From: Nancy Gish [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Rather I am disagreeing with the view I think you are proposing that not
even reader response but the response of the first, immediate readers is
the major or definitive meaning of the poem. If, as Eliot claimed, the
present changes the past as much as the past changes the present, then
our response is also part of what it "means" or is, and our response is
unavoidably affected by what we know that the first readers did not.
(Another crib from "Tradition and the Individual Talent" I suppose).
Good heavens Nancy. I haven't said a word about meaning.
It seems to me that if Eliot (or Pound) had MEANT something,
they would have written an essay, not produced a poem.
The poem is a set of perceptions that create effects in the
reader. And yes I am saying that if the response to the poem
had not been what it initially was (Didn't Beckett say something
like "the dust will not settle in our time"), it would not have
had the life that it has had and still does have. That initial
bridge of extravagant popularity was crucial to its survival,
and given that its initial popularity was conditioned by its effect
of mirroring the ethos of the time, it has come to take on the
caché of that reading of it, whatever new effects it may have,
or new responses to it, readers may have. You may be able to
demob the man out of the army, but you won't demob the army out
of the man. Lil. and company as post war wives create a permanent
resonance of 1914-1918 in the poem, however many daughters
they may have that could find similar resonances post WWII,
Korea, Viet Nam, or Gulf War.