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TSE  November 2002

TSE November 2002

Subject:

Re: TWL epigraph

From:

[log in to unmask]

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 4 Nov 2002 01:54:06 EST

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (119 lines)

In a message dated 11/3/02 7:02:29 PM EST, [log in to unmask] writes:

> I wonder why T.S. Eliot had opted for Conrad's
> short passage as an epigraph, and then switched
> to such a different genre as the Satyricon was.

   You are quite right that the two epigraphs bear little in common. It also
seems clear from the Eliot letters that it is one thing and one thing only
that  caused TSE to abandon the Conrad quote, namely, Pound's criticism that
the Conrad quote wasn't 'weighty' enough.

   Whatever was gained in 'weight' in that shift to a quote from antiquity,
quite a lot was lost. The original quote focused on the notion of summing up,
of judging, particularly at the moment of death in the way God would judge
our souls. The shift in emphasis from the inner and personal anguish to a
more universalized anguish in the change in epigraphs mirrors the shift in
emphasis when the title was changed from "He do the police in different
voices" to "The Waste Land".

   It's quite fascinating to see the sections in 'Heart of Darkness' that are
near to the passage from which the original TWL epigraph is taken. As I read
through the passages, it seems to me that Kurtz is a double for the narrator
of TWL (whom I think is a thinly disguised TSE).

   I scanned in some sections that I think are particularly interesting and
have included them at the end of this email for those on the list who may be
interested in seeing the Conrad quote in context and relating that to the
themes in TWL.

-- Steve --
================================
Some excerpts from 'Heart of Darkness', before and after the passage that
Eliot chose as the original TWL epigraph:
 ========================================
   "Kurtz discoursed. A voice! a voice! It rang deep to the very last. It
survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the
barren darkness of his heart. Oh, he struggled! he struggled! The wastes of
his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now -- Images of wealth and
fame revolving obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and
lofty  expression. My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas -- these were
the subjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments. The shade
of the original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow sham, whose fate
it was to be buried presently in the mould of primeval earth. But both the
diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated
fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid
of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and
power.

   "Sometimes he was contemptibly childish. He desired to have kings meet him
at railway-stations on his return from some ghastly Nowhere, where he
intended to accomplish great things. 'You show them you have in you something
that is really profitable, and then there will be no limits to the
recognition of your ability,' he would say. 'Of course you must take care of
the motives -- right motives -- always.'
. . .
   "Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never
seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was
fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face
the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror -- of an
intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of
desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete
knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision -- he cried
out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:
     " 'The horror! The horror!'
. . .
"Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a
futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself
-- that comes too late -- a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled
with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place
in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around,
without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire
of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid
skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of
your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a
greater riddle than some of us think it to be. I was within a hair's breadth
of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that
probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that
Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had
peeped over the edge myse1f, I understand better the meaning of his stare,
that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace
the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in
the darkness. He had summed up -- he had judged. 'The horror!' He was a
remarkable man. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it
had candor, it had conviction, it had a vibrating  note of revolt in its
whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth -- the strange
commingling of desire and hate. . . I like to think my summing-up would not
have been a word of careless contempt. Better his cry -- much better. It was
an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by
abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory! That
is why I have remained loyal to Kurtz to the last, and even beyond, when a
long time after I heard once more, not his own voice, but the echo of his
magnificent eloquence thrown to me from a soul as translucently pure as a
cliff of crystal.
   "No, they did not bury me, though there is a period of time which I
remember mistily, with a shuddering wonder, like a passage through some
inconceivable world that had no hope in it and no desire. I found myself back
in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the
streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous
cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and
silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose
knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure
they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was
simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in
the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous
flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had
no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in
restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.
. . .
"And the memory of what I heard him say afar there, with the horned shapes
stirring at my back, in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those
broken phrases came back to me, were heard again in their ominous and
terrifying simplicity. I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats,
the colossa1 scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the
tempestuous anguish of his soul. . . I rang the bell before a mahogany door
on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the
glassy panel -- stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning,
loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear the whispered cry, 'The horror!
The horror!'
====================================================

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