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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Eliot : Disturbing the Universe


This post has in a sense been handed to me by two or three responses to my post On not getting it. In the course of discussing how a reader might react to difficulties in a poem they all said (something like)... otherwise you end up just problem solving. (What preceded the three dots varied in each case, but had to do with unravelling apparently meaningless lines, phrases, images etc.

The question turns, I suppose, on that word just. I think I answered for the most part gaily (glibly might be a better way of putting it), but later it occurred to me that there is another, more important, side to the matter, illustrated perhaps by the way in which T.S. Eliot used it to revolutionise English poetry.

Eliot, at that time a bank clerk in London, was appalled by what, in his view, the Victorians had done to English poetry. They had allowed it to flounder in a great soup of sentimentality. Emotion and feeling were all. It had lost that all-important contact with the intellect. He hatched his master plan to rescue it, to drag it to the firm land of reason before it drowned altogether. Accordingly, he produced three great poems: The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, Portrait of a Lady and "La Figlia che Piange" (The Weeping Girl).

Here is the text of The Weeping Girl

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair--
Lean on a garden urn--
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair--
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise--
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon's repose.


Is that not beautiful? So are each of the other two, in their rhythms and in their cadences (something that Eliot did masterfully), so beautiful that you may easily not spot the plan, as I believe most people do not until it is pointed out. My personal opinion is that these three poems are as good as anything Eliot wrote, with the possible exception of The Four Quartets.

The public were baffled, as they had every right to be, for technically, theoretically and actually these three poems are incomprehensible. Eliot intended them so to be. That, indeed, was the master plan - to make them completely and permanently incomprehensible by withholding the essential information that the reader would need if s/he were to understand them. That way, he reasoned, the intellect would be continually engaged with the poems in its unending effort to understand them. The alternative, to give sufficient information for complete comprehension, would result, he reasoned, in the reader losing interest the moment that the problem unravelled. But of course, the plan would not have worked if they had been incomprehensible conundrums and nothing else. They were not. As I have indicated, they were - and are - poems of great beauty. They also contain some brilliant images which alone would have kept me reading. If we look at J Alfred Prufrock first - for no better reason than that it was the first one I read - we find that it opens in this wise:-


Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.


In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.


To my way of thinking the image contained in lines 2 and 3 is brilliant - though not completely understandable. I still am not sure HOW the evening is like the patient. I'm not sure either, what a half deserted street is like, but following like a tedious argument does it for me. Eventually, though, we come to the overwhelming question. The stricture not to ask runs right through the poem, as an attitude when not actually spelt out. We never do find out what it is. We never do find out what is this visit we are to make. And then we come to the two lines

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.


Who are these women?
Why do they come and go?
Where from and where to?
Where is the room?
What sort of room is it?
Why are the women talking constantly of Michelangelo?

These two lines appear twice in the poem, so you would think they must be of some importance, yet none of those questions are ever answered. These opening lines, in what they offer and in what they withhold are typical of the poem. Indeed, they are typical of all three of these poems.

Portrait of a Lady begins

Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon
You have the scene arrange itself—as it will seem to do—
With “I have saved this afternoon for you”;
And four wax candles in the darkened room,
Four rings of light upon the ceiling overhead,
An atmosphere of Juliet’s tomb
Prepared for all the things to be said, or left unsaid.


The second verse begins:

You do not know how much they mean to me, my friends,
And how, how rare and strange it is, to find
In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends,
[For indeed I do not love it … you knew? you are not blind!
How keen you are!]
To find a friend who has these qualities,
Who has, and gives
Those qualities upon which friendship lives.
How much it means that I say this to you—
Without these friendships—life, what cauchemar!


We are in similar territory. We do not know who the Lady is or who the young man is. Much less do we ever discover what they are to each other, not - despite the many clues and false clues - what they want from each other. Is it a healthy relationship. At times it does not seem so, but we do not know, we are never told. Nevertheless, much as I want to know, I for one find that I have to keep reading. And yes, the brain is permanently engaged upon the matter and the matter is beautiful.

What we do se here, it seems to me, is that Eliot did not jettison feeling. He did not go to the opposite extreme. There are feelings in plenty in these poems. Many of the feelings that we encounter in The Waste Land, for a start, feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, waste, the triviality of modern living, resignation and even martyrdom.

