These fragments I have shored against my ruin


I love that line. It’s line 431 from T S Eliot’s The Waste Land. The first time I read the poem, when I got to this line I burst into tears, because it seemed such a beautiful summation, of the poem, of my life, everything.

Our lives are made up of fragments. We are, in essence, a walking talking collection of every experience we’ve ever had. This includes what we’ve read. Words.

So often I am out and about–yes, I escape now and again–and I hear something, see something, smell something which provokes a memory of something I’ve read. Most often it is snatches of conversation I overhear, being nosey and a crime writer, which as we all know gives me special dispensation to eavesdrop on others. (‘I ain’t been dropping no eaves, sir, honest.’) Words seem to lead to more words.

I hear someone say, ‘the wonderful thing…’ and mentally I’ve added ‘…about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things.’ (I didn’t promise it was anything erudite!) Or someone may say ‘wherever I go…’ and I think to myself ‘there’s always Pooh, there’s always Pooh and me.’

It’s not just A A Milne, though. So often snatches of Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, songs, poems, plays, hymns, prayers, all sorts of words come into my head. I can’t look at spring flowers without thinking ‘A host of golden daffodils’ or ‘April is the cruellest month,’ (The Waste Land again!)

If something annoying happens, I hear Miss Marple whisper, ‘Oh dear, how extremely vexing,’ or I hear someone say something stupid, and Mr Bennett’s frustrated, outraged, ‘Until you come back…I shall not hear two words of sense spoken together’ comes to mind. I share his pain.

When I was studying literature ‘back in the day’, I remember The Waste Land was one of our set texts. Critics deplored it, dismissing it as a pastiche, a patchwork quilt of other peoples’ work, revealing only a good memory for quotations. Students shuddered and declared it was one of the worst experiences of their life. But for some of us, there was a sense of ‘wow, I never knew poetry could be like this!’

When I read his words, ‘These fragments I have shored against my ruins’ (line 431), I said to my tutor, I think he is saying that literature, that words, will save us in times of crisis, bolster us when we are at a low ebb. I was told I was wrong, but in spite of that, I still choose to believe this could be one meaning of these, for me, immortal words. These fragments of remembered stories, of words, I have stored up, internalised, to use as a defence, shored against my ruin, my unhappiness, times of want, misery, sorrow and confusion. Ruin.

For me it is a reminder that many things are transient, passing, temporary, but I will always carry within me the sum of what I have read. Just read Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 and tell me I’m wrong.

18 thoughts on “These fragments I have shored against my ruin

  1. Thanks for a thought provoking blog. I used “These fragments I have shored against my ruin” as a theme for my blog precisely because it seems that all the texts and conversations and images which are significant for us make it possible to continue in an otherwise cold and indifferent world which would break us down. Are the experts right about the poem? I had exactly your reaction to this verse and think it’s okay to let TS Eliot’s words impact us in ways beyond the strictures of “the experts”. Great read, thank you!

  2. How could someone tell you interpretation of the line was wrong. It presupposes that there is only definitive reading of any text and that the academic arrogantly knows exactly what the writer thought. If all that were true that would be no Shakespearean scholarship for a start and literature would be frozen in aspic rather than being open to changing interpretation as we and society change.

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  4. I think you were spot on, Caron Allan, and now, almost exactly four years after you wrote this, I feel it is never more relevant than now, during these incredibly difficult times. That must be why I found your little essay, as I am gathering the fragments to shore against our ruins. Thanks for another nice fragment!

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  6. As the vagaries of university life unfolded I ‘did’ the Wasteland for 3 years – went from hating it to loving it. That said, ‘Prufrock’ plays all the notes on my piano.

  7. I read The Wasteland recently – it was often breathtaking – and both an encouragement to me to take chances with my own poetry and a mirror to my inadequacies 🙂

    Regarding J.Alfred – as a one time lone father of 7 human voices have drowned me too many times to mention 🙂

  8. I once to told someone that half of what I say is a quote from a movie, a song or book.
    For me spring and flowers automatically bring a line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado.
    🎶The flowers that bloom in the spring,
    tra la
    Breathe promise of merry sunshine,
    As we merrily dance and we sing,
    tra la🎶
    When my two sons were young teenagers the 3 of us had a conversation in a cafe that was entirely made up of quotes. It was hilarious.
    Take care and keep writing.

    • So often we don’t even realising that what we say is derived from a quotation, the quote itself can become so much a part of our everyday language. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Pat!

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