Hysteria is more than just any other poem written by T.S. Eliot. Originally published in 1917, this prose poem that reads as a very short story and makes you want to ask many questions.
Prufrock and other observations
The poem was originally included in Eliot’s first poetry collection entitled Prufrock and other observations. This poem is actually an observation. Something that you might even have experienced. Probably more than once.
The book was his debut and T.S. Eliot (full name: Thomas Stearns Eliot) showed what he was capable of as a poet. He was also a gifted playwright and critic. From the day the book was published, the fame of this American poet grew. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
The subject of this poem is known to many of you. Eliot describes a situation where a man – maybe Eliot himself – has dinner with a female companion. This woman seems to laugh in such a way, that it’s hysterical. The man feels that he could be sucked into her mouth at any time when she again starts laughing. His saviour seems to be the waiter, who suggests they should have tea in the garden. The man makes the decision to calm down this woman for the rest of the afternoon. It’s unclear if he succeeded.
|As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: “If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden …” I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.
So, what to make of this poem? It shows as if the poet wants us to listen to an anecdote. Something that isn’t that important. Was it? Was this woman really hysterical and was the waiter suggesting that they need to go outside, because of the other guests? Or was he just finding a way to get rid of them, because of his health issues? The trembling of his hands suggests that he might be suffering from arthritis. Or was he just pointing this couple to the table they were promised before?
Eliot left us with many questions. Why was this woman acting this way? Was it just her nature, was it something he had said before? If she wasn’t that good company, why was he having dinner with her? Or was he? Were they just waiting for the moment that a free table in the garden allowed them to drink tea?
There is more to this poem that one might assume. That’s what made T.S. Eliot a great and talented poet.