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Short poem

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)

A Cooking Egg

     En l'an trentiesme de mon aage
     Que toutes mes hontes j'ay beues ...

              1Pipit sate upright in her chair
              2Some distance from where I was sitting;
              3Views of the Oxford Colleges
              4Lay on the table, with the knitting.

              5Daguerreotypes and silhouettes,
              6Her grandfather and great great aunts,
              7Supported on the mantelpiece
              8An Invitation to the Dance.

. . . . .

              9I shall not want Honour in Heaven
            10For I shall meet Sir Philip Sidney
            11And have talk with Coriolanus
            12And other heroes of that kidney.

            13I shall not want Capital in Heaven
            14For I shall meet Sir Alfred Mond:
            15We two shall lie together, lapt
            16In a five per cent Exchequer Bond.

            17I shall not want Society in Heaven,
            18Lucretia Borgia shall be my Bride;
            19Her anecdotes will be more amusing
            20Than Pipit's experience could provide.

            21I shall not want Pipit in Heaven:
            22Madame Blavatsky will instruct me
            23In the Seven Sacred Trances;
            24Piccarda de Donati will conduct me ...

            25But where is the penny world I bought
            26To eat with Pipit behind the screen?
            27The red-eyed scavengers are creeping
            28From Kentish Town and Golder's Green;

            29Where are the eagles and the trumpets?

            30Buried beneath some snow-deep Alps.
            31Over buttered scones and crumpets
            32Weeping, weeping multitudes
            33Droop in a hundred A.B.C.'s*


1] The title refers to eggs not good enough to eat by themselves and so reserved for cooking (in dishes).
The epigraph is taken from the opening of "Le Testament" by François Villon (Poésies, ed. Jean Dufournet [Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1984]: 65): "In the thirtieth year of my life, / When I had drunk up all my shames."
Pipit: a nickname, suggesting a young girl.
sate: archaic past tense.

3] A picture book, such as W. A. Delamotte's Original Views of Oxford, its Colleges, Chapels, and Gardens (London: Thomas Boyes, 1843).

5] Daguerreotypes: early photographs produced on a silver-covered copper plate.

8] Possibly Carl Maria von Weber's "Afforderung zum Tanz" (Invitation to the Dance), a popular score for solo piano. See Piano Music (New York: Dover, 1992; M 22 .W37D6).

10] Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86), the Elizabethan courtier-poet, author of the love sonnet-sequence Astrophel and Stella and the essay Defence of Poetry.

11] Coriolanus: Roman general and hero of Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name.

12] kidney: "sort."

14] Sir Alfred Mond: capitalist founder of Imperial Chemical Industries, the First Commissioner of Works in Great Britain at the time that the poem was written, and a public figure (1868-1930).

15] lapt: folded about.

16] a personal loan to the British State Treasury guaranteed to yield 5% interest.

18] Lucretia Borgia (1480-1519), duchess of Ferrara and a rich, powerful, and ruthless governor in Renaissance Italy; she was wedded four times and died at the hands of her brother.

22] Madame (Helene Petrovna) Blavatsky, a Russian Theosophist and mystic popular in England at this time, notably with Ezra Pound and the editor of The Egoist (which published Eliot's poems), Dora Marsden.

24] Piccarda de Donati: a nun in Dante's Paradiso, III, formerly a nun who broke her vows.

25] penny world: candies and cakes that can be had for a penny.

26] behind the screen: children like Pipit were sometimes made to eat behind one.

28] Kentish Town and Golder's Green: suburbs in north London, near which Eliot lived during the first World War.

29] the eagles are the symbol of the Roman empire.

33] "I.e. an endemic teashop, found in all parts of London. The initials signify: Aerated Bread Company, Limited." [Eliot's note]

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: T. S. Eliot, Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920): 22-23. E546 A753 1920a Fisher Rare Book Library.
First publication date: 1919
Publication date note: Coterie 1 (May-Dec. 1919): 44-45. In England published in an almost identical book, Ara Vos Prec (London: Ovid Press, [1920]). Donald Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (London: Faber and Faber, 1969): A4b, C81
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/28

Composition date: 1917
Rhyme: abcb

Other poems by Thomas Stearns Eliot