I once had a professor offer a course consisting of nothing but a semester of Wednesdays reading Eliot and Dostoevsky. A strange pairing perhaps, but this professor noticed wonder and delight in all sorts of strange places. He described the course as an indulgence, and that one word slashed the overblown tires of scholastic rigor. I was invited to revel and play, to laugh and ponder. I need not critique from afar, with appropriate analytical distance. The invite was to stick my face in the cake and come up only when I needed air or needed to wipe icing from my nose.
Of course – how else would one read poetry, how else would one read a fine story?
The sad portion is that, due to financial and administrative issues, I had to drop the class. However, I stuck around long enough to read T.S. Eliot’s Rhapsody on a Windy Night where he gave me the indelible picture of “a madman shaking a dead geranium.” I couldn’t tell you exactly what that line taught me, exactly how it proved profitable in future studies or vocation. However, it gave me pause. I saw anew the madness in my world and my heart. I’m still watching for those limp, lifeless geraniums.
Thomas Stearns Eliot celebrates his birthday today. I toast him, this man of good words. This man of indulgence.