After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, Guides us by vanities.
From T S Eliot's 'Gerontion' (1919, published 1920)
This poem is considered to be the preface of a long and one of the most important poems of 20th century, T.S.Eliot’s ‘Wasteland.’
The poem speaks of people covering the truth with darkness, taking only bits of the truth on board and and interpreting it as they see fit.
I wonder what the American born Eliot/Gerontion would make of 6 February 2020 USA? He would probably write another brutally honest and depressing poem, another lament for a lost age.
Eliot writes of a civilization founded on monetary values and secular rationalism, with little genuine religious or human sense of community – a nightmare world of isolation and instability, of restless nervous and intellectual activity, emotional stagnation and spiritual drought.
Michael Hollister comments:
“As a result of not fighting for the values of a living tradition, the modern world is now owned and enslaved by the only proliferating element in it, the international money power.”
The poem even mentions the ‘Landlord of the House’ (‘a dull head among windy spaces’), the current owner, who is barren and corrupt.
The final images of drought and sterility lead directly to the atmosphere of ‘The Waste Land.’ Both poems highlight the corruption of European religion, culture and sexuality, a century ago. Ring any bells!
Gerontion, ‘the little old man,’ is a powerful image of a moribund civilization. He is near death, and shares some attributes with another modern man to whom Eliot gave his careful attention, the Kurtz of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (and later Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’), who said he was ‘lying here in the dark waiting for death.’