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TSE  July 2005

TSE July 2005

Subject:

Re: Eliot on Eliot

From:

Will Gray <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Fri, 29 Jul 2005 12:52:45 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (237 lines)

Jennifer, Michael and all,
     I wish I had the time over the past weeks to keep
up with what appears to be a wonderful conversation,
but haven't. So please forgive me if what I add has
already been said.
[I have kept both Michael's and Jennifer's emails
included, since they are what I'm discussing here]

Michael, I have almost always appreciated your
comments, but stating that "Eliot's not a good Eliot
critic" as if it were general knowledge is a bit
facile. Certainly there were times when Eliot as
critic was less than forthcoming (the "three white
jaguars" anecdote leaps to mind), and there were even
times when as a critic he was unusually playful (I
would suggest that his notes were not entirely
'citations,' to use Jennifer's terms, and notes such
as those to lines 357 and 360 at least appear
disingenuous). But those times when Eliot wrote
officially as critic, in those places Jennifer
mentioned, and some others, he is an astute critic of
his own work, especially when a lapse of time gives
him better clarity.

And Jennifer and Marcia are completely in the right
regarding Eliot's prizes. The poem was not written in
order to receive any prize; Eliot simply felt he had
to write, and particularly a long poem. It may even
have been the poem he imagined as "Descent from the
Cross" as early as 1914. But especially in the years
preceding THE WASTE LAND's publication, his letters
reflect his restlessness toward writing. Here are some
examples: 
"I _hope_ to write, when I have more detachment...I
have a few ideas, and much work to do" (to Conrad
Aiken, 10 Jan 1916)
"I often feel that J.A.P. ["Prufrock"] is a swan song,
but I never mention the fact because Vivien is so
exceedingly anxious that I shall equal it, and would
be bitterly disappointed if I do not." (to Henry
Eliot, 6 Sept 1916)
"When I can earn all the money I need out of one
thing, and be able to read and write in the rest of my
time withotu thinking of the financial reward for what
I do, then I shall be satisfied." (to his mother, 2
Sept 1917)
"I wish that I had enough material for a volume of
suitable size for the American public...I have only
written half a dozen small poems in the last year, and
the last I have been unable to finish." (to John
Quinn, 4 March 1918)
"I am trying to do some writing now...and trying to
write verse again" (to his mother, 10 May 1918)
"I am thinking of getting together a collection of
prose and verse to come out in America in the spring"
(to his mother, 7 July 1918)
"I have a book ready for Knopf, not a very big
one...It is not the book I should have liked...But it
is time I had a volume in America, and this is the
only way to do it" (to John Quinn, 8 Sept 1918)
"In October I shall be ready for a little mountain
air, after I have finished a little poem which I am at
present engaged upon." (to Dorothy Pound, 22 May 1921)
"I am trying to finish a poem -- about 800 or 100
lines. Je ne sais pas ci ca tient." (To Sydney
Waterlow, 19 Dec 1921)
These are typical of the years leading up to the
poem's publication. Yes, he was interested in
financial stability, which is one of the reasons he
wanted to work for Navy Intelligence, and why he
couldn't leave the bank very easily or readily, and
why he and Pound eventually began pursuing Lady
Rothermere and her money.

 Just as slight proof that Eliot wasn't going after
the Dial:
In a letter to John Quinn (21 Sept 1921) he says he
wishes Pound had received it
And in a letter to Gilbert Seldes, he recounts first
hearing that he had received it. A friend
congratulated him, and Eliot "expressed astonishment"
before hearing how the confidential news had leaked
out.
If there is anything that the correspondence just
before TWL's publication shows (and esp. between Eliot
and Pound), it is that Eliot was restless to _get the
poem published_ at all. The editing wore him out, and
it is my opinion that several of the last changes he
let slip by without rebuttal because of his desire to
see his poem finally published. 
If you've read the letters from this era, you'll
recall that the major pursuit for finances was from
"Bel Esprit" and the Bank, not from poetry or prizes.
I think this may be a misunderstanding on your part.
Perhaps I'm wrong, and would welcome correction if I
have misspoke.

