They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,

Quite often, TS Eliot’s poems remind us that they are from a period in time, in this case the years of the 1920s and 1930s, a time when the middle and professional classes in England, people like bank managers, accountants and the like, could still live in town-houses with servants’ quarters, in the attic or in the basement, and have a housemaid, a cook and perhaps a butler in their service. This poem is evocative of that era, combining it with an atmospheric depiction of the foggy and run-down, slightly disheveled streets of suburban London.


The point of view is that of the poet, gazing out of the window of his house, and describing not only what he sees but also the underlying atmosphere of despondent middle-class England, in decline.


Morning at the Window

T.S. Eliot, 1888 – 1965


They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.


From <>


The rattling of breakfast plates in basement kitchens are those of the servants washing-up their employer’s breakfast plates before embarking on the rest of the day. This done, the housemaids begin to emerge at the gates, perhaps to go out on shopping errands, or to sweep the porch – their souls are damp, reflecting the fog and rain of London, and their movements and outlook are despondent.


In the second stanza, the poet surveys the street rather than the houses – he sees faces through the fog and notes the mud on the skirts of some passer-by navigating the wet and dirty street. Her smile is aimless, irrelevant and rather hopeless, indicating a stoic acceptance rather than any inner joy.


The scene is cheerless and grim, but quite English of its time. Eliot lived in Kensington, now a very upscale part of London, but if you walk there today, you can indeed envision the scene described.


The Poetry Dude

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited

I recently became aware of this poem by TS Eliot, in which he is exceedingly grumpy about not being appreciated sufficiently by the ladies he wishes to impress. It reminds me a little bit of Baudelaire’s poems about the Belgians in its willingness to offend, in a humoristic way of course.

And the title is an excellent precursor of the content of the poem (most probably ahead of its time)

The Triumph of Bullshit

T.S. Eliot

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited

If you consider my merits are small

Etiolated, alembicated,

Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,

Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,

Impotent galamatias

Affected, possibly imitated,

For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies, who find my intentions ridiculous

Awkward, insipid and horribly gauche

Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous

Dull as the heart of an unbaked brioche

Floundering versicles freely versiculous

Often attenuate, frequently crass

Attempts at emotion that turn isiculous,

For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies who think me unduly vociferous

Amiable cabotin making a noise

That people may cry out “this stuff is too stiff for us”-

Ingenuous child with a box of new toys

Toy lions carnivorous, cannon fumiferous

Engines vaporous- all this will pass;

Quite innocent, -“he only wants to make shiver us.”

For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

And when thyself with silver foot shall pass

Among the theories scattered on the grass

Take up my good intentions with the rest

And then for Christ’s sake stick them up your ass.

From <>

A good part of the humour of this poem consists of the contrast between the unusual words which Eliot liberally scatters through the poem (etiolated, alambicated, orotund, galamatias… just in the first stanza), and the final line of each stanza, which could come from any drunken bar-room disagreement. And notice the American spelling of ass, reminding us of Eliot’s original nationality.

Of course, the irony of the poet’s exposing the ladies’ assumed low opinion of him in an extended way is that he is laying out ammunition to be used against himself.

The Poetry Dude

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw–

Here is one of TS Eliot’s cat poems, which were revived in the 1980s, if I remember rightly as a hit musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. These poems are more accessible than most of Eliot’s other work, but still very well put together and a lot of fun.
This poem is about Macavity a cat whom Eliot presumably modelled on Sherlock Holmes’s arch-enemy, Moriarty – both criminal masterminds who weave dastardly plots which are almost completely undetectable.
So let’s see what Macavity is up to…

Macavity: The Mystery Cat
by T. S. Eliot

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw–
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air–
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square–
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair–
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office finds a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair–
But it’s useless of investigate–Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
“It must have been Macavity!”–but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place–MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

From <;

When reading out loud you get carried along by the rhythm of this poem. In that sense it reminds me a bit of one of those Gilbert and Sullivan numbers which pile up comic references at a faster and faster pace until you almost can’t understand any word. It is the repetitions which keep the reader in the game , “Macavity. Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity”, and “Macavity’s not there”.

There are references to Sherlock Holmes mysteries here – the loss of the Admiralty plans for example, or the reference to Macavity (Moriarty) as the Napoleon of crime. You can also think of Macavity as a sort of James Bond villain, or the gang leader in that old cartoon series “Top Cat”.

This poem brings pleasure on many levels.

Here is a YouTube of the treatment of this poem in the musical Cats

The Poetry Dude

Miss Nancy Ellicott

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.

Cousin Nancy

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.

From <;

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

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

Well, if we are to feature some poems by TS Eliot on this blog, we might as well include one of the cat poems, from the collection which eventually inspired the musical show “Cats”. This is Eliot’s light-hearted poems, a light-heartedness which often comes through in his more “serious” work, but which can be somewhat overwhelmed by obscure references and unusual vocabulary. The cats poems, including this one, are more like Dr. Seuss, of green eggs and ham fame, and are very accessible to all.
This particular poem is about the naming of cats, a serious matter indeed.


The Naming Of Cats


The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

From <;

I love how Eliot proposes names like Admetus or Demeter as sensible everyday names. And I love his verbal dexterity in phrases like “His ineffable effable effanineffible…” There is also real observation in the poem, of the inscrutability of a cat’s demeanour, of the way the cat walks about with its tail raised in the air etc. Eliot must have been a cat person.

The Poetry Dude

En Amerique, professeur;

TS Eliot wrote a few poems in French, and here is one of them. It is about the different identities or personas that he felt he adopted according to place or circumstance. Anybody who travels a lot or has multiple roles in life can empathise with this. Which is the “real” Eliot? The question itself probably has no neat answer – of course he is an adulterous mixture of everything.
Mélange Adultère de Tout
En Amerique, professeur;

En Angleterre, journaliste;

C’est à grands pas et en sueur

Que vous suivrez à peine ma piste.

En Yorkshire, conferencier;

A Londres, un peu banquier,

Vous me paierez bien la tête.

C’est à Paris que je me coiffe

Casque noir de jemenfoutiste.

En Allemagne, philosophe

Surexcité par Emporheben

Au grand air de Bergsteigleben;

J’erre toujours de-ci de-là

A divers coups de tra la la

De Damas jusqu’à Omaha.

Je celebrai mon jour de fête

Dans une oasis d’Afrique

Vêtu d’une peau de girafe.

On montrera mon cénotaphe

Aux côtes brûlantes de Mozambique.
From <;

Eliot gives a picture of himself popping up in different places around the world, each time in a different role, with a different purpose – America, England, Yorkshire, London, Paris, Germany, Damascus, Omaha, an African oasis, Mozambique. If you try to keep up you will make yourself dizzy. He is teacher, journalist, lecturer, banker, philosopher – but he goes to Paris for a haircut and to Africa for his birthday. Maybe his memorial will be in Mozambique – that can’t be more absurd than the activities of the rest of his life…

This is a fun poem from Eliot, it doesn’t have the intense anxiety of some of his work, but is more playful and allusive. The short lines reinforce the sense of transitoriness that he is trying to convey. And it’s a pretty good effort at writing in French for an Anglo-American poet.
The Poetry Dude

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


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 <;

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