Whispering Grass*

*”Whispering Grass (Don’t Tell The Trees)” is a popular song written by Fred Fisher and his daughter Doris Fisher. The song was first recorded by Erskine Hawkins & His Orchestra in 1940.

From Wikipedia:

” “Whispers of Immortality” is a poem by T. S. Eliot. Written sometime between 1915 and 1918, the poem was published originally in the September issue of the Little Review and first collected in June 1919 in a volume entitled Poems published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press. It is one of the quatrain poems, a mode that Eliot had adapted from the mid-19th-century French poet Theophile Gautier. The title is a fainter parody of William Wordsworth’s title of the poem, Intimations of Immortality.”

Dr Oliver Tearle writes at interestingliterature.com:

Here, on Whispers of Immortality:

“…the first four stanzas –

Webster was much possessed by death

And saw the skull beneath the skin;

And breastless creatures under ground

Leaned backward with a lipless grin./

Daffodil bulbs instead of balls

Stared from the sockets of the eyes!

He knew that thought clings round dead limbs

Tightening its lusts and luxuries./

Donne, I suppose, was such another

Who found no substitute for sense,

To seize and clutch and penetrate;

Expert beyond experience,/

He knew the anguish of the marrow

The ague of the skeleton;

No contact possible to flesh

Allayed the fever of the bone.

– are about how the Jacobean playwright John Webster (author of The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi) and the Metaphysical poet John Donne both saw through the external aspects of life and penetrated to the blood and bone beneath: Webster ‘saw the skull beneath the skin’ while Donne knew the ‘ague of the skeleton’. Webster’s world (George Bernard Shaw memorably branded Webster the ‘Tussaud Laureate’, partly because of the hollowness of Webster’s characters) is all skulls, ‘breastless creatures’ with ‘a lipless grin’, eye sockets containing daffodil bulbs instead of eyeballs. (Eliot’s lines about the daffodil bulbs is not just a summary of Webster’s own worldview; it’s a deft allusion to a line from Webster’s The White Devil: ‘A dead man’s skull beneath the roots of flowers!’) The human body is dehumanised and made horrific, all rotting corpses (‘under ground’), with our brains (with their ability to think) mere add-ons, clinging round our limbs which are already really ‘dead’.

Donne, too, seemed to see further than most people, and grasped the deadness that lies just under all we do. Indeed, nothing his living flesh could do (including the call of Eros, sex) could make him forget the fact that, to quote from a quite different text, ‘in the midst of life we are in death’…”

And here, on Intimations of Immortality:

“…The Rainbow comes and goes,

And lovely is the Rose,

The Moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare,

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair;

The sunshine is a glorious birth;

But yet I know, where’er I go,

That there hath past away a glory from the earth…

Wordsworth now acknowledges that the fault lies within him, rather than in any change that has come over the world. We are not in the realm of social or historical analysis here, but personal, subjective feeling. How many of us feel that the world has changed since we were a child, and that it has lost its way? It seems less magical; yet to younger generations, it is doubtless filled with the same wonder we once had for it. In response to Morrissey’s question, ‘Has the world changed or have I changed?’ we feel confident answering, in the case of Wordsworth, with a resounding ‘You have’…

Blank misgivings of a Creature

Moving about in worlds not realised,

High instincts before which our mortal Nature

Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:…

We now get a sense of the Sublime: that attitude popular with the Romantics which involves not only awe but terror in the face of nature. Our mortality trembles before the immortality of nature, which was here long before we were and will outlast us all. It is something greater than ourselves, reminding us of how small and insignificant we are. (There’s even an allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in ‘like a guilty thing’, used to describe the Ghost in Shakespeare’s play. Nature makes ghosts of us all in that it kills us all and returns us to the earth from which we sprang.)…”

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