> > But it does matter, for
> > example, that "on Margate sands/ I can connect nothing with nothing" was
> > written when he had just been to Margate and was having a breakdown.
> In terms of the poem, how does it matter?
If we didn't know it, it wouldn't matter at all.
It's all a matter of how we read. If we read with reference to biography,
with whatever method in mind (psychoanalytic or simple connect-the-events), it
matters a great deal. The life of the poet becomes a text read in conjunction
with the text of the poem, and we naturally make connections between the two.
There are ways of reading in which biography is "out of bounds"--many sorts of
scriptural exegesis discount the particular lives and drives of the prophets
(there's a doctrine of impersonal inspiration by tradition, rather like
Eliot's, and the texts are authorized by their place in the canon or a
similarity of voice between it and others). The lives of the saints, on the
other hand, are important authorizing adjunct texts to their writings--because
the symptoms of their spiritual authority are held to show up in their
actions, their bodies, etc..
One might argue that Eliot, by taking on a prophetic voice and invoking
traditions of spiritual writing, is leaving himself open to either
hagiographical scrutiny or the devil's-advocate deflation that goes with it.
No one expects Eliot's corpse to be incorrupt, but some retain that idea of
the life authorizing the work.
Myself, I think reading with biography is valuable to help complicate the
object of study and widens what we can learn (we learn something about the
complexities and contradictions of the human condition, and not just about a
work of art) but certainly dangerous to use the external facts of biography to
explain /away/ the value of the work.