Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What was the Question Again?

Sometimes, I feel pretty darned inadequate in the face of a piece of literature. How the heck do I even approach teaching this? I'm totally clueless myself.

I mean, I know the words. And I can put two and two together in a basic way.

But holy cow, I'm a total idiot, and I really don't think I'm understanding this poem in a very deep way at all. And yet, stupid me, I put it on the syllabus every single time I teach this course.

I usually start with the title.


  1. Hee, I almost taught that poem this semester, and then decided that I didn't really have the nerve, at least not in a non-majors course where absolutely nobody will have read Hamlet.

  2. The lovely thing about your artwork is that I'm not sure if that's a coffee spoon or the pin on which he's fixed and wriggling.

    Well, I'm glad you say that, since I had your reaction when you said (I guess drew) that you were teaching Kubla Khan. I'm always on its territory, not on mine, which is to me why it's such a wonderful poem.

  3. Fretful, but they know the question in Hamlet, even so :)

    Peter, I'm glad you, at least, recognize the genius of ambiguity in my art. :) (I hadn't thought of it as a spoon, but I like it!)

  4. We're not guessing this time? Awww, shoot. ;) I love your drawings whether we are guessing or not. Did you know that this poem is quoted on the poster for National Poetry Month (which began today)? Very timely, Bardiac!

    ps: I think it would be superfun to have an Eliot interpretation fest online. Maybe after this one, we could do The Waste Land, which I always love except when I'm in the middle of trying to teach it...and then I can't stop referencing it for the rest of the semester.

  5. Or you could have been really ambiguous and drawn a patient etherized upon a table.

    I love your "guess this poem" drawings.

  6. I think our English lecturer in undergrad must have felt the same way about this poem. I'm pretty sure the lecture devoted to this one consisted entirely of him reading it aloud, then letting us go early to "have a cup of tea and think about what we just heard."

  7. Styley, that's hilarious.

  8. Do you know the song by Crash Test Dummies that references this poem? It's called "Afternoons and Coffee Spoons" -- from the album "God Shuffled His Feet." It's one of my favorite songs of all time. The chorus goes:

    "Someday I'll have a disappearing hair line,
    Someday I'll wear pajamas in the daytime,
    Oh, afternoons will be measured out,
    Measured out, measure with, coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot."

    The song is about illness, but it's really upbeat. I love it. That whole album is pretty good, actually. The song "God Shuffled His Feet" is really good, too. Very philosophical.

  9. This is, in fact, my very favorite poem to teach all semester long in the survey, in part because it offers such a marked transition from a kind of public Victorian kind of masculinity to one marked by extraordianry modernist anxiety.

    In fact, i teach it when I introduce Modernism to suss out the host of anxieties that attended the beginning of the 20th century: urbanization and facelssness, anxieties about communication, about the possibilities for action (vs. the world-conquering mindset that suffused someone like Tennyson or Kipling).

    So essentially I teach it as a crisis not only of one man's potencey, but as emblematic of an entire crisis of white masculinity that will be borne out more fully when we reach WWI poetry the next week.

    That, and I just love to read the whole thing aloud. gets 'em every time.

  10. Ooh, I posted that Crash Test Dummies video for the kickoff of National Poetry Month, so it's over at my blog if you want to see it.