T.S. Eliot's famous poem Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar is a kind of fantasy, a hallucinated joke, at the expense of everyone. The plot of the poem is deceptively simple and clear. A Burbank--on holiday in Venice--takes up with a Princess Volupine--in a romantic episode on a "shuttered barge" that "burned on the water all the day." Even the boatman smiles to see her. Meanwhile, the Chicago Jew Bleistein takes it easy in Venice. The great episodes of diurnal history are erased. Burbank thinks: "Money in furs." Men are willing to pay a lot to keep women; it is a lucrative market for the fur dealers--here, presumably Bleistein. Then--just as suddenly--Princess Volupine is entertaining another admirer, Sir Ferdinand Klein, presumably another Jew, an English Jew, and Burbank is out. The punchline of the joke comes in these lines:
Klein. Who clipped the lion's wings
And flea'd his rump and pared his claws?
Thought Burbank . . .
This has two meanings: 1. Women have men whipped, and are the motivation for their grooming themselves for the game, and competing with each other, and 2. The rich Jewish merchants have beaten the English, as the Rothschilds did when Britain turned to their financial assistance as a last resort: this extends even to their being knighted and monopolizing beautiful women. Burbank would seem to be English. Like a good Jewish joke, the joke is on the Jews, on the English, on the Americans, on men, and on women, all at once, with the poem's greatest animus being reserved for a sexual resentment directed towards women. This is not inconsistent with the seeming misogyny of a number of Eliot's poems from this period. Burbank "meditating on Time's ruins" is on one level reflecting on losing Princess Volupine so abruptly. I've forgotten what "the seven laws" alludes to. I make no attempt here to explicate the local details of the poem. The sexual metaphor of the horses that "Beat up the dawn from Istria / With even feet". The reference to Cleopatra. The juxtaposition of classical beauty with modern decrepidness. The jazzy demeanor of Bleistein. The "protozoic slime" which represents Bleistein's location in sensibility, and the primitive origins of mankind. The reference to all that is lost to history, and the way in which such a loss relates to the primitive origins of mankind. The poem is a sort of academic joke, that takes things as they appear to be, without taking sides, except in a generally distributed animus towards life in general. Or so it strikes me. The joke appears to be largely built on the deceptive blaming of Jews, which is only then abruptly disintegrated--or diffused--into an even greater animus towards women. But it is Burbank's meditation. A little hallucinated drama played out in his mind. Such beauty as the poem possesses is contained in the exquisiteness of its form, its perfect demonstration of the art of joke telling in a lyric form. In the fine suggestiveness of certain details and the evocative simplicity of their statement. And in such truths as are inexecrably contained therein. The ugliness of such truths is merely pondered, and not so much as judged quite. At least the poem wears gloves.