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LAURIE MACDIARMID "Torture and Delight": X S. Eliot's Love Song for St. Sebastian Ihristopher ricks' exhumation of T. S. Eliot's early note- ' books coincides with a revival of interest in the poet, particularly in his questionable sexuality and political foibles. Reviewers of Inventions of the March Hare ride a giddy pendulum between delight and disgust , calling Eliot's forbidden juvenile fare "both emotionally true and aesthetically detached" (Vendler 8), "a cornucopia of delights" (Muratori 80), promising, passionately interesting, fascinating, pre-postmodern , but also bigoted, sexist, anti-working class, fearful, contemptuous, contemptible, wretched, embarrassing, appalling, cool, desperate, and politically incorrect. Many agree with Michael Donaghy, of the New Statesman, who says that "most of it is so wretched that we will be fotced to reassess the poems on which the great man's reputation rest" (59). Christopher Clausen, of The American Schohr, echoes this assessment : "Few readers of the ninety ot so pages of verse in the notebook, still less the frankly pornographic poems removed at an early stage from the notebook but reassembled here, will consider them a contribution to Eliot's poetic reputation" (181). Eliot's poetic reputation has long been the object of academic and political concern. Indeed, it eatly took on a life of its own, prompting the poet to declare, years after publishing the Waste Land, that the poem was not the voice of a generation but merely a personal grouse against the universe (Waste Land: Facsimile and Drafts). Like the drafts of the Waste Iurnd, Inventions of the March Hare reveals the hatd core of Arizona Quarterly Volume 57, Number 2, Summer 2001 Copyright © 2001 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 610 78Laurie MacDiarmid Eliot's "impeisonal" poetic: his racial bigotry and eugenic fantasies, his feat of the working class, his sanctimonious self-regard, and his "fascinated disgust with women" (Donaghy 59). Eliot's infamous impersonality , reviewed in light of these eatly attempts, seems to have grown out of a narcissistic (if not sadistic) misanthropy. That Eliot's poetic manifesto served as the seed for New Critical thinking, and for so many decades, is an embarrassment that is intricately woven into the cutrent critical vottex surrounding Eliot. While some critics dismantle Eliot's reputation, othets attempt to shore up its ruins. Donaghy, for instance, counters Anthony Julius' exposé of Eliot's anti-Semitism by suggesting that it is just "one facet of the modernist personality exemplified by Hulme, Lewis, Pound and Eliot," and "part of the atmosphere in the London of 1909" (59). One thing is certain: the notebooks reveal the psychosexual bedrock upon which Eliot's canonical corpus is built. Even the most miserable of his early works is valuable because it is entirely naked. That is, each exposes the nature or essence of Eliot's funereal masquerade, a poetic posture embraced by generations of readers and writers. In Inventions, we find Bolo's scatological messes behind the dusty drawing rooms of the Waste Land, and the homoerotic machinations under Prufrock's self-sacrifice. There's something elemental in these poems that Eliot's canonical works lack. I argue that "The Love Song of St. Sebastian," of all the notebook poems, best uncovets the "perverse" sexual energy— masturbatory, homoerotic (if not homosexual), sadistic, masochistic— that undetlies Eliot's sacrificial poetic. "St. Sebastian" is difficult to read, both because of its graphic imagery and because of its formulaic and narrative ambiguity. "Claustrophobic , morbid, and obsessive, ["The Love Song of St. Sebastian"] may well stand as the most savage depiction of disturbed eroticism to appeal in a wotk by a majot twentieth century poet," says Richatd A. Kaye, in a meticulous and fascinating contextual analysis of Eliot's poem and the homosexual cult of St. Sebastian before and aftet World War I (107). Kaye contends that the paucity of serious critical response to the poem stems from the poem's difficulty, its aesthetic failure, and from readers' squeamish reactions to the poem's subject matter. Breaking loose from the typically biographical and psychological readings of the poem, Kaye cites Eliot's response to the Sebastian cult as "a key episode in the early histoty of litetaty modernism" (109). Eliot loots this "subculturally...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 77-92
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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