The Waste Land Revisited

2022 will be the centenary of the publication of one of the most intriguing English language poems of the twentieth century, TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, with its haunting lines and phrases, its spellbinding images, its unanswered questions, its profound challenges and its abiding mystery.

TS Eliot

Twenty two West Country poets, prose writers, artists, photographers, singers, composers from many different parts of Devon and Somerset – some of us who have never actually met in the real world – have been reading and discussing The Waste Land on zoom since last September. We have also been writing new pieces inspired by our zoom meetings. Soon we will be collating and editing these for a June 2022 performance and planning how to enrich our production with songs and slides.

Each fortnightly meeting has sprung a new surprise.

Ezra Pound

Devon writer Cathy Nicholls has given us a Walt Whitman to join TS Eliot on his London walks. As Tom and Walt chatter, argue and declaim their way along the Thames, uninvited voices interrupt, insisting on their own perspectives, their own reality. Ezra Pound, of course, is watching critically from the wings.

As well as singing one of her best loved songs, Marie Lloyd regales us with a poignant description of TS Eliot’s visit to her music hall dressing room. (Bath artist Jude Wisdom sings Marie while Ashburton poet Susan Jordan provides her dramatic monologue.) Elizabeth Siddall tells us what it was like to pose in cold water for Millais’ painting of Ophelia. One of the Ripper’s victims calls from the dark for her story to be heard. We have also been giving voice to some of the literary and mythological heroines who pass all too briefly through Eliot’s mesmerising lines.

Between them, the cast knows London just as well as – if not better than – the three American blow-ins and has been creating its own idiosyncratic London Almanac which we intend to publish as an anthology later in the year.

The Waste Land Revisited project is now attracting attention from other writers, artists and photographers who would like share its journey towards the June 2022 performance day.

Please follow this blog and fill in the contacts page if you would like to come on board.

What happens next

What happens next is the last line in a poem of mine called ‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’ which featured in ‘Forward Poems of the Decade’ and on the Excel A Level syllabus for several years. I chose it as the title for this post because writing and working with writers I never seem to know what is going to happen next. Last week for example ….

Claudio Moras

… I was struck by a Facebook post on International Holocaust Remembrance Day by my friend Claudio Moras who lives in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia town of Palse. Claudio is a fine poet and a generous organiser of events and opportunities for other poets in his area. Claudio used his Holocaust Remembrance Day post to remember Nicholas Winton, the British banker who supervised the rescue of almost 700 mostly Jewish children from Nazi persecution in Czechoslovakia and arranged safe homes for them in England.

In return, I posted Claudio ‘The Maker’ by Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. Unfortunately Claudio and I have no common language other than our devotion to poetry so we have to use dismally literal google translations when we have something we want to share. My Facebook post was spotted by Elisabeth Anne Gwynn from Teignmouth who very kindly offered to do an Italian translation which would make poetic sense. Now we were three – Claudio, me, Elisabeth Ann Gwyyn and then very shortly four because Elisabeth’s friend Roberto Coda joined the enterprise. Other Facebook friends are suporting us with their comments – fifteen at the last count.

The Maker : R S Thomas

So he said then: I will make the poem,

I will make it now. He took pencil,

The mind’s cartridge, and blank paper,

And drilled his thoughts to the slow beat

Of the blood’s drum: and there it formed

On the white surface and went marching

Onward through time, while the spent cities

And dry hearts smoked in its wake.

And here is Elisabeth and Roberto’s Italian version with fascinating notes about some of the details in the English poem which made translation particularly interesting and/or difficult.

Il creatore : RS Thomas

Allora disse: Voglio creare una poesia.

La faro’ adesso. Prese la matita

E il foglio della mente, la carta bianca,

E adatto’ i suoi pensieri

Al ritmo lento del pulsare del suo sangue.

E li’ si stese sulla superficie bianca

E avanzo’ sempre avanti attraverso il tempo

Mentre le citta’ esaurite fumavano nella sua scia.

Notes: 1) Cartridge is translated by pc as ‘cartuccia’ which is what you load a gun with in Italian. Also drilling is a military term “esercitare”. “Addestrare’ means training. Drum is possibly meant to continue the theme but according to Roberto, ‘tamburo’ does not fit the bill and he thinks ‘pulso’ is better. Also past simple is used rather than present perfect for narrative. “Disse” rather than “ha detto”, etc. The final line is in the imperfect which is significant. Note 2) Just had another update from Roberto: He suggests “adatto” rather than “addestrato” and “al ritmo lento del pulsare del suo sangue”. The mother tongue input is essential! This is just a version!

About the translators : Roberto Coda is a retired teacher of English living in Graglia, Province of Biella, Piemonte. Elisabeth Anne Gwynn is a retired Modern Language teacher who lived in Salussola, Province of Biella, Piemonte and now lives in the UK. Roberto and Elisabeth often collaborate on translations. Elisabeth also performed in the Teignmouth Poetry Festival’s “Poetry in Other Languages”, in Italian, until last year.

‘The Maker’ is about the way a good poem can journey onwards through exhausted cities and worn out hearts. Here in the middle of the global pandemic, which has dried up so many springs of health and healing in our panic-stricken world, a very small poem by a dead Welsh clergyman has done just that. Small only in word count of course. Vast, as are so many of Thomas’s poems, in its poetic reach.

Thank you Claudio, Elisabeth and Roberto.

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