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TSE  July 2005

TSE July 2005

Subject:

Re: Meaning, shoes, ships and sealing wax. was: Re: TWL query ontheking my brother

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Sat, 16 Jul 2005 12:35:56 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (75 lines)

"Rickard A. Parker" wrote:
> 
> [clip]
> 
> I wonder what an "intention" means! [CLIP] my poems.
>                                                TSE

When I first read this post I did not notice the TSE at the end of the
paragraph. Are you quoting from Eliot? I took the "my poems" to refer to
poems by Rick Parker, and the paragraph to be Rick Parker's statement.
If it is by TSE could you provide a source.

Unpacking how much intention (Rick Parker's, that is) does and does not
enter into the correct construal of this post would lead us a merry
chase. As you say below, it _works_ in some sense whether the author is
seen as RP or as RP quoting TSE, and probably the meaning isn't changed
much by seeing it as a quote from Eliot -- but there IS some change. My
own previous post would probably have been somewhat different had I
noted the TSE the first time I read the post.

> I think that this line works just fine without connecting it to
> Marvell (though Marvell adds more to think about.

I'm not sure what you mean by "works" here, but I would roughly agree
that in some important sense the line does work whether or not one
catches the allusion. But that is not relevant to the question of
whether Eliot intended the echo of Marvell.* We do have a structure of
words here, and in tracing that structure we have to construe the word
"back," which is partly defined by its use in the earlier and famous
poem containing the whole phrase. (And incidentally, quantitative
expressions are both unavoidable and undesirable here: that is, while I
accept your expression "Marvell _adds_ more" as accurate, I also want to
object that construing the line is not an additive process; I assume you
would not disagree on this.)

Thinking out loud somewhat disjointedly . . . What Marvell's speaker
hears at his back is, first of all, a _chariot_; generalized to
banality, life is a race and death the pursuer. And _But_ in Marvell's
poem holds its full logical force (as Eliot notes in an essay, To His
Coy Mistress has -- loosely -- the form of a syllogism). Had we ... BUT
we don't . . . THEREFORE. How do we construe the "But" in Eliot's poem:
I don't see the logical form that Marvell's has. What is the cold blast
being contrasted to? And the second occurrence of the phrase, with a
change that calls attention to itself. "But at my back [CLIP] I hear" --
and the intervening phrase is "from time to time." That is wildly
different from the tone or content of Marvell's poem, it seems to me.
How do you comment on the difference? And would you agree that Eliot did
intend the contrast generated by the phrase "from time to time"?

(I had never paused on this before in the 55+ years since I first read
the poem, so clearly one can get a good deal out of TWL without pausing
on it. But among people claiming some familiarity with Eliot it seems
not inappropriate to pause on it now.)

And now I remember that "from time to time" is itself a possible echo. I
quote from memory, Rosalind speaking in As You Like It: "Men have died,
from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not from love." The
phrase grows on one (or at least on me). And if a commonplace such as
"from time to time" can reverberate, what about "and chuckle spread from
ear to ear"? "From ear to ear" is a trite expression in the context of
throat slit from ear to ear?

I stop arbitrarily. A general point: the kind of wandering that
impressionistic or egotistic readers seem to want is, actually, better
achieved by striving for a "correct construal" than by aiming at mere
subjective wandering.

Carrol

*I'm not interested in his internal psychic processes, which are forever
beyond our ken. He might have first oozed out some words about hearing
something behind him, which then reminded _him_ of Marvell, at which
point he revised the line to make the echo clear -- but that is the kind
of worry about intention that is uninteresting babble, and gives
"intention" a bad reputation as a critical concept.

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