Nancy Gish wrote:
>What in either section of this in any way suggests it is "really" about
>something else, and if that is the case, what is any language ever
>I think in any reading, one must start with what is in the language, and
>then turn to other implications when there are tropes sending one off to
>other possible meanings. Here I find nothing at all that suggests any
>reason to read it as not "about" what it is about but as "about"
>something it has no words for.
Nancy, I think I understand your concern. I often find that students
will interpret a poem rather freely, and I caution them that they
must be able to find something in the text of the poem, the language
of the poem, to justify their interpretation. As you say, " Poems
may be about many things, but they are not about anything at all."
As it happens, though, I never said (I wonder how many posts on this
list include the words "I never said..."?) that "The Love Song of St.
Sebastian" is "about" writing poems or that what it says isn't what
it's "really" about. I'll assume that the quote marks you put around
"about" and "really" are intended to give them your emphasis rather
than indicate quotation of words I didn't use. I did use the word
"metaphor," but it's my understanding of metaphor that, as Carrol
puts it, "the imagery counts as itself _even_ when it aims towards
some other meaning."
My post was not an attempt to devise some benign substitute for the
poem's explicit sexual violence, but to speculate (hence the "I
wonder if" and the "If so") about the identity or identities of the
poem's word "you." In the Sidney poem we know the "you" is Stella
and in the Donne poem we know the "you" is God, but in Eliot's poem
we don't know who "you" is. The poem's imagery fashions the "you" as
a person, and a reader might decide that that's all the "you" is.
However, given the tendency poets have to personify that which is not
human, it seemed to me at least possible that the poem was conveying
something more than just what it makes explicit. Note: "more than,"
not "something else than." Multiple layers, not mutually exclusive
ones. To say of an Eliot poem, even an early one, that "There is
nothing IN the poem except an image of murder and S & M" is to make a
drastically restrictive statement about the possibilities of the poem
and what it may have to offer.
Still, we agree that the possibilities are not unlimited. So what in
the language of the poem led me to speculate that if "you" may be
taken as more than just a person, that "more than" is a poem, or a
body of poetry? Carrol says that "there simply is nothing in the
text, as Nancy argues, to point towards 'beautiful, lyrical, Romantic
poems' being the tenor" - but I think there is, and that something is
the title. "The Love Song of" announces the genre of the poem as
something lyrical and romantic, something in the tradition of "A Song
of Love" by Sidney Lanier, or "Sonnets from the Portuguese" by
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or "She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron,
etc. The list of such lovey-dovey, often beautiful poems is
immensely long - they're in English, they're in French, they're in
German - and for a young poet trying to do something new and
unsentimental, they're as sticky as treacle. So what does young Mr.
Eliot do? He shockingly pairs "The Love Song of" with the name of a
pious and supposedly asexual Christian saint. Then he does it with
another Christian saint. He employs brutal imagery in the body of
these "love songs," thereby redefining or attempting to redefine the
genre for himself into something as tortured and harrowing as love
itself can sometimes be. Years later, he will attempt a different
route for escaping from lyricism by crafting his quatrain poems in
accordance with the hard, chiseled aesthetic of Gautier.
My speculations perhaps make too much of too little, but they do
"start with what is in the language."
Carrol, you quite appropriately quote "much later lines of Eliot, in
which divine grace is the tenor, the bloodiness of surgery the
vehicle," but in fact violent images permeate Eliot's work, from
Prufrock "sprawling on a pin / ... wriggling on the wall" to Thomas
Becket getting murdered in the cathedral; from an undersea current
"picking" the bones of Phlebas the Phoenician to Harry in _The Family
Reunion_ remembering pushing his wife overboard in the middle of the
Atlantic. TWL refers to the rape of Philomela, "by the barbarous
king / So rudely forced"; "Animula" refers to "Boudin, blown to
pieces." In "Portrait of a Lady," a "dull tom-tom" hammers in the
speaker's brain; in "Mr. Apollinax," the head of the title character
rolls under a chair. All these and more are part of what the speaker
in "Preludes" calls "The thousand sordid images / Of which your soul