I have measured out my life in coffee spoons from Prufrock.

I shall sit here serving tea to friends from Portrait of a Lady. (Another refrain that appears more than once in the poem.)

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
- from Prufrock

Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
“Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
What life is, you who hold it in your hands”;
(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
“You let it flow from you, you let it flow,
And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
And smiles at situations which it cannot see.”
I smile, of course,
And go on drinking tea.
from Portrait of a Lady

Perhaps you can write to me.”
My self-possession flares up for a second;
This is as I had reckoned.
“I have been wondering frequently of late
(But our beginnings never know our ends!)
Why we have not developed into friends.”
I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark
Suddenly, his expression in a glass.
My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark.
from Portrait of a Lady

And there is wit:
My smile falls heavily among the bric-a-brac. from Portrait of a Lady

And humour

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?


169 comments:

Dick said...

A splendid bit of drum-beating on behalf of Eliot, whose complete (as opposed to conditional) resurrection is long overdue. Thanks for this, Dave. It's good to have substantial slabs of Eliot's verse leapfrogged over the fashionable tat that gets too much page/screen-room.

jinksy said...

When words are strung together like beads on a necklace, one cannot fail to appreciate their beauty, without needing to know whether the reason behind their order is important to understand. Not sure I've explained what I mean clearly, but will leave the comment anyway!

Mariana Soffer said...

I like this post a lot, I learn about this poet story, who I never payed atention before, and also you helped me to read what he says (I know it is subjective apreciation of it) in a really nice and smart way.
Many artists and scholars have pointed out that ultimately art depends on human nature. The aesthetic and emotional reactions that we have to works of art depend on how our brain is put together. Art works because it appeals to certain faculties of the mind. Music depends on details of the auditory system, painting and sculpture on the visual system. Poetry and literature depend on language. And the insights we hope to take away from great works of art depend on their ability to explore the eternal conflicts in the human condition, like those between men and women, self and society, parent and child, sibling and sibling, and friend and friend. Some theoreticians of literature have suggested that we appreciate tragedy and great works of fiction because they explore the permutations and combinations of human conflict and these are just the themes that scientific fields like evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics and social psychology try to illuminate

I believe that ongoing discussions among arts and humanities scholars may pose new challenges for the programs of cognitive scientists. One sort of contribution that theorizing about the arts may make to cognitive science is to challenge unexamined assumptions about our ability to perceive, conceptualize, and assess these very important constituents of our culture.

Thanks for teaching me how to enjoy something else in life.
M

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

These excerpts are beautiful and for that reason it doesn't matter that I may be unable to understand them or not even realise that I don't!

Mark Cowell said...

Yes! Yes! Playing in the gray area between concrete and abstract, between a legal treatise and random words. I'm glad Eliot had the courage to let each reader own his poems in their own way, his respect for our intelligence so he could point in directions but let us do the walking. I don't believe that any artist -- poet, painter, photographer, musician -- owns his or her work. The creative experience is shared between the sender and the receiver and the quality of the experience depends on the creativity of both.

steven said...

hi dave - a really nice unpacking of the aesthetic underpinnings of eliot's writing. i love the way he builds tension in the reader's mind by connecting juxtaposed states and images. despite the suggested cerebrality of his writing, i find it sensory, emotive, and more real for all of that!!! have a peaceful day. steven

Karen said...

For me, the beauty of Eliot's words has always trumped the difficulties of discerning his intent or meaning. That he presented us with intellectual challenge in addition to beautiful language is a gift to us all. "Do I dare/Disturb the Universe?" He does.

Carl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
readingsully2 said...

I am always so impressed by the length and depth and scope of your postings.:)

Conda V. Douglas said...

They call them classics for a reason, Dave, and your post illustrated that reason. Eliot changed poetry and wrote poems that people find different meanings in every time they're read.

