Poetry is an insight into the soul of the poet. Analysis of poetry is subjective unless the poet has expressed what he or she meant by the poem.
Thomas Stearns Elliot’s Whispers of Immortality is an unusual poem which a number of people find enigmatic. Some find it to be nonsensical—to them it does not make sense.
The poem reflects on three individuals—John Webster, John Donne, and Grishkin, a beautiful woman. John Webster was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Webster’s plays The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi forayed into the darker side of humanity. Webster was a precursor of the Gothic tales to come.
John Donne was a 17th Century poet, priest (Bishop of London) and satirist. Metaphysics seasoned his writing like pepper and salt on a leg of roast lamb. Perhaps, his most famous sonnet is Death Be Not Proud and the lines from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions where he states “no man is an island…for whom the bell tolls…”
Grishkin was Serafima Astafieva, a Russian ballet dancer who operated the Russian Dancing Academy in West London when T. S. Elliot was introduced to her by Ezra Pound. By all accounts she was a beautiful woman with sensual charms.
All three of these unique individuals achieved a whisper of immortality by being remembered. Their lives were, like most of us, filled with ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments, and hopes and fears.
Their ultimate fate was to perish on this planet traversing the cosmos like the innumerable humans who came before and who are forever forgotten in the dust of earth. We tend to remember only a few who have gone before us on the road of life.
Whispers of immortality softly caress us on our journey toward the cosmic ocean. The question of legacy stirs somewhere deep in the soul—will I be remembered when I have departed the confines of this earth?
In many ways it is easier to be remembered in our age of media immortality. Our digital footprints will remain long after we have said goodnight and closed our eyes in that dreamless sleep.
The photo by Eric Hines above captures so well our journey on the road of life as we head for the cosmic ocean. In addition it reflects those whispers of immortality which T. S. Elliot pondered on so many decades ago.
For Elliot his immortality is assured by his life and writings. There will always be those who will remember him. The last two lines sum up our lot: “But our lot crawls between dry ribs, to keep our metaphysics warm.”
May you find your whispers of immortality.
G. D. Williams © 2012
Whispers of Immortality
Death Be Not Proud