In class today, in a free-writing period I offered this to the gods:
If my throat were a cave would my words hang like bats?
If my eyes were eclipses would pinholes reveal me?
If my teeth were tombstones would they order the dirt?
My “working papers” (drafts) accompany the post.
Recently, my good friend Eric (a teacher in St. Louis) shared something of Eliot’s he liked called “Hysteria” and you can find this in my scratchings today.
As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talentfor squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: “If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden …” I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some ofthe fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.
We argued a bit over it. I find it self-consciously psychological. I know there is a conveyance of real “hysteria” in the man rather than the woman which was a typical diagnosis of the era (1915) when
Freud was really just hitting his stride
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. Perhaps it is self-revealing. The poet seems aware of the sexuality of the situation and 100 years on we
might think it pedestrian in its clandestine nature, but there is something that hints of a deep disturbance in those “unseen muscles” that are as likely vaginal as throat–a commutative figuration.
It is clearly not the giddy awareness of female as object–as an order bunch of jiggling parts to capture a boy’s limbic attention.
But is is highly “written” and confesses it as the poet collects fragments and concentrations “to this end.”
What was subtle about it?
Needless to say, I did not share “Hysteria” with the class.