H.P. Lovecraft with Felis, the cat of Frank Belknap Long
It’s fitting that I learned of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Waste Paper” by listening to some interview or other Alan Moore did. Of course, as a parody of “The Waste Land,” Lovecraft’s poem begins with a totally obscure epigraph, unsourced, and in the original Greek: Πἀντα γἐλως καἱ πἀντα κὀνις καἱ πἀντα τὁ μηδἐν. This turns out to be part of the sole surviving verse by Glycon—not the snake god whose priest on Earth is Alan Moore, mind you, but the eponymous poet and inventor of “glyconic meter.” Just as Glycon the god was a hoax, “exposed as a glove-puppet in the second century” (Alan Moore), the Oxford Classical Dictionary says Glycon the poet probably didn’t even write the lonely couplet that comprises his entire literary oeuvre.
And, as John Brannon would say, check it out: the second line Lovecraft left out of this two-line poem, presumably because he didn’t know it existed, elegantly summarized his worldview in seven Greek words: πάντα γὰρ ἐξ ἀλόγων ἐστὶ τὰ γινόμενα. It’s enough to make you agree with what Glycon, or whoever, was saying all along in his single, slender entry in the Greek Anthology, to which one translator added the heading “NIHILISM”:
All is laughter, all is dust, all is nothing,
for all that is cometh from unreason.
Or if you prefer Christopher Isherwood’s translation:
All is but laughter, dust and nothingness
All of unreason born. . . .
HPL omitted the line about “unreason,” according to this Lovecraft scholar, because it didn’t appear in the Greek lexicon that was his source. But “all that is cometh from unreason” would have been the perfect title for the horrified reaction to “The Waste Land” Lovecraft published in his journal, The Conservative, if not the perfect title for his entire collected works:
Do our members realise that the progress of science within the last half-century has introduced conceptions of man, the world, and the universe which make hollow and ridiculous an appreciable proportion of all the great literature of the past? Art, to be great, must be founded on human emotions of much strength; such as come from warm instincts and firm beliefs. Science having so greatly altered our view of the universe and the beliefs attendant upon that view, we are now confronted by an important shifting of values in every branch of art where belief is concerned. The old heroics, pieties, and sentimentalities are dead amongst the sophisticated; and even some of our appreciations of natural beauty are threatened. Just how expansive is this threat, we do not know; and The Conservative hopes fervently that the final devastated area will be comparatively narrow; but in any case startling developments are inevitable.
A glance at the serious magazine discussion of Mr. T. S. Eliot’s disjointed and incoherent “poem” called “The Waste Land”, in the November Dial, should be enough to convince the most unimpressionable of the true state of affairs. We here behold a practically meaningless collection of phrases, learned allusions, quotations, slang, and scraps in general; offered to the public (whether or not as a hoax) as something justified by our modern mind with its recent comprehension of its own chaotic triviality and disorganisation. And we behold that public, or a considerable part of it, receiving this hilarious melange as something vital and typical; as “a poem of profound significance”, to quote its sponsors.
To reduce the situation to its baldest terms, man has suddenly discovered that all his high sentiments, values, and aspirations are mere illusions caused by physiological processes within himself, and of no significance whatsoever in an infinite and purposeless cosmos. He has discovered that most of his acts spring from hidden causes remote from the ones hitherto honoured by tradition, and that his so-called “soul” is merely (as one critic puts it) a rag-bag of unrelated odds and ends. And having made these discoveries, he does not know what to do about it; but compromises on a literature of analysis, chaos, and ironic contrast.
TL;DR: one racist reactionary prefers his own flavor of nihilism to another’s. Sounds like the narcissism of small differences to me! The poem, at least, is funny in parts. There are certain lines (“Meet me tonight in dreamland . . . BAH”) I can’t read without hearing the voice of the late Mark E. Smith.
Courtesy of the H.P. Lovecraft Archive, here is “Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance.”
Πἀντα γἐλως καἱ πἀντα κὀνις καἱ πἀντα τὁ μηδἐν
Out of the reaches of illimitable light
The blazing planet grew, and forc’d to life
Unending cycles of progressive strife
And strange mutations of undying light
And boresome books, than hell’s own self more trite
And thoughts repeated and become a blight,
And cheap rum-hounds with moonshine hootch made tight,
And quite contrite to see the flight of fright so bright
I used to ride my bicycle in the night
With a dandy acetylene lantern that cost $3.00
In the evening, by the moonlight, you can hear those darkies singing
Meet me tonight in dreamland . . . BAH
I used to sit on the stairs of the house where I was born
After we left it but before it was sold
And play on a zobo with two other boys.
