The Poet's End
TS Eliot smoked himself to death. At the end,
he was more kipper than man, fit only for
consumption by his own cats. They were –
like the continuing and eternal success
of poetry – to remain in his imagination.
Lungs and poets have a poor relationship. For
Shelley, that didact and dire romantic target of Eliot’s
contempt, contemplation would have been more
profitable were it of sea-legs rather than those without
trunks. Even lovers cannot breathe the ocean.
Dante died in 1321. Another didact, TS said. Politician,
partisan and papal agitator, a rough baptism in tempestuous
Spezian seas might seem preferable to a narrowly-
escaped burning at the stake, and the unavoidable
eventuality of febrile seizures and malarial termination.
Despair does not overtake the world at the death
of a poet. When Thomas went ungently under
the influence of alcohol and smog, he left behind him
₤100 and villanelle. A life filled with words, reduced
to a repetend. And on.
But at least we know their names. A thousand poets
every year cough their last, from smoke or drink or
drowning or disease or nothing more threatening than
despair. And Ashraf Fayadh waits for death in a prison
defended by the allies of freedom. Of freedom.
Yes, Shelley, poets may try to legislate – but all the laws
are lost. The world shrinks and the bites get bigger. Words
fade behind the gunfire that is masked by the white noise of
spluttering justification. But it comes to this: when you
can do no good without dealing in evil, you can do no good.
And the good can do nothing.