Chard Whitlow

(Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Evening Postscript)

As we get older we do not get any younger.

Seasons return, and today I am fifty-five,

And this time last year I was fifty-four.

And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.

And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)

To see my time over again—if you can call it time:

Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,

Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded tube.

There are certain precautions—though none of them very reliable—


Against the blast from heaven, vento di venti,

And the frigid burnings of purgatory will not be touched

By any emollient.

                                    I think you will find this put,

Better than I could ever hope to express it,

In the words of Kharma: “It is, we believe,

Idle to hope that the simple stirrup-pump

Will extinguish hell.”

                                                   Oh, listeners,

And you especially who have turned off the wireless,

And sit in Stoke or Basingstoke listening appreciatively to the silence,

(Which is also the silence of hell) pray, not for your sinks, but your souls.

And pray for me also under the draughty stair.

As we get older we do not get any younger.

And pray for Kharma under the holy mountain.


To be worth parodying is to achieve something, and really great parody is tribute. Henry Reed’s magnificent and very funny parody doesn’t merely catch some of Eliot’s mannerisms, doesn’t merely change a few characteristic phrases. Reed conveys some of the inner nature of Eliot’s mind, the project of Eliot’s whole career as a poet.

Eliot wrote: “Most parodies of one’s own work strike one as very poor. In fact, one is apt to think one could parody oneself much better. (As a matter of fact, some critics have said that I have done so.) But there is one which deserves the success it has had, Henry Reed’s Chard Whitlow.”

The mutual tribute involved here retains its freshness and charm.

–Robert Pinsky