T. S. Eliot on the motivation of evil

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

—T. S. Eliot, ‘The Cocktail Party’

‘The Triumph of Bullshit’: T. S. Eliot pre-empts his critics

The following poem is, I find, a remarkable piece of work, and for at least three reasons. For one thing, it is an exquisitely formed comic ballade by T. S. Eliot — not the first name that comes to mind, I dare say, when you think of funny verses, or of strict rhyme and meter for that matter.

Secondly, it’s a beautiful pre-emptive attack on just the sort of critics who would spend the remaining fifty-five years of Eliot’s life bellyaching about his poetry in just the way that he describes, though not usually with the same dash and glitter. Pre-emptive, I say: for Eliot wrote this poem about 1910, when he was still virtually unknown, before he composed any of the great poems that made him a cornerstone of the Modernist movement and the bête noire of every right-thinking reader. He never published it in his lifetime, but there must have been scores of reviewers that he would have liked to send it to privately.

It is also, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known written usage of the word ‘bullshit’. I find this both amusing and tremendously sad. Bullshit had barely been christened, and already it was triumphant. If I am ever called upon to write a one-sentence history of the intellect in the twentieth century, that will be it.

The Triumph of Bullshit

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited
If you consider my merits are small
Etiolated, alembicated,
Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,
Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,
Impotent galamatias
Affected, possibly imitated,
For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies, who find my intentions ridiculous
Awkward, insipid and horribly gauche
Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous
Dull as the heart of an unbaked brioche
Floundering versicles freely versiculous
Often attenuate, frequently crass
Attempts at emotion that turn isiculous,
For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies who think me unduly vociferous
Amiable cabotin making a noise
That people may cry out ‘this stuff is too stiff for us’—
Ingenuous child with a box of new toys
Toy lions carnivorous, cannon fumiferous
Engines vaporous—all this will pass;
Quite innocent,— ‘he only wants to make shiver us.’
For Christ’s sake stick it up your ass.

And when thyself with silver foot shall pass
Among the theories scattered on the grass
Take up my good intentions with the rest
And then for Christ’s sake stick them up your ass.

—T. S. Eliot