T S Eliot

The Journal of the Santas
A rough Christmas we had of it,
Just the worst financial climate
For a sale, and such a dangerous sale:
The price-cuts deep and the customers shrewd,
The very narrowest of margins.
And the children spoilt, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the cotton wool snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer collections on catwalks, the garden furniture,
And the insatiable demand for ice cream.
Then the children’s mothers cursing and grumbling,
And taking their custom elsewhere, or wanting their money back,
And the supply chain failing, and the lack of shelf-stackers,
And the city worried and the shareholders dissatisfied
And the market-stalls well-stocked and charging low prices.
A rough Christmas we had of it.
At the end we preferred to open all night
With surprise one-day sales
And the tills ringing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then on the last weekend sales reached a comfortable plateau,
Busy, above the break-even point, spending in moderation,
With iPods and games consoles selling like warm cakes,
And PCs with flat screens
And an old crooner dreamt of sleighbells in the snow.
Then we opened a grotto with holly over the lintel
Six hands at the entrance collecting pieces of silver
And feet kicking the empty wrappings.
But there was no enthusiasm, and so we continued
Reducing the admission charge till, not a moment too soon,
Finding the market price; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would serve them all again, but mark down
This mark down
This: Did we discount all that for
Profit or loss? There was a profit, certainly,
We had money in the tills and no doubt. I had seen profit and loss
But had thought that they were different: this profit was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like loss, our loss.
We returned to our sales floors, these Emporia,
But no longer at ease here in the old dispensation
With shoppers returned to their adult ways.
I should be glad of another profit.

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St Louis, Missouri but settled in England in 1915 and became a British subject in 1927. He wrote The Waste Land and Four Quartets, among other masterpieces, as well as The Journey of the Magi, on which this parody is based. His most popular book may be Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, inspiration for both the musical Cats and my own collection Old Wossname's Book of Assorted Swine (which, apart from Hogwash, is unpublished and likely to remain so). 

For an excellent extended parody of T S Eliot, see West Åland, or Five Tombeaux for Mr Testoil, in Frank Kuppner's book A God's Breakfast. "T S Eliot" is also an anagram of "litotes".

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This page last updated 30/01/2007