These fragments I have shored against my ruin

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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.

Quote re Poetry

Philip Larkin once said “I think we got much better poetry when it was all regarded as sinful and subversive, and you had to hide it under a cushion when someone came in.”

Is it easier to read or write poetry in secret?  Is it just that with no one looking over your shoulder or asking if you’ve written the next stanza yet, or pointing out that your poem doesn’t rhyme, it’s easier to be free and expressive?  if so, then following on from my remarks a few days ago, it’s easier for all writers to write ‘in secret’, behind closed doors or in my case, in the middle of the night when everyone else has been in bed for hours.

I have not ventured far into the forest of poetry.  I once stood under the first tree and ‘had a go’.  It was not a good outcome for either me or the world of poetry.  I don’t mind admitting this is not my genre.  but occasionally, very occasionally prose will not cut it, usually when I am in a terrible rage (“she’s in one of her black moods again”) and IN SECRET I write a poem.  The first line of one went like this:

B*gger B*gger Sh@t F?ck.

I was pleased with it – it said what I was feeling, did what I wanted it to do, which was to make me feel better.  Sorry to all the real poets out there.  It’s a bit of a mysterious world, this poetry-writing thing.

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