A speculation. We usually "use" biography in our reading even when
biography does not exist.
Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!
In formalist criticism of mid-century, a "persona" would be posited here
and some sort of (pseudo) dramatic context provided -- i.e., some sort
of (imaginary) human consciousness would be generated behind or within
the poem. That is what I call using biography even when it doesn't
The result is not much different, I'm speculating, whether the
"biography" we are using has some basis in known fact or is purely
fanciful. The reading experience, the "poetic meaning" (whatever _that_
means) is about the same.
When I suggest that Gerontion (the 'speaker') is an echo chamber, not a
consciousness or a character, I am trying to read that poem without
'using' any biography in this sense. One could still relate its content,
images, etc. to Eliot's biography, but only as evidence for the usage of
words, etc. E.g., what we know about Eliot's response to Shakespeare
would perhaps be relevant to the comparison of History to Cleopatra's
vagina. But Eliot's unhappy virginity would not have an echo "in" the