There We Have Been

Uncommon.cc (a lovely little corner of the internet) sends out prompts to get the growing community to share stories. I was particularly inspired by this one: "What's your favorite room, past or present?" and so I'd thought I'd post my response here for posterity. In part, it's a nod to all the incoming college students descending upon Boston and Cambridge this week.

 

As a freshman at Harvard I lived in the T.S. Eliot room, 42 Apley Court. At the time, it was the only freshmen dorm located outside Harvard yard, so Apley was already set apart by distance, its regal lion door knockers, and its walk-in closets. But even among gilded splendor, the T.S. Eliot room stood out. A special plaque outside our door memorialized the poet who spent his youth as a philosophy concentrator there (presumably accompanied by a servant, as was standard in the Gold Coast dorms of that era). In my tenure, I shared the space with two other roommates. The tub in the marble bathroom was a luxury among dorms, and though the fireplace had long been closed off for safety, the mantle added a certain charm and gravitas to the room. In the winter, the old radiators clanged and clacked with dry heat. I couldn't help but picture Thomas Sterns Eliot, hunched over his desk, listening to the same rhythmic beats, looking out over the same fourth-floor view.

As lovely as it was, my ties to the room didn't really develop until I took a spring semester course with Peter Sacks covering T.S. Eliot's entire oeuvre from Prufrock to the Four Quartets. Carefully parsing each line for Eliot's rich allusions to the canon was a fitting initiation into the department that would become my home base for the next four years. Reading from my crimson futon, pausing to gaze out the window between the wrought iron scrolls, I felt as though I was really occupying the space I shared with the great poet through his words and his room.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
— from "Burnt Norton" in The Four Quartets