I see the parallel imagery with "Preludes," but Eliot used and reused
and reused images throughout his work. They are not just repetitions
but re-creations, I think.
I also do not see how this brings us any closer to a reason for reading
the poem as symbolic of the struggle to write. I think it is about what
In any case, Eliot talks about the poem in a letter to Conrad Aiken (25
July 1914) for what its worth--pp 44 and 46-7 in the Letters. He
suggests that the poem is about the feelings of a St. Sebastian and
raises the question of homosexuality in order to deny it.
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>The problem (which I call lack of a control) is that there is nothing
>either the Preludes or in Sebastian to link the one to the other
Oh, but there is. First and foremost is that they were written by
the same person during roughly the same period. Secondly, there are
images or tropes introduced in the Sebastian poem that Eliot reworks
Sebastian: I would come with a lamp in the night
Preludes: And then the lighting of the lamps
Sebastian: To follow where your feet are white
Preludes: Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
Sebastian: In the darkness toward your bed
Preludes: Sitting along the bed's edge
Sebastian: And when the morning came
Preludes: The morning comes to consciousness
Sebastian: Your ears curl back in a certain way
Preludes: You curled the papers from your hair
Were I writing an article instead of an e-mail, I would discuss his
reworking of these images.
Third, there are the lines from "Preludes" that I quoted in an
earlier post: "The thousand sordid images / Of which your soul was
constituted." The images in "The Love Song of St. Sebastian" are
nothing if not sordid. That Eliot thinks this sordidness has
something to do with "soul" may be inferred from the fact that he
makes the person who fantasizes these images a Christian saint.
>Eliot's abandoning of the scribble leaves us no grounds
>for assigning genre [...]
But we don't assign it a genre; that task is done by its title, which
identifies its genre as "love song."
>It would be just as tenable to assign it the genre of a patient's free
>association on the Freudian analyst's couch.
The fact that Eliot gave the piece a title at all automatically
differentiates it from a patient's free association.
>"the reader" figures awkwardly in Debra's construal because the poem
>never published: it has (had) no reader but Eliot himself!
>Eliot's abandoning of the scribble leaves us no grounds for
>assigning [...] _any_ particular relationship between writer
>and (virtual or actual) reader.
It may well be that "the reader" figures awkwardly in my construal,
but if it does, the fault lies with me and not with the fact that the
poem was never published. Before a poem or an attempted poem is
abandoned -- that is, while it is still in the process of being
composed -- it does assume a reader. If I were to trash this e-mail
now without sending it and you were to retrieve this e-mail from my
trash, you would not suppose that it had been composed without any
notion of a reader just because it had been abandoned as worthless
scribble. The grounds for talking about the reader in Eliot's poem
are the same grounds for all talk about a piece of writing: the words
the author wrote.
>So why can't
>one hypothesize that the poem was unfinished because it was _only_ a
>random (perhaps merely personal) scribble which Eliot was unable to
>to his poems of the period. If he wasn't, then why should we be able
I don't know if the poem was unfinished, or finished and deemed not
worthy of publication, but I also don't know that Eliot was "unable
to link [it] to his poems of the period." It's just as likely that
he declined to publish it because he recognized its inferior quality,
whether or not he believed it had thematic links to his other poems.
Or maybe he had some other motive for not publishing it. Whatever
that motive may have been, I take your point that since he decided
not to put the thing he wrote into public view, we the public ought
to respect his decision. There is, I think, a solid ethical basis
for refusing to poke into that which was not intended for our eyes.
But to be entirely consistent, one ought never to publish or read
any writing that its author choses not to publish, whatever it is --
an unfinished or discarded poem, a casual note to the milkman, an
intimate letter to a lover. One ought not to publish or read Emily
Dickinson's poems ("Publication - is the Auction / of the Mind of
Man") or the work by Kafka that Max Brod, his literary executor,
refused to burn. One ought not to publish or read Eliot's private
correspondence with his mother, his brother, his friends, his
associates. One ought not to peruse manuscripts of drafts, exhume
juvenalia, or write biographies that probe into personal matters. I
suppose the question is: are these violations of privacy and of the
right to self-determination justified by the fact that they sometimes
help us better understand and assess the accomplishments that made
the person famous?