Thank you for a fascinating post!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting post, as usual Dave - and one to make us use out little grey cells (on a Sunday?)
Eliot is one of my favourite poets - I love his work - in particular The Journey of the Magi, J Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land. I was once standing by his grave in Poets Corner when his widow came and laid a bunch of violets on it - a very memorable moment for me.
In a wider sense - I don't think it matters if you "don't get it" - a good poet makes the words of the English language sound so beautiful that if you don't understand their meaning it is still a wonderful thing to read. Also A good poet can imply such a multiplicity of meaning that noone is going to get it all. We get out of poetry what we want to get out of it, and that is all that matters in my opinion.

Renee said...

Dave I had to come over right away because you are too smart.

I loved your catch on soundless saturday when it was about music. You are a clever clever man.

xoxoxo

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, some possible answers to your questions about Prufrock in particular I could answer using some reflections I made and comments I looked for in order to work on Eliot for my students and in order to have something useful to tell them on these difficult lines.
But it's the complexity and completeness of your questions I enjoyed. After all I could answer to only very few of them and would need too much space.
The best general answer I could give is maybe obvious: at the end when there is no answer, or no definitive answer, and we don't actually "understand" a poem...well, it's better, sometimes I feel that the poems I most enjoyed are the poems which left me puzzled and those I didn't clearly understand. Starting with the first I came across in my life, Bob Dylan's songlirics and second Gerontion and The Waste Land.
Furtherly I encountered the sentence you certainly know: "poems don't say, or don't explain or mean anything, poems just happen..." I still think it's the most valuable reflection on poetry.

Oh, by the way you are the first to know in the internet...I'll write it in the blog. My poem "Reassurance" ( you had shown a solidarity for which I again thank you commenting on a post about it) has been accepted by a print magazine, fairly famous, in California, for their farewell issue.

FireLight said...

If I am not mistaken, Eliot wrote "Prufrock" when he was 22. He has been marvelously disturbing the universe ever since, thanks be to God.
I have been especially intellectually & spiritually engaged with The Four Quartets for over 20 years now...

"Quick now, here now always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are all in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one."

Thus ends Little Gidding...but sets the reader on a journey.
What Eliot truly offers his reader is an opportunity to share his visionary experience within the confinement of human life, and for that I am grateful for his art.
Thank you for your insights which prove that Eliot is best understood by simply listening to his words.
One scholarly endeavor that enhanced my appreciation of his work was reading up on one of the mystics who influenced his writing: Saint John of the Cross...a topic for another post!

Mairi said...

A really interesting post. These three poems always seemed to be like Henry James novels distilled to a page or so, with all the connecting sentences eliminated. Not that James always gave enough away to make the connections. I've been writing something on meaning and incomprehension for Plumbline, using one of Don Paterson's poems as a jumping off point. I hope you'll check it out in a few days.

Dave King said...

Dick
Thanks Dick. I agree that he his resurrection is only provisional - partial, even.

Jinksy
Yes, I am sure I have understood what you are getting at, and fully agree.

Mariana
Thank you so much for that very heartening comment. I do agree with your remarks. Some would additionally say that all art appreciation depends not only upon the faculties but on the way those parts of the brain are physically structured and connected to other parts. A fascinating area for study!

Derrick
It's a way in. In time you will understand what you did not know you had not understood (!!!!) Enjoyment, though, is the first essential, certainly.

Mark
An important point that, thanks for pointing it out - as maybe I should have done. Yes, you are quite right to stress Eliot's propensity (as I believe it is) for letting each reader own the poem in his/her own way. Thanks for that.

Steven
Agreed. It is all of those things, and the images are often not only juxtaposed but seemingly unconnected. E.G. The women talking Michelangelo in THAT room., then with no transition:
The yellow smoke that rubs its back upon the window pane... etc (Quoting from memory there, so forgive any errors, but you get the point?)

Karen
Quite right. Here, here! oOr should it be: hear, hear?

Carl
Well, yes and no, you have wandered into an aspect I did not cover. I was actually saying that it was the beauty of the poetry that keeps us beavering away at the unsolvable riddles. That is how it is for me, but of course we are, as is always being said, all different. There is no reason at all why it should not work both ways. Enjoyment is what it is all about, after all. I did suggest perhaps that if the riddles were solved then the intellect might disengage, but we shall never know, for they can't be solved! Thanks for your interest. (Mark makes an excellent point in his comment.)

