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TSE  October 2004

TSE October 2004

Subject:

Re: {SPAM?} Death by Water: a reply

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Sat, 23 Oct 2004 01:56:29 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (99 lines)

Dear Jennifer,

I can't put my hand at this moment on my TWL copy with all the letters
in it. But the main "fret" I had in mind was the one Rick Parker
quoted. I also do not think the Petronius is necessarily superior or
more rich: it depends how you interpret the poem. H of D was a major
influence, and I think Eliot was right that it was "somewhat
elucidative." It could be read in ways that make it more rich than
Petronius, whatever that is worth. That is also one "change" he seemed
unhappy with but kept. I have to find the right copy to give more.

I don't know how you use the term "edit," but the cutting of about 2/3
of the poem comes under that activity for me. It is not simply supplying
new text. And it was Pound who suggested the idea of unity when he said
(I'm paraphrasing) that it now ran clearly from the beginning to the
end. Contra Ken's misreading of my earlier post, I never said Pound
created, or composed, or produced, or whatever, the poem. It was a
collaboration in which Eliot supplied the text and Pound much--even
most--of the final form. Call it whatever you like.

I also do not see it as having any particular unity--a perception, by
the way, shared by Eliot in later life on more than one occasion. I
also do not see why there is any reason to think unity would be
necessary for it to be a brilliant poem, which it is. I think it is
brilliant and not unified. "Unity" is not, in itself, a value despite
having been claimed as one in some theories.

Pound's own account of why he cut things was not just to avoid being
overly long either. He pointed out that Eliot was trying to do what
Pope had done already and if he couldn't do better not to do it at all.
Re: Fresca. That at least was a blessing to have cut. Pound's
arrangement can be seen as having made possible all those endless
readings that DID affirm a kind of narrative, one that is really only
partially discernable in the 5th section, based ostensibly on Weston.
And Eliot sent generations of critics (as he later noted) chasing after
an equivalent to the "mythic method" he saw in Joyce. But there is no
comparable section by section parallel as Joyce did it. There is,
however, in V, a landscape with someone traveling over it and having
some of the situations of Weston's account of Grail questors. But it is
not there in the other sections except by pretty much forcing it onto
hyacinths and drownings.
Best,
Nancy

  I think it's rather something that Pound wrote so _little_ on the
drafts; mostly just ticking or crossing out lines, and that humourous
comment, 'You, Tiresias...' I am not depreciating Pound's editing
efforts; I am merely arguing that Eliot, aged 34 in 1922 and with
_Prufrock and Other Observations_ behind him, as well as Ara Vos Prec,
which he knew to be good (he wrote so much to his brother Henry in
1919), was the one who accepted and rejected suggestions, and made
changes. This is a crucial point, because the reference to Pound's
editing is not, I think, a type of shorthand. I think it is the work of
the collaborative subconscious, that the drafts make it somehow seem,
if you don't look too closely, that Pound actually edited TWL. He
didn't.

Second. Nancy, if you argue that 'there were cases where Eliot seemed
unhappy with the changes but took them anyway'--besides changing
'changes' here to 'suggestions'--, then you need to provide us with
specific examples from the drafts and letters. I look forward to
seeing these.

Regarding the epigraph, Eliot did not fret about it; where does he
fret? Pound writes to him about it, and Eliot replies he has replaced
it with the Petronius, 'or something like it' (there's a cryptic
comment for you). And you will recall that Pound almost withdrew his
insinuation about the epigraph all together: 'Who I am to grudge him
his laurel crown?' , telling Eliot to 'do as you like'. And he did: he
chose the far superior, far more rich, Petronius. If you like, I can,
at some point, when I don't have to go to work, describe exactly why I
think the epigraph Eliot selected is far superior to the one he
expunged.

Next, we have the question of 'textual unity'. Dodgy stuff, that. Can
you explain what you mean by that? It is one thing when Eliot uses this
term--not always clearly, mind you--, but when others use it about him
I think they have a responsibility to define it. Does 'unity' imply TWL
is supposed to tell a story? Why? Poems are not beholden to narrative,
and Eliot often gained his edge by suggesting a narrative, or alluding
to one, without creating one himself (ie, Prufrock, Sweeney); the poems
have no further context outside of themselves, unlike novels.

Further, how do the separate parts of the poem-- the internal section
numbers, title, epigraph, punctuation, allusions, etc-- fit into this
unity? And how, most of all, could such a unity be 'constructed' by
excision?

Once we've got through with that, I shall write back about what I think
of Death by Water more generally, in response to Will's request.
Incidentally, I think Pound's main reason for cutting most of the
section was his sense that the poem was already too long. At least,
that's what he says.

Many thanks to Will, Marcia, and Nancy for their kind words in defense
of me . Newfangled Jennifer. If only. When we get older, we do not get
any younger.

Yours, Jennife

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