For the past few hours I have been desperately trying to figure out the best method of revising TS Eliot's poems. The internet isn't much help because most of the stuff it throws up is incoherent rubbish, or fragmented (you have to pay for the rest). I spent a while procrastinating on the examination board's website, which proved near to useless in terms of examples to follow with the single sentence 'very few responses were seen on this' for the Eliot questions. So I resorted to a study guide (specifically The Cambridge Introduction to T.S. Eliot) despite my teacher's protestations that you need to discover your own interpretations, that study guides stifle creative responses...
I came pretty close to giving up on the study guide as it continued to confuse and give me a head-ache more than explain anything, when I got stuck on lines such as 'poetry is made by the ironic foregrounding of all these hollow materials'. What does that even mean? What are 'these' hollow materials? This sentence I quote is the first sentence in the first paragraph of a section! How am I meant to know what 'these' are?
There seemed to be some useful analysis of the structure coming up though, so I read on. Five lines from a poem were quoted and then the writer went on to say that 'the rhythmic effect of the fourth line is self-consciously engulfed by the wider irony... we hear the effect itself as a sign of a debased verbal coinage'. Right. The thing is, I didn't hear any rhythmic effect and I have no idea what a debased verbal coinage is. Yet still, I ploughed on. However I just had to throw the study guide down in exasperation when I came across this line:
'We return to the epigraph like a drowning man.'
I have never thought myself entitled to comment on the writers of educational textbooks because, well, they're clever people, with lots of letters after their names and plenty of experience. But you can't deny that they often fail miserably in doing the job of explaining and making stuff clear. It feels like some of these writers, this one in particular, has some seriously stored up resentment over the fact that they themselves never made it as a poet (in this case). I mean, who uses similes in a study guide? Similes? Isn't that a poetic technique?
I doubt that a single person would find the above four paragraphs of any interest so if you have read until here to get to the actual point of my post, thank-you and congratulations for making it through my rant. The reason I wrote all that is that it is an illustration of what I seem to be experiencing right now: a failure of expectations. I just wrote four paragraphs about the failure of a study guide to meet my expectations of a study guide. That in itself probably makes me a failure of your expectations as a 'style blogger' (oh, how completely have I deviated from that categorisation).
Yesterday I had to go to a party which I expected would be tortuously boring and awkward. But I was looking forward to dressing up, so it was all good. I wore a lace frilly dress, which I expected I would never have a chance to wear. I paired it with a belt which is in itself a whole funny story of life taking you completely by surprise - I should remember to do a separate post on that. And I wore a denim jacket I'd forgotten I had and which I expected not to fit me at all (I can't do the buttons up but it looks great!) as it is officially a children's jacket.
I'd hoped the lucky belt would help me make it through the party; it turned out not to. In fact, the whole event turned out to be tortuously not boring. Embarrassingly I broke down and had to pretend I'd hit my head. Of course this led to the assumption that I was simply drunk. I wish I had been!
But wait, maybe failures of expectations can be good. Wouldn't I have preferred if the party had turned out amazing? And maybe the study guide debacle has proved to me that I should trust my teacher's advice to avoid study guides when studying Eliot? If this mammoth post is to come to some sort of conclusion, I think it would be that we should allow life to take us by surprise. Then we'd avoid boredom, shock and disappointment at failed expectations.