Shadow said...

thank you for this. the poems you quoted beautiful. ultimately, shouldn't a poem make sense to the writer? poems are very personal and emotional. and if the meaning isn't completely clarified, shouldn't that be left entirely to the writers discretion? i think so...

A Cuban In London said...

Great post. Eliot has eluded me for the very reason he wrote what he wrote. There's only so much withholding of information for me before I start asking myself, whether the joke is on the reader or the author. Funny enough, my next loan from my local library will not be Eliot's poetry but his essay on writing. Zadie Smith mentions it in the essay I'm serialising on my blog and I'm interested in knowing what he to write about writing.

I absolutely adored this column, excellent food for thought for my mid-morning break at work.

Greetings from London.

Dave King said...

readingsully2
Thank you for those words. I am very appreciative of them.

Conda
Absolutely. They are always fresh.

The Weaver of Grass
Several good points there, particularly dealing with the accomplishments of good poets. A nice touch, too, Eliot's widow in Poet's Corner. Thanks.

Renee
I know a few who might not fully endorse that appreciation, but thanks for it.

Tommaso
Reading that, what occurred to me was that the poem that just happens is on a par with a bird that just hatches - what does it mean? What does a bird or a flower or anything else mean?

Hearty congratulations on the success of your poem. No more than your due.

Dave King said...

Firelight
Welcome to my blog. I think you are correct in saying Eliot wrote Prufrock at the age of 22. Around there, anyway. I agree with you concerning The Four Quartets, they are a well that never runs dry.
And yes, I can see that might well provide material for a future post. Thanks for that.

Mairi
Many thanks for that. Sounds interesting, your work on Paterson. I shall check it out, most definitely.

Dave King said...

Shadow
Absolutely - that's why I think Mark Cowell (above) has made such a valuable point.

A Cuban in London
Very many thanks for that. I am looking forward very much indeed to reading your next post and to hearing what you have to say about Zadie Smith.
Regards.

Rachel Fox said...

We read Eliot at school and I enjoyed what we studied very much (good teachers). I haven't gone back to his work as much as I might...in all honesty I find his writing sentimental even with its complications and subtleties! Maybe I'm just being contrary...
x

you are the light of the world said...

hi,
Similar interests, mutual respect and strong attachment with each other are what friends share between each other. These are just the general traits of a friendship.To experience what is friendship, one must have true friends, who are indeed rare treasure.

I have added you to my blogger roll, hope you can do the same thing for me so that we can have constant communication.

Art Durkee said...

The chief problem being that, in the hands of lesser poets who followed or came later on, Eliot's plan devolves to becoming mere puzzle-poetry, obscurity for the sake of being obscure (which Eliot actually promoted but which has become a contemporary bane of poetry), and withholding of information not to create mystery but to make the poet appear smarter than the reader. Such is always the way with disciples who aren't up to the master's level, quite.

Don't get me wrong. I respect Eliot immensely, and "Four Quartets" is in my humble opinion one of the poems of the past century. At the same time I am well aware of Eliot's strong bias towards intellect and construction over intuition or feeling, and I think in reacting against the Victorians he swung the pendulum too far the other way. I think in most ways the greatest poetry, even Eliot's, lies in some central place between too-much-feeling and too-much-intellect.

I'm all for mystery and the unexplained in poetry. But as you point out, in a great poem, and the examples you bring to the table are all good examples, there IS more going on than merely deliberate obscurity. Not every image needs to be understood or explained, I quite agree. Where I might disagree is a matter of historical context and emphasis. I think your analysis of Eliot's intent is a sound one, even if it's not one Eliot would always admit to; at the same time, I place Eliot in his historical period, doing what he did for sound reasons. But its influence remains, even when its reasons no longer do; and so we get a great deal of poetry these days that is post-Eliot in the mannerist sense of imitating and exaggerating obvious traits (and flaws, and biases) without a real reason for doing so. I could cite entire schools of poetry that still follow in Eliot's footsteps. Instead, I'll just point out that by the time the 50s came around, Eliot's (and Pound's, and Steven's) influence had become so powerful that it, too, needed to be rebelled against. And that's exactly what prompted Rexroth and the other San Francisco Renaissance poets to bring back into poetry the kind of clarity that Eliot removed. Eliot brought in clarity and simplicity of means (in the same that Hemingway did in prose) while obscuring meaning; the SF poets stopped believing in obscured meaning as being necessary to poetry.

