I never "got" T. S. Eliot. When I first became serious about poetry and "intellectual" stuff, in the 50s, Eliot was the presiding grand khan of English literature. Because Eliot liked Donne, my teachers liked Donne. Because Eliot was down on Milton, my teachers were down on Milton. Eliot had pronounced that "a dissociation of thought and feeling" occurred in the later seventeenth century, and we all tried to interpret literature in the light of that putative, imaginary divorce. Eliot discovered that Shakespeare's Hamlet was a failure because it lacked an 'objective correlative." We were enjoined to wonder exactly where that OC had gone. I thought Hamlet was an exciting success and still do. So do many discerning readers.
To me, Eliot's criticism was mysterious and his poetry was incomprehensible, unmusical and occasionally repellent. "The Waste Land," his masterpiece, was to me obscurantist, pretentious, show-offy and shallow. And yet I was unquestionably an outlier. I studied the "Four Quartets" for weeks under the able direction of a serious teacher and scholar, Arthur Mizener, but in the end there was nothing there for me. My own insufficiency? Perhaps.
I could not get around Eliot's public positions ("I am an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in religion and a royalist in politics"). To me, these views were absurd, reactionary, borderline fascist. Eliot was puritanical about sex, looked down his Brahmin nose at people not of his class (see the Sweeney poems) and couldn't abide Jews.
When I taught a course called "History of Poetry in English," which I did for many years, I would skip from the undeniably great poets of the World War I generation (Brooke, Rosenberg, Sassoon, Thomas, Owen, Graves, Hardy) right to Yeats and Frost, leaving Eliot in the deep lurch, possibly to the consternation of my more sophisticated students.
So it gives me great pleasure to say that I've finally found a poem by the old pretender that tickles me. it celebrates his second wife, whom he married in 1957 when he was sixty-eight and she was thirty, and remained unpublished until it just now appeared in the second volume of the new Johns Hopkins edition. It's not exactly juicy, but it seems to be honest and forthright:
I love a tall girl.
When we lie in bed
She on her back and I stretched upon her,
And our middle parts are busy with each other,
My toes play with her toes and my tongue with her tongue,
And all the parts are happy.
Because she is a tall girl.