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TSE  July 2007

TSE July 2007

Subject:

Re: Water in TWL--why?

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Tue, 31 Jul 2007 15:42:36 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (154 lines)

I would like to go back to something Carrol once wrote about.  Unless
one has some overall conception of "The Waste Land," talking about one
image or another in isolation is impossible.  For example, Leavis saw it
as an attempt to represent an inclusive human consciousness. Many early
reviewers saw it as the representation of post-war despair, devoid of
all belief.  It was later that critics (especially Cleanth Brooks in
"The Waste Land: Critique of the Myth") saw it as an early longing for
Christian faith. That was reading with hindsight not only because the
poem is very ambiguous but because Eliot himself said he had considered
becoming a Buddhist at the time he wrote it.  I need not point out that
for James Miller it was a eulogy for Verdenal and a particular lost love
and for Koestenbaum it was a collaboration in hysteria.  There are good
arguments for all those views.  The reading of it through sources is
probably most complete in Grover Smith.  But on this list it seems
always to be assumed that it is, first, about the move to Christian
faith and, second, a collection of disparate symbols or images to be
individually traced to a source or to a definite "meaning."  Clearly it
can be read that way because it has been for decades, but it is not a
given and it calls for some overall framework.  Yet it continually
discussed here by some on the list as if there were no need even to
provide a reason or basis for such assumptions.

One way I have seen it, for example, is, not as a post-war poem, but as
war poem.  And not just because of the many images of the war running
through it but because of the mood of anxiety, despair, and a particular
horror Eliot described in several letters as part of living during the
war.  This does not remove the separate images--many of which, in any
case, were written before he ever began the poem (the woman with long
black hair, for example, appears in a poem from at least as early as
1914.)  So, interestingly, do the images of the "frosty vigil kept in .
. . withered gardens."  His relation to religion seems not to have been
very stable before the late 20s.  But the impact of living in England
while the war was going on was devastating, by his letters.  I do not
see any genuine "plot" of developing faith or specific Christian vision
as explaining the poem.

Water, for example, can be linked to the Thames in "Epithalamion" or
lusty nights or Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS or whatever.  But these all
lead in different directions.  In any case, it does not fit Eliot's
description of an objective correlative: when given, it does not evoke a
specific emotion.  Whether Madame Sosostris can truly predict anything
would seem to depend on how one reads the poem as a whole:  does she
function to introduce all the main themes--as many have said--or to
reveal a degraded and vulgar spiritualism in a world devoid of the real
thing or to serve as a warning or to aptly reveal something she does not
herself consciously know or a combination of some or all?  Interpreting
the poem as a whole calls for some answer; talking about her in a vacuum
does not.  Irony, after all, can only exist in relation; nothing is
ironic unless there is another potential reality against which it is
understood.  So if she is "ironic," how?  In relation to what?  Why?

It would be interesting if there were a discussion of a broader way to
approach the poem in which particular passages were understandable.  I
do not care at all if anyone agrees with my views or not, but if the
poem were a fusion of sermon and esoteric crossword puzzle, in which the
reader is expected to find the word from clues and always end up with a
recognition of the same thing, it would never have had the impact it
has.
Cheers,
Nancy



Dear CR: If in one passage of the poem water is a metaphor for lust, and
later he prays for water, for what is he praying? Water's referent is so
ambiguous as to be impossible to discern with any certainty, and I see
this as a flaw in the poem. If Phlebas refers at least partly to Eliot's
dear friend Jean Verdenal than the drowned sailor represents a force
that is destructive of  emotional satisfaction. I can see Eliot
believing that lust is destructive of the spiritual life, but why would
he yearn for it later? Or is the poem asserting that a certain quantity
of water is destructive, but a little bit is good? Then we want to know
just how much is too much; that would seem to be the whole point. Drips
and drops are salvation but the sea is death? But Eliot generally the
sea as restorative. You see the problem. Diana


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From:  Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:  "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To:  [log in to unmask]
Subject:  Re: Water in TWL
Date:  Tue, 31 Jul 2007 10:53:50 -0700



Diana,
   
 
   
Here's a justification of Kate Troy's comment, "Isn't it  simply 
   
'irony' that she predicts death by water in the midst of a drought."
   
 
   
In TWL "drought" is an objective correlative of the springs of love 
   
(and consequently of life) gone dry.
   
 
   
And "water" is an objective correlative of either love or lust
   
-- depending upon how 
pure or impure the metaphoric water is -- 
   
"Sweet Thames" or the river that sweats "Oil and tar".
   
Incidentally, "the waters of Leman" is a phrase associated with
   
the fires of lust", Leman also meaning one who is loved illicitly, 
   
especially a mistress. (Manju Jain, TS Eliot's Selected Poems,
   
OUP, 1998)
   
 
   
In the wasteland context then, Kate's statement implies : 
   
Madame Sosostris predicts death by water -- a death by 
   
the waters of 
lust as evident in 'The Fire Sermon'. 
   
She predicts such a death in the midst of a "drought", 
   
i.e. in the midst of an emotional and spiritual drought 
   
when the wellsprings of love have gone dry ("And voices 
   
singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells").
   
 
   
Cheers!
   
 
   
CR
   
 
   
P.S.  Viewed in this light, Madame Sosostris is a clairvoyante, indeed! 
   
        Maybe, (as TSE rightly remarked) a poet is not always aware of 
   
        the full implications of what he writes. Ha-ha !!!

       

>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 07/31/07 2:52 PM >>>

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