Sarah Laurence said...

The Weeping Girl is too sentimental for me, but Prufrock has been a favorite poem since I read it as a teenager. I’m still mystified by the patient, but the women sound like a pretentious London or NYC cocktail party. Poetry needs to elicit an understandable emotion even if the words don’t make common sense. That’s art.

Adrian LaRoque said...

Good post Dave!

Cloudia said...

I allow these pieces to speak to me on a deeper level of esthetic pleasure. Having a guide (like yourself) explicate the inner workings and allusions only enhances my understanding, and myself. As you say: their beauty is sufficient and stirs us.

Beckett pointed out in his letters (Cambridge) that "T. Elliot is toilet spelt backwards."

Care to explicate professor?

Warm Aloha,
Comfort Spiral

Dave King said...

Rachel
An interesting observation. I can see how it might be seen as sentimental, though I have always seen that as a sideways swipe at sentimentality. He didn't set himself against feelings, of course, only against feelings divorced from intellect. Still, you given me something to think about! Thanks for your contribution.

you are the light of the world
Welcome to my blog, and thanks for stopping by to comment. I have not seen your blog as yet, but shall be along to it as soon as. Thanks again.

Art
I do completely agree with the views axpressed in your first paragraph - though do not think we can blame Eliot for the sins of others.

I also agree with your estimation of The Four Quartets, but I have never seen in his best poetry - and I emphasise in his best poetry - a bias against feeling, intuition, or anything else for that matter, except an absence of intellectual content. I do agree with your central place observation.

I am not very au fait with the SF poets - something I shall have to remedy. My thanks for an interesting response and for pointing me down an untried avenue.

Sarah
Yes, the patient mystifies me. I wonder if it was a cocktail party. Could be that's what Eliot had in mind - he'd have been to a few, I think!

Adrian
Thanks.

Cloudia
Thanks for that - I didn't know of the Beckett remark. Unforgettable! Not really.

Cloudia
Thanks.

Art Durkee said...

Dave, you're right to underline that my objection is not so much with Eliot as with his imitators, and in some cases, with his slavish followers who didn't quite get it. (As it were.)

I agree with you that at his best Eliot didn't reject feeling in his poetry, Yet if you read his criticism, his ideas about poetry, his historical assessments of earlier poets, the bias towards intellect is strongly evident—even when he stumbles over his own rhetoric. I think some of the aforementioned imitator-poets took Eliot's critical rhetoric to heart and ignored some of Eliot's own poems (eg. some of the more heartfelt "religious" poems). Eliot DID tend to filter his work through his intellect; and he can rightly be accused, in his critical writing, or being an elitist snob who strongly preferred the thinking-mode over the feeling-mode. But again, I agree with you, the poetry itself redeems this, because he didn't quite practice what he preached.

One of the poet-teachers who had a huge influence in the USA, in the wake of Eliot, was Yvor Winters. Winters actually said things like, "As far as possible, all emotion must be removed from poetry." This was typical of those who came after Eliot, who overemphasized his critical thinking, as we're discussing. Winters himself has had a huge influence on generations of poets who came after; in my opinion, a rather toxic one. It was Winters and his ilk in part that Kenneth Rexroth was rejecting, and it was Rexroth who really was the focal point for the SF Renaissance, and the later West Coast emergence of the Beats. (The Beats were all originally New York City types, but when they came West and encountered Rexroth, and the rest, that's when things really exploded.)

Sorry to go on and on about all this, and you really got me thinking about both your topic itself, and the history of influence since Eliot. Thanks for the inspiration, I hope it wasn't TOO off-topic. ;)

Eryl Shields said...

Because of his reputation for frightful intellectualism I didn't read Eliot with active intention until earlier this year when I stumbled upon Prufrock and became enraptured. I have measured out my life in coffee spoons is one of the most emotionally resonant lines I've ever read.

enchantedoak said...

