I don't know where it comes from, but my students seem to start out with
this idea, that a poem (unlike anything else, apparently), is "about"
whatever one thinks it is. I point out that if you think TWL is about
the joys of rural life in a pastoral landscape with cows and shows that
nature will teach you about god, you are, in fact, just wrong.
The words on the page are also involved in what a poem is about; they
are not just a point of departure for anything on one's mind.
>>> [log in to unmask] 07/14/05 9:06 PM >>>
George Carless wrote:
> Why? If this were the case, how should we converse?
When speech is embedded in practice one can know with certainty whether
an utterance has been construed correctly. "Do not hold on to this metal
object after pulling the pin. Throw it forwards, not back towards the
other men." The fact that all concerned are still alive and whole after
the completion of the operation demonstrates the correctness of the
construal of the utterance. Success in this sort of communication is a
chief grounds of our belief that _some_ sort of shared understanding is
possible even when there is no check of practice.
And you are correct, that we can converse at all about TWL shows that we
share a number of construals in common.
"After the torchlight red on sweaty faces" does _not_ mean that
earthmovers have buried the Wrigley Building under peagreen grave stones
with purple etching. "Red" names a color rather than a distance between
planets. "Sweaty" indicates one or more of the following: (a) high
temperature (b) intense physical activity; (3) strong emotion (probably
negative: e.g., anxiety. We can get into arguments about these (and
perhaps a few other) alternative construals of the word, but if someone
says it means the faces are non-animate and consist of a combination of
titanium and hydrogen, we don't argue with him/her but ignore whatever
he/she has to say and go about our business.
Even with TWL, the Cantos, Winter's Tale, Paradise Regained, the extent
to which we can have shared understandings far surpasses questions of
interpretation on which we disagree.
How should I
> respond to anything you have to say? And how should we evaluate any
> piece of writing - merely by how it resonates upon our eardrums?