Or does the name now unavoidably bring with it this vast body of letters, plays, poems and prose that can be transported only by fork-lift truck and accessed in full only via a computer in addition to a printed library? It was hard even for the man himself; he rather liked to escape, as well as to investigate, aspects of his own identity. Eliot, who had come to see the village from which one of his ancestors — Andrew Eliot — may have set off for America in the 17th century, was indeed seeking to find a kinship with this still somewhat feudal community.
To make names resonate in poetry, not by simply dropping them in but by deploying them with acoustic finesse, is a signal gift.
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Eliot owed more to Browning than he let on. The poet on whose work he lectured most frequently during his professorial year in America in was not Browning, or even Dante, but Edward Lear. Later, Eliot made his name with a name — Prufrock — pinched from a Missouri furniture company. From childhood onwards, Eliot was fascinated not just by names in general, but by his own.
Murder in the Cathedral , the play which, throughout the period covered by this volume of letters, yields a healthy income from royalties, has a protagonist, Archbishop Thomas Becket, who shares his first name with Eliot. His visit to East Coker two years later was a pilgrimage to an English site firmly associated with the family name. Yet as his work developed, particularly in his non-feline poems, place names come to be more and more prominent. The insistent names are place names. No Norton professor now; just Burnt Norton. No Eliot, even, but East Coker. And that is the name that you never will guess; The name that no human research can discover — But but but But the Cat himself knows , and will never confess.
Yet this verse letter goes beyond that sort of wordplay. Though he typed some of his own letters and handwrote a few, most of his correspondence was business correspondence, a good deal of it dictated to secretaries. Sometimes, his extempore criticism in a letter was so interesting that I found it hard to remember that my business was to take it down, not to listen or comment.
Its shape and detail indicates the punctiliousness with language which made Eliot not only a great publisher, editor and critic, but a great poet. Yet even his infrequent references to her are revealing.
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The way Eliot names himself is much more complicated than the way he names Emily. Eliot and variants thereof. Such preoccupations are evident from his numerous letters to priests, monks and ministers, and from the many mentions of religious retreats, conferences, ecclesiastical journals and visits to confession. Yet the blank name, the vacant space, is also a joke, an allusion to another obsession Eliot shared with several of his friends: the most famous character created by Arthur Conan Doyle.
The shades are closing in on your old friend, and soon, I fear, there will be nothing left but the closing chapter of the Reichenbach Falls. Well, John, if you do not hear of your old friend for some time, say for several years, do not be too concerned. If you read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson in Tibet, it may not occur to you that you are receiving news of your friend.
I may look in at Mecca, and pay a short visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum. I shall be in touch with the Foreign Office. I may spend some months at Montpellier which is in the south of France in a research into the coal-tar derivatives. But you may be sure that I shall never rest until my old adversary is laid by the heels.
Finally, he told me. His destiny is intertwined with his people. Bad men from a far-off tribe.
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The gods will see to it that his deeds against brethren be returned full fold. The diviners warn of white men coming that feed on African flesh. These godless men will gobble warriors and children alike, and they have mighty boats that swell with their prey. Certainly destiny can be changed if we appease the Gods, right? You will infect us with your fear and emotion.
We will do what we must when it comes to it. My rage sent a rumble through me and a pain surged through my womb. I knew in that moment that something wicked was on its way, something that could not be stopped. My birthing pains did not end and Olusola was born before supper the next day. I pushed what Taiwo had told me aside to make way for my new joy. Our son was warm and light as a cloud in my arms.
His eyes were such a striking ebony that they looked like black suns caught in glass. When Taiwo went with the men to celebrate, I spent hours breathing my son in. The sweet smell of his skin made me soon forget my agony. On the deck! It brought my awareness back to the foul ship. The command meant we captives were due for rations and a sloshing of sea water on the upper decks. The promise of sunlight and food above was scarcely worth the journey. Every step I took demanded great effort and sent pain lancing through my body. I had taken, I heard a crewman warn another, more lashes than a wench could bear.
The pails of seawater that they tossed on us were always a brutal shock against my wounds. On the deck, our overseers served our paltry rations in wooden bowls. I lifted a small piece of bread to my mouth. When I was certain that no eye was upon me, I let the bread pass over my lips and fall to the floor.
In a matter of time, I would starve myself back to the ancestor realm. I shuddered. Who was this girl in possession of my secrets?
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Telltale incisions across her cheek. She was beautiful with fine features and large brown eyes that somehow still had life behind them. She could not have been more than fifteen years old. My eyes stopped at her ankle where three small cowrie shells dangled on a thin cord.
It was clear to me how they had missed the eye of the slave hunters. They must be enchanted, the mark of a witch.
If you are a witch then why have you not used your sorcery to free us? Shut your mouth!
This is the curse of Aole. The more I remembered, the more I needed to forget. My name is Aja, what is yours? To starve yourself and leave the others is a selfish death, a bad death still. Besides, there is nothing I can do, least of all for myself.