We called ourselves the Blackstone Military Band
Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey, won’t you come home?
In the spring of the year, in the silver rain
When petal by petal the blossoms fall
And the mocking birds call
And the whippoorwill sings, Marguerite.
The first cinema show in our town opened in 1906
At the old Olympic, which was then call’d Park,
And moving beams shot weirdly thro’ the dark
And spit tobacco seldom hit the mark.
Have you read Dickens’ American Notes?
My great-great-grandfather was born in a white house
Under green trees in the country
And he used to believe in religion and the weather.
“Shantih, shantih, shantih” . . . Shanty House
Was the name of a novel by I forget whom
Published serially in the All-Story Weekly
Before it was a weekly. Advt.
Disillusion is wonderful, I’ve been told,
And I take quinine to stop a cold
But it makes my ears ring . . . always ring . . .
Always ringing in my ears . . .
It is the ghost of the Jew I murdered that Christmas day
Because he played “Three O’Clock in the Morning” in the flat above me.
Three O’Clock in the morning, I’ve danc’d the whole night through,
Dancing on the graves in the graveyard
Where life is buried; life and beauty
Life and art and love and duty
Ah, there, sweet cutie.
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I never quote things straight except by accident.
You are the idol of our nation
Each fellow has
Fallen for jazz
And we’ll give the past a merry razz
Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber
And fellow-guestship with the glutless worm.
Next stop is 57th St.—57th St. the next stop.
Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the direful spring,
And the Governor-General of Canada is Lord Byng
Whose ancestor was shot or hung,
I forget which, the good die young.
Here’s to your ripe old age,
Copyright, 1847, by Joseph Miller,
Entered according to act of Congress
In the office of the librarian of Congress
America was discovered in 1492
This way out.
No, lady, you gotta change at Washington St. to the Everett train.
Out in the rain on the elevated
Crated, sated, all mismated.
Twelve seats on this bench,
In a shady nook, beside a brook, two lovers stroll along.
Express to Park Ave., Car Following.
No, we had it cleaned with the sand blast.
I know it ought to be torn down.
Before the bar of a saloon there stood a reckless crew,
When one said to another, “Jack, this message came for you.”
“It may be from a sweetheart, boys,” said someone in the crowd,
And here the words are missing . . . but Jack cried out aloud:
“It’s only a message from home, sweet home,
From loved ones down on the farm
Fond wife and mother, sister and brother. . . .”
Bootleggers all and you’re another
In the shade of the old apple tree
’Neath the old cherry tree sweet Marie
The Conchologist’s First Book
By Edgar Allan Poe
Stubbed his toe
On a broken brick that didn’t shew
Or a banana peel
In the fifth reel
By George Creel
It is to laugh
It makes you stout and hale,
And all my days I’ll sing the praise
Of Ivory Soap
Have you a little T. S. Eliot in your home?
The stag at eve had drunk his fill
The thirsty hart look’d up the hill
And craned his neck just as a feeler
To advertise the Double-Dealer.
William Congreve was a gentleman
O art what sins are committed in thy name
For tawdry fame and fleeting flame
And everything, ain’t dat a shame?
Mah Creole Belle, ah lubs yo’ well;
Aroun’ mah heart you hab cast a spell
But I can’t learn to spell pseudocracy
Because there ain’t no such word.
And I says to Lizzie, if Joe was my feller
I’d teach him to go to dances with that
Rat, bat, cat, hat, flat, plat, fat
Fry the fat, fat the fry
You’ll be a drug-store by and by.
Get the hook!
Above the lines of brooding hills
Rose spires that reeked of nameless ills,
And ghastly shone upon the sight
In ev’ry flash of lurid light
To be continued.
Smoking on four rear seats.
Fare win return to 5¢ after August 1st
Except outside the Cleveland city limits.
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir
Strangers pause to shed a tear;
Henry Fielding wrote Tom Jones.
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
Good night, good night, the stars are bright
I saw the Leonard-Tendler fight
Farewell, farewell, O go to hell.
In the shantih.
At 2:30 in the clip below, Alan Moore, speaking with John Higgs (author of The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds), discusses Lovecraft’s xenophobia. He mentions “Waste Paper” and Lovecraft’s hatred of Eliot about four minutes later.