’s “Little Gidding”, one of the Four Quartet poems. In that poem a “familiar compound ghost” appears and speaks to Eliot. Here the spirit presumably represents Eliot himself, walking down Canning Street in Liverpool, Adrian Henri’s native city.
This is a warm and loving poem and a fine tribute from one poet to another
The Poetry Dude