So many people have written so many thoughtful comments that I feel superflous. However, I have always believed Eliot had intense emotional responses to the experience of his life, that he contained them in such magnificent imagery, he didn't have to state the obvious emotional bases. I agree with Eryl Shields: "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons" contains a painful response to life experience.
And Prufrock is for me one of the artistic descriptions of a man's inner life of the heart. How many sunsets have I watched, repeating his etherised patient lying on that table, because it is a mystery of image and emotion intertwined.
A great poem, in my view, contains many mysteries, because humanity itself is a mystery, personal experience is an exercise in mystery; and it also contains outstanding beautiful imagery and language. Both touch some core of affinity in the soul of the reader.
I also wanted to salute Art Durkee for his slam against poets who use obscurity as an attempt at the essential poetic mystery of good poems.
I am new in the blogosphere and stumbled on you from another site. I am a poet who writes strong stuff and bad stuff. I'm not terribly smart, but in getting my Lit degree I did have exposure to masterful writing. And good teaching. You're an excellent teacher. I'll be back.
I'm sure you have quite a lot to do, but I will ask anyway: Will you drift by my blog and wade through the material on sobriety to find a poem or two I've posted there? Not the "Elegy for a Slug" but anything else. I'm posting from my slush pile, saving the "strong" stuff for the ms. that goes out regularly to small presses. That is my apology.
I'm a Californian, by the way, as if that explains my idiocy.

A Cuban In London said...

Dave, something else I forgot the other day. Re comments on my blog, yo uhave to wait for the whole page to load up otherwise you will be clicking on the 'linkwithin' gadget that sends you to previous posts. I hope that helps. Yes, Zadie's second part is up now.

Greetings from London.

Dave King said...

Art
No need toapologise for going on about it, there is quite a bit to be mined from the subject, I think. I agree with all your comments in your second paragraph, but am not familiar with the writings of Yvor Winters. It had just occurred to me that the one topic neither of have raised is that of the influence on Eliot of Pound. I have never been able to decide whether he was on balance a good or a bad influence.

Thanks for all the time and trouble you have put into this topic. And no, you were not off-topic at all, so far as I am concerned.

Thanks for the Zadie info'.

Regards.

Eryl
Absolutely. No arguments from me there!

enchantedoak
Hi and welcome to my blog. Thank you for visiting. I was planning to visit you anyway, as I see you have declared yourself a follower. Again, thanks. I can and do say a fervent Amen to all your opening remarks. And many thanks to you for your kind remarks to me personally. Hope to see you here again soon!

Dave King said...

Tommaso
Hope you get to see this. I have been trying to leave it on your blog, but Blogger will not let me.
First of all, thanks for the many mentions. Your post was fascinating to me on many levels, not least because I first encountered Eliot at College after some dreary (poetry) teaching at Grammar school. His writing hit me like a draught of fresh air, and I know many other students felt the same. The image of the etherised patient was wonderful, we felt - though we all had different ideas about HOW the one was like the other. That, I thought - and still think - was Eliot's great achievement, not that his poems don't make sense, cannot be understood, but they make too many senses, are ambiguous, can be understood in the way the reader understands them. Yes, I do think your explanations are plausible, but there may be others, equally plausible. Similarly with the half-deserted streets and he clinging fog. We each can own Eliot in our own way.

Art Durkee said...

I'd love to discuss the influence by Pound on Eliot, certainly. Maybe that should be a whole other blog post? :)

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Thank you really, Dave, I could read your message here.
There should be a lot more I would like to say on Eliot and your post but I find it difficult to organise another post, I hope to manage to do that somehow in the future. I totally agree with you, what is fascinating is the ambiguity of feelings and the different explanations Eliot's lines can offer as for example "History...that guides us by vanities" and the "Wilderness of mirrors" in Gerontion.

Dave King said...

Art
I am sure that is sensible. Too big a fish for the comments stream, I think.

Tommaso
Oh, I kept getting a message to the effect that you didn't accept anonymous comments - although I had signed in.

And yes, I do agree with your comments. Thanks for everything.

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I'm not quite sure why this post popped up as seems older, but so glad I read it. I really love Eliot especially Prufrock, which I memorized at a young age and which has filtered in and out of my subconscious since then. I confess to not having been familiar with the other two poems which sound wonderful. Of course, they have echoes of Profrock - but are so cool - and your exposition is so interesting. I will look them up in their entirety. Thanks much. k .

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