Home  »  Poems  »  1. Gerontion

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). Poems. 1920.

1. Gerontion

  • Thou hast nor youth nor age
  • But as it were an after dinner sleep
  • Dreaming of both.

    HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,

    Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.

    I was neither at the hot gates

    Nor fought in the warm rain

    Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,

    Bitten by flies, fought.

    My house is a decayed house,

    And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner,

    Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,

    Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.

    The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;

    Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.

    The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,

    Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.

    I an old man,

    A dull head among windy spaces.

    Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign”:

    The word within a word, unable to speak a word,

    Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year

    Came Christ the tiger

    In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,

    To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk

    Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero

    With caressing hands, at Limoges

    Who walked all night in the next room;

    By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;

    By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room

    Shifting the candles; Fraulein von Kulp

    Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles

    Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,

    An old man in a draughty house

    Under a windy knob.

    After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now

    History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors

    And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,

    Guides us by vanities. Think now

    She gives when our attention is distracted

    And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions

    That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late

    What’s not believed in, or if still believed,

    In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon

    Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with

    Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think

    Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices

    Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues

    Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.

    These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

    The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last

    We have not reached conclusion, when I

    Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last

    I have not made this show purposelessly

    And it is not by any concitation

    Of the backward devils

    I would meet you upon this honestly.

    I that was near your heart was removed therefrom

    To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.

    I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it

    Since what is kept must be adulterated?

    I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:

    How should I use it for your closer contact?

    These with a thousand small deliberations

    Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,

    Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,

    With pungent sauces, multiply variety

    In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,

    Suspend its operations, will the weevil

    Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled

    Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear

    In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits

    Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,

    White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,

    And an old man driven by the Trades

    To a a sleepy corner.

    Tenants of the house,

    Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.