In a message dated 10/4/03 11:16:56 PM EST, [log in to unmask] writes:
> The "should" in this line is not, as far as I can see, "ought" in the
> present tense; it is the past tense of "shall." What happens, I think,
> especially given the subjunctive mood of the whole, is that the tense
> shift is from the past perfect to the past. Thus "I would have had. . ."
> "expresses a conditional statement" about a past already finished
> at an earlier point, so all those lines are about what might have been
> done but was not. But "should" is the past indicative of "shall," and
> so means that under those conditions [if he had done the other in
> the past] the narrator [would] find something; it would happen then:
> "I should find."
I had not considered this reading, and it's certainly a valid way of looking
at the poem. However, respectfully, let me make the case as to why I think
"should find" means "ought to find" in the poem.
The scene that the narrator describes in the first stanza (and continues to
describe in the opening lines of the second stanza) definitely do NOT have a
tone of "light and deft". They are dramatic and awful. The abandonment of the
woman by the man is described as "As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
/As the mind deserts the body it has used.". Pretty ugly stuff. I do not see
that the narrator would then add, "If I had him leave like that, I **shall
find** that the departure is light and deft, simple and faithless". Rather, if the
man leaves like THAT, the departure is gut-wrenching.
In other words, there is a big shift in tone between the first five lines and
the second four lines of the second stanza. Visually, the shift is demarcated
by the very short line, "I should find", a line that calls attention to
itself (by its shortness). Eliot seems to repeatedly leave **visual** clues that
some shift in tone or meaning is about to occur in his poems, like the dots in
Prufrock that separate main scenes.
In the second stanza, the emotional, 'heavy' tone in the first five lines is
evoked with words and phrases like "leave", "stand and grieve", "torn and
bruised", "deserts", and "the body it has used.". The 'emotionless' tone in the
last four lines is evoked with words and phrases like, "incomparably light and
deft", "Simple", "faithless", "smile", "shake of the hand."
Taken together, I think the narrator has shifted thoughts, from contemplating
how he "would have" staged the abandonment if he were a God-like figure
directing everything in a melodramatic manner, versus the reality of how he REALLY
is planning on breaking up with his lover, in an emotionless way that is
"incomparably light and deft" and protects HIM from a emotional scene that would
make him feel like a worm.
> It has never occurred to me to read it as "ought to," though that is
> another meaning of "should." But I do not think it fits the context
> because there is no future tense at all. The narrator says, in the
> last stanza, that if he had done that, he "should have lost"
> something. He does not mean he ought not to have lost it: it never
> did happen. Presumably because what he "would have done" he
> did not do. In any case, at the end, we are left with speculation
> only, about something that never did happen and is not happening
> and is not expected to happen.
Nancy, I think there is "hidden, missing action" between stanzas two and
three. Namely, in stanza two the real breakup **hasn't happened yet**; then,
before stanza three starts, the breakup has taken place "off-stage" of the poem
(that is, we don't get to see, in poem-lines, the real breakup as it unfolded).
But, in stanza three, we DO get to see the narrator's reflections on the
breakup now that it did happen. Upon reflection, he wishes he had handled it
differently. He wishes that he "should have lost a gesture and a pose" during the
time he was breaking the news to her that he was leaving.. His cogitations
that "still amaze/The troubled midnight and the noon's repose" are about this: he
THOUGHT he was going to mitigate his feeling like a worm by having an
emotionless breakup that was "light and deft". However, the real breakup was
traumatic anyway ("she turned away"), that is, his plan to protect himself didn't
work. He ends the poem feeling just as much of a worm as Aeneas, even though he
tried a "light and deft" abandonment scene in real life. That's the irony. He
ended up feeling just as awful with his "light and deft" breakup as if he had
staged a dramatic breakup (per the opening twelve lines)..
Anyway, as always with TSE. there's lots of room to discuss what he meant,
and I hope I've made a case for an alternative reading to the one you outlined.
-- Steve --