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TSE  April 2003

TSE April 2003

Subject:

Re: Prufrock's "smoke"

From:

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Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Fri, 4 Apr 2003 04:02:25 EST

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (136 lines)

In a message dated 4/3/03 5:49:15 PM EST, Ken Armstrong writes:

> > (George) While I don't agree with the homosexual
>> reading either, I still don't see much merit
>> in your dismissing it out of hand.
>
> Hardly arguable. But if it is so, how sordid is the
> situation where the women are chitchatting
> about Michaelangelo? I mean, when my sordid friends
> and I are talking up some artistic rendering, it's
> never even remotetly connected to the Pieta
> or the Sistine Chapel.

Ken: My post on the "lonely men" is not the only reason I think there are
homosexual themes in Prufrock. Here's a past excerpt that addresses your
issue about Michelangelo (and other homosexual allusions), although probably
not to your satisfaction:

===========================

         In the room the women come and go
         Talking of Michelangelo.

Why Michelangelo? Why not (other than that it doesn't 'scan' poetically):

         In the room the women come and go
         Talking of Sir Isaac Newton (or Rembrandt or Monet, etc.)

Again, perhaps the reason is that Michelangelo is an artist known for his
passion about the male form and for his passion about the relationship
between man and God. Michelangelo's art explicitly reflected these passions,
and Prufrock's "love song" will explore these ideas as well. In that context,
a female can never be expected to completely comprehend the underlying forces
that drove a man like Michelangelo. So it isn't simply that the narrator
feels that women are too concerned with trivial matters to appreciate a great
artist; more fundamentally, it is that the narrator feels no woman can ever
fully understand certain fires that once burned in Michelangelo, that now
burn in him.
. . .
As he contemplates the mythical mermaids who heterosexual men found
irresistible, he knows that it is not the sirens that hold such power over
him:

       I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

       I do not think that they will sing to me.
======================

In a message dated 4/2/03 11:23:44 PM EST, Jennifer Formichelli writes:

> When discussions descend into a brawl
> over such nonsensical posts
> as 'Prufrock's Smoke', we all have
> something (and not something small) to regret.
> For we all, I think, have something
> (not something small) to lose.

   Let me agree at the outset that the text of a poem is the most important
thing to consider in any analysis of the poem!!!

   However, let me also quickly add that I do NOT think it is the ONLY thing
to consider. Other works by the author, biography of the author, etc, are all
fair game in trying to understand what the artist was trying to communicate.
As Eliot himself said (of Shakespeare):

"We do not understand Shakespeare from a single reading, and certainly not
from a single play. There is a relation between the various plays of
Shakespeare, taken in order; and it is a work of years to venture even one
individual interpretation of the pattern in Shakespeare's carpet".
-- TSE [Essay 'Dante' 1929] --

I'm trying to understand "the pattern in Eliot's carpet" every time I read
any of his poems, including Prufrock.

   To insist that the reader infer nothing that isn't found from a direct
quote from the text is deadly when reading Eliot. He thought across
boundaries of time, geography, and literary works, and the reader needs to
keep up with him. As an example, consider the ending of "Sweeney Among the
Nightingales:

  The nightingales are singing near
  The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

  And sang within the bloody wood
  When Agamemnon cried aloud,
  And let their liquid siftings fall
  To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.

In commenting on "Sweeney Among the Nightingales", Southam writes:

"Orestes was the son of King Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. His father was
murdered in a bath-house in mid-January, neither the time nor the place for
nightingales to be singing. When these anomalies were pointed out to him in
1958, Eliot claimed a wait of forty years "for someone to question the
presence of nightingales at the obsequies of Agamemnon". He went on to
explain that the wood he had in mind was the grove of the Furies at Colonus;
he called it "bloody" because of Agamemnon's murder (which was gruesomely
bloody, as he was hacked to death). In Oedipus at Colonus by the Athenian
dramatist Sophocles (495-406 BC) the grove of the Furies is described as
filled with singing nightingales."
(Southam, sixth edition, p 123)

Jennifer, if I had suggested that the ending of "Nightingales" came from
"Oedipus at Colonus" you would have been filled with intellectual rage. Yet
that's what TSE had in mind. He thought like that in composing his art. Deal
with it.

===========================


> The chief merit of such a list as this
> (and the one it largely possessed when
> I joined it in 1996) lies in the exchange
> of scholarly information and critical ideas
> and principles.
> . . .
> Yours, Jennifer

I know I've posted the following before, but I can't think of a better way of
expressing my reply to Jennifer's attitude:

The poet Randall Jarrell, in his essay on T.S. Eliot in "Fifty Years of
American Poetry" (p314-315), wrote:

"Won't the future say to us in utter astonishment: 'But did you really
believe that all those things about objective correlatives, classicism, the
tradition, applied to HIS poetry? Surely you must have seen that he was one
of the most subjective and daemonic poets who ever lived, the victim and
helpless beneficiary of his own inexorable compulsions, obsessions? . . .
But for you, of course, after the first few years, his poetry existed
undersea, thousands of feet below that deluge of exegesis, explication,
source hunting, scholarship, and criticism that overwhelmed it. And yet how
bravely and personally it survived, its eyes neither coral nor
mother-of-pearl but plainly human, full of anguish!' "

-- Steve --

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