I wrote in my little book on TWL that allusions also displace attention.
I still consider that essential to Eliot's use of so many: they are
generally seen as only importing meaning, but they also export it by
removing attention from what is literally happening at any point of the
poem. So in an important way they also become masks and diversions.
>>> Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> 07/08/07 12:52 PM >>>
Nancy Gish wrote:
> No one denies there are allusions to the Bible in TWL. There are also
> allusions to Buddha's "Fire Sermon" and to many other things. The
> themes in V include the image of the half of Europe on the way to
> singing drunkenly like Dmitri Karamasoff.
> So if your point is that there are Biblical allusions, that is not at
> issue. [CLIP]
> I'm trying to note that the poem is not explained or experienced or
> understood by making every individual word part of something else,
> if he did use allusions. Many critics, in any case, have read it
> differently. Kenner made a great point of dismissing source
> hunting---as did Eliot.
There is a positive reason to be wary of looking for significance in
individual allusions in TWL (or, incidentally, in three other great
allusionists: Milton, Pope, Pound). Focus on the particular allusion
obscures, even obliterates, the major function of allusion in all four
of these poets: the creation of an echo chamber in which the great (and
lesser) voices of the past (and present) echo. Or consider this from
O heavens, how awful is the might of souls,
And what they do within themselves while yet
The voice of earth is new to them, the world
Nothing but a wild field where they were sown.
This is in truth heroic argument,
And genuine prowess . . . .
(P (1805) III, 180-85)
Milton honeycombs the Prelude:
The earth is all before me -- with a heart
Joyous . . . .
(I (1