I agree that the 150 steps analogy says little about the poem, but I also
wonder, Steve, about the assumption that a poem is a structure always
consciously contrived for very conscious purposes. I don't think most
poets describe what they do that way, and certainly Eliot suggested very
different processes in many places, not just the "rhythmic grumbling"
comment. I think very often the words emerge or voices speak and only
afterward does the poet find some form or edit what has been discovered.
In any case, I do not think Eliot plotted out clues to a puzzle we are to
interpret. The notes to TWL, for example, have been as misleading as
helpful, as Eliot noted himself. If there was a "plan," it could not have
been initially Weston, since so much of the poem was written before her
book was even published. And there are many, many sources quite as
prominient in the poem as her book--Dante, for example, or Eliot's
experience. Mary Hutchinson, when she heard Eliot read it very soon after
publication, said it was Tom's autobiography. My point is that it exceeds
the bounds of any planned "meaning" or "intent." That is what art at its
best always does and why it keeps providing "meaningS" in new times
and places for new readers.
That is not to say Eliot did not edit and frame and choose or even intend.
He clearly meant for Dante allusions to be noted, for exampl. He could
not, however, expect to determine what those allusions would evoke or
"mean" to everyone.
I have been taking a playwriting class for fun, and I have been fascinated at
the way characters take over. Two of mine just shut down in a funk if I try
to organize them and impose a direction. If I just write, they start talking
and say what they want. I know many writers find this to be the case. I
don't think Eliot was really able to be the scriptwriter, actor, director, and
producer of all the voices that spoke in and to him.
Date sent: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 22:48:12 EST
Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Needing assistance with "Sweeney Among the Nightingales"
To: [log in to unmask]
In a message dated 2/17/03 6:03:59 PM EST, [log in to unmask] writes:
> You can't learn dancing by following 150 steps.
In other words, since you haven't put in enough thought to form a coherent
analysis of the poem, you'll pretend to understand it and dismiss
legitimate questions as "150 steps".
Sorry, I'm not buying that sloppy thinking.
Eliot's poems are carefully, masterfully constructed. If you find yourself
unable to explain why a certain word was used (or even why a certain type
of punctuation was used), it's a good bet that you don't understand the
-- Steve --