I'm sure you're also aware that condensing the
discussion of the poem's notes to only "notes as
filler" is a bit of an oversight, too. Eliot himself
gave various accounts:
*At the University of Minnesota (1956), he claimed he
added them "with a view to spiking the guns of critics
of my earlier poems who had accused me of plagiarism"
*When he had written to John Quinn (Jun 1922) he
called TWL "a long poem...which, with notes that I am
adding, will make a book of 30 or 40 pages."
*Of course, when the poem was first printed in its
periodical publications, there were no notes. So what
does this earlier remark mean? When Eliot did "add"
them, it was purportedly because Boni and Liveright
had "wanted a larger volume and the notes were the
only available matter." (
*But this is not even quite accurate. Pound later told
Valerie in a discussion about the poem's cuts, "He
should have ignored me. Why didn't he restore some of
the cancelled passages when Liveright wanted more
pages?"
*In the printed version of the U of M lecture cited
above, he also wrote that the notes were "a remarkable
exposition of bogus scholarship." 
*He also told Arnold Bennett that the notes were "not
more of a skit than some things in the poem itself."
Anyway, it's a bit more complicated than your brief
statement might suggest.

Hopefully these bits of source material can be helpful
to your conversation here.

Best wishes,
Will

--- Jennifer Formichelli <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Michael,
> 
> 	I liked to query your statement that 'Eliot's not a
> good Eliot critic. 
> Most of his commentary on his work is suspect at
> best.'  This raises 
> first the question of whether or not the Notes to
> the Waste Land 
> constitute commentary (annotations) or citations
> (informational or 
> bibliographical notes), and therefore whether they
> can rightly be 
> described as critical commentary on the poem itself.
> I would not think 
> so, but others may have different ideas.
> 
> 	Second, there is the question of Eliot's comments
> on his work; for 
> instance, those in 'The Frontiers of Criticism'
> (1956), 'Poetry and 
> Drama' (1951), and 'To Criticise the Critic' (1961),
> as well as remarks 
> in his Letters. Many of these remarks I find
> illuminating and genuine: 
> for instance, Eliot on allusions and his borrowings
> from Elizabethan 
> dramatists, Eliot on Dante and poetic method and
> borrowings from 
> authors remote in time and language, and so on.
> 
> 	Third, there is the way in which Eliot's literary
> criticism--and I 
> don't think many will deny that Eliot is a fine
> critic--illuminates and 
> informs his poems. Eliot was a great poet-critic,
> and we find a good 
> deal in his criticism--as he later tells us in 'The
> Frontiers of 
> Criticism'--that is relevant to his poems. Notably,
> perhaps, Eliot was 
> a wonderful quoter, almost invariably selecting the
> finest parts of a 
> work in his quotations, many of which are taken from
> works, even from 
> the same scenes and moments, whence come allusions
> in the poems.
> 
> 	On another matter, I agree with Marcia that Eliot
> was not competing 
> per say for the Dial prize, but it was rather
> arranged that the prize 
> (in its first year then, I think) would be given to
> him for The Waste 
> Land. The amount in 1922 was on the order of about
> $2000 USD , I 
> believe, or what at the time would have been about
> L500 sterling. Eliot 
> made quite a nice salary from Lloyds in 1922, and
> that amount would 
> probably have been about double his year's pay. I
> believe he writes in 
> his letters, however, about why those funds were
> sorely needed when he 
> received them (which again was not, I think, the
> purpose of publishing 
> the poem).
> 
> Yours, Jennifer
> 
> On Wednesday, July 27, 2005, at 09:55  AM,
> [log in to unmask] wrote:
> 
> > Hey everyone.  I'm sure someone has pointed this
> out but here goes --
> >
> > You have to remember that Eliot was publishing TWL
> [at the _specific_ 
> > time it was publised] in order to make money on
> prizes -- he made 
> > something on the order of 6000 dollars in prizes
> from the Dial and 
> > Criterion.  The published, non-magazine version --
> the one that 
> > includes the notes -- was simply a way to earn a
> little more revenue 
> > and give the poem more distribution than the Dial
> or Criterion could 
> > offer.  He added the notes as filler.  I think
> another thing we have 
> > to consider is that Eliot's not a good Eliot
> critic.  Most of his 
> > commentary on his own work is suspect at best. 
> >
> > Cheers,
> > Michael
> >
> 


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