Everyone should have a favourite poet; and mine is, without doubt, T.S. Eliot. I may have flirtations with Carole Ann Duffy and Wendy Cope. I may sometimes give in to the enjoyment of Coleridge. Now and again, I may even admit to liking Keats and Sassoon. But I will always come back to Eliot.
There are all sorts of problems with Eliot. He was Anti-Semitic, and held other prejudices of his age, which we would hope not to tolerate today. He was also American – but I can forgive that as he did renounce his nationality and become a British Citizen (good man!) But ignoring the man himself, it is his poetry that still stands up today.
The Wasteland, in particular, always gives me masses of enjoyment. I would never claim to understand it (despite writing many pages of essays on it for my A level English Lit), but I do still love the use of words, the flow and the playing with language of Eliot.
Even in the first line and a half he manages to confuse me. April brings life and new birth from the dead land, but is still described as Cruel. That hardly seems fair. He does sometimes seem “too clever by half” but I can’t resist a poem that has quotations in seven different languages (go on – count them).
So whichever poem or poet you love, enjoy them today. Dig out a copy of their work and wish them a happy National Poetry Day. They will be quietly grateful.