My first opportunity to read T.S. Eliot came in a high school English class when we were assigned The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock (How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Poem).1 Of course, I never actually read the poem as I had other duties at that time that prevented me from reading. But I do remember a lot of passionate rankle among scholarly ninth graders surrounding this poem. It was seven years later, in a spurt of poetic curiosity, that I asked my most literary friend (everybody has one) to suggest a rich poem not by Robert Frost. It took him one second to come up with The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot, and I promptly found a copy at our college library (this was before the internet). I will discuss the intense experience of walking around deep in the stacks of a real library some other time. Anyway, it was a little red book. I remember sitting down in the fireproof, concrete stairwell of our dorm and reading the first part, Burial of the Dead. Then there was a flash of light, my eyes failed, and after that, everything was a blur. All I remember was waking up hours later confused, disoriented and claiming I could see into the heart of a light bulb. The doctors told me I would never read Eliot again.
It was four years later when I chanced upon Eliot again, this time, on the internet. And this time, I was ready. I quickly devoured Preludes, and without looking up, went straight into Rhapsody On A Windy Night. I then snacked on Morning at the Window and made quick work of that Weeping Girl. I was feeling pretty good. You see, the way to beat Eliot is to get in and get out fast. You must have a clearly defined mission objective and exit strategy. My plan was to get in, take as many images as I could hold in two hands, and then get the hell out. No weapons inspectors. No resolutions. And definitely no rebuilding. Just me and my literary booty. I've won this round for now, and I'm sharpening steel for the final push, The Wasteland and Four Quartets, the most dangerous poems ever written. Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back before breakfast.