Ken Armstrong wrote:
> This is an unfair criticism.
Rick Parker responded:
> Let's be fair to Spender too. He wrote that Eliot was not helpful in
> explaining his poetry. He didn't indicate whether he wanted Eliot to
> be helpful or not. In his book Spender prefaced his story with
> "Here is perhaps the place to relate some anecdotes ..."
I was wrong.
I stumbled across the part of the article that Spender wrote that he
quoted in his book. In the article, as opposed to his book, he
**DID** criticize Eliot on his reply to the "three white leopards"
question. I quote two paragraphs of his below in full.
In the second paragraph Spender is not quite correct about the reason
for Eliot adding the notes. It was not done at the Woolf's request.
Very early on in the draft editing phase Horace Liveright was
concerned about TWL's length. I include a portion of an essay by
Lawrence Rainey below in support of this.
Even Eliot could be less than helpful if one tried to "explicate"
him. In 1929, there was a meeting of the Oxford Poetry Club
at which he was the guest of honour. Before it, some of us
arranged a separate meeting with Father M. C. D'Arcy, with
whom we studied the text of Ash-Wednesday, just published.
Some points were not cleared up, and at the later meeting an
undergraduate asked Eliot: "Please, sir, what do you mean by
the line: 'Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree'?"
Eliot looked at him and said: "I mean, 'Lady, three white
leopards sat under a juniper tree.' . . ."
This was not altogether a fair reply, indeed it was flirtatious,
considering that Eliot had surely opened himself to this kind of
question about his poetry with the notes to The Waste Land.
Yet later he gave as his reason for adding those notes that Leonard
and Virginia Woolf considered the poem rather short for the
volume they were printing, so he added them; much as he explained
to me once that some of the poems in his first volume were
only there because the book seemed so short. In the notes to The
Waste Land, there is a good example of the kind of interpretation
leading away from the poetic image to the literary reference which
Eliot seemed to be taking exception to when he mildly snubbed
the undergraduate at the Poetry Club. One note tells us:
". . . the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the
Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from
Ferdinand Prince of Naples. . . ."
T.S. Eliot: The Man and His Work
Allen Tate ed.
New York: Delacorte Press (1966)
The masculine publisher [Horave Liveright] had arrived at an
opportune moment. Joyce was looking for an American publisher of
Ulysses, and Eliot would need a publisher for his unfinished poem. On
3 January 1922, Liveright had an extraordinary dinner with Joyce, Eliot,
and Pound to discuss a milestone publishing program. The encounter
was productive. With Joyce he agreed to publish Ulysses and to advance
$1,000 against royalties. To Pound he offered a contract guaranteeing
$500 annually for two years in addition to translator's fees for any work
from French agreed upon by both parties. To Eliot he offered a $150
advance against 15 percent royalties and promised publication in the
fall list. Liveright was nervous only about its length; in a brief note
dated 11 January, a week before Eliot had left Paris, he expressed his
concern that the poem might not be long enough. "I'm disappointed
that Eliot's material is as short. Can't he add anything?" he pleaded
"The Price of Modernism: Publishing The Waste Land"
The Waste Land
Michael North ed.
New York: W.W. Norton (2001)
Also found in:
T.S. Eliot: The Modernist in History
Ronald Bush ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1991)