What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?

We’ve been listening to Marie and other café society types engaging in inane conversation.  Suddenly—with a bang—the tone shifts and the poet asks this burning question—a question seemingly drawn from the Bible or perhaps Jacobean tragedy or Dante but in fact Eliot’s own invention and a brilliant one.  The images are general enough to apply to all sorts of situations but we’ve just witnessed the “stony rubbish” and seen the “roots that clutch” below ground, producing those new horrific branches. And the lines are wonderfully aphoristic as well as particular:  when I listen to the political discourse of our “news” programs, for example, I always want to ask, “What are the roots that clutch….”—the roots of mendacity that can’t be removed!  Listen to the sound: the repetition of the ugly tch in “clutch” and “branch,” and turning to “rubbish.”  We’re in the noisy Inferno that’s right next door.
- Marjorie Perloff, 2012 / Tilbake