With T. S. Eliot on the Beach

"From the moment of inception
a poem must be driven
by the meaning you would give to it"

"Oh Tom, not this again, please--
look at the ocean, the sun just reflecting,
the pelican raising his head to swallow a fish."

"That's it! That's it exactly!
The three persons of the trinity--
the Holy Ghost present to all equally,
the Father Ocean in whom we live and move
and have our being and most of all
the Pelican Christ, who moves
on the surface of the Father and engulfs
sinners to their salvation. "

"Eh," I say, "can't the ocean be the ocean
and the waves just waves? Can't sand
be sand no matter how we sculpt it?"

"Poetry isn't for the faint of heart
or the weak of will, its for men of stout
heart and strong mind who know what they mean
and say it with full force of their words."

"Why can't poetry just be beautiful. . ."

"It must be beautiful but not just,
it must persuade and convince by its beauty
but it's beauty is not meant for just anyone.
Only the strong and the wise can read and benefit."

"But what of the greats of the past?
Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth. . ."

"And Coleridge, I know. And Southey
and Tennyson and their hordes  of versifying
dilettantes? Scribblers of rhyme,
memorializers of daffodils and shepherd girls,
reprobates and seducers, from Donne to me
the flame of Erato threatened to gutter out."

At his words a black shape sounded
broke the sheet-like surface of the green
and rippling ocean and vanished again.

"Did you see? Did you search in the sea, Tom."

"Oh I saw, deeper and farther and with
greater presence and mien than any who
had come before, I spoke to men of genius
and they heard and turned us, slowly, slowly
away from all that would consume us.
Because I saw and sounded the warning
we now live as we do."

I couldn't stifle my laugh which grew into a roar,
"Really Tom? Your poetry? *The Waste Land*
forged a new future. Oh you ashen specter,
You pale figure of a man who can stand
by the sea and see a symbol. All you did
was steal poetry from the people who had
so long relished it and locked it up,
wan and wilting in an academic cupboard,
secured it from the eyes of those who would save it
and saved it for the eyes of those who would conserve it. . . "

I tossed a pebble into the water
and watched the ghost crab sidle
to his lodgings in the chambers of the sea
and listened to the waves and gulls
and the sudden silences of the sea
and realized that the mermaids were singing,
and they were singing for me.


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