The name of this tree is "Semi-symbolist." My understanding of a symbolist poem is that its meaning is governed by a private system of symbols. Eliot seems sometimes to use a private symbolic system; the beginning of section II of Ash-Wednesday "Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree / In the cool of the day, etc." has seemed to me until recently to be close to a pure symbolist statement. Yet coming fresh from teaching the Divine Comedy, I know that many critics see the leopard that prevents Dante's access to the Mount of Joy (Maisie Montjoy is in the Elder Statesman) as symbolizing sins of incontinence. *Now* I can understand that Eliot may be referring to sins of the incontinence that have "fed to satiety / On [his] legs [his] heart, [his] liver and that which had been contained / In the hollow round of [his] skull." But why are there three of them, and why are they white? Yet, one can appreciate the beauty of imagery and music in a symbolist poem without entirely understanding the personal references that would be afforded by a comprehensive knowledge of the private symbols involved. In other words, someone who hasn't read Dante can gain poetic sustenance from the beauty of the images.
On the other hand, Eliot frequently uses symbolic language that overtly invites people to relate to the poem through public systems of meaning (Christian, Indian), so it is possible to feel one is really understanding the symbolic meaning of the poem by just going into that depth of reference. For instance, one can understand "Incarnation" as used in DS in a standard Christian way, (that the eternal 2nd Person of the Trinity took human flesh at a point of time in history). However, Eliot is using these public systems of meaning to talk about a more private system of meanings. "Incarnation" for him is simply the human assent to the will of God in time. To fully appreciate the depth of FQ, it is, I think, necessary to go as far into that private system as we have knowledge of. Many people have recognized the stature of FQ without knowing that Eliot had made Emily Hale--apparently without her consent--into his Beatrice. When the reader *does* know this, he or she is able to make the intertextual references with the Divine Comedy and with Eliot's biographies and appreciate to a greater degree the complex enmeshment of Eliot's emotional life with this poem. (...and, oh yes, keep up with the latest entries on the T. S. Eliot list!)
J. P. Earls, OSB
St. John's University
Collegeville, MN 56321
From: Marcia Karp [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 3:08 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Milton, FQ (why OT?)
"Earls, JP" wrote:
> BN II attempts to distinguish between two mystical experiences, one of light (erhebung) and one of darkness. Eliot attempts to demonstrate in the course of FQ how both the tormenting and the exalting experiences can be brought together into the eternity of the same individual. This individual is Eliot, and the experiences are his, not those of some depersonalized humanity. His loves have put him into touch with both torment and exaltation, as have his career and family relationships. At the end of LG, both the "rose" and the "tongues of flame" are brought together in the "crowned knot of fire."
> I know that associating each of these flowers with a particular individual is a radical departure from FQ scholarship, but I think it's a fruitful avenue to explore.
Dear J. P.,
I'm not responding based on any scholarship, my own or others. Truth is I don't read Eliot scholarship, save from members of this list. I never have doubted that Eliot, like all poets, can write only about what they know. But I don't see how the poem asks the reader to place a name on the objects you've mentioned. If you are trying to understand what went on inside Eliot, that's of no concern to me, but I won't interfer with the discussion. But if you are saying that readers should think of Emily Hale, for instance, when reading "Royal Rose," I don't understand.
So, perhaps I'm asking what sort of tree it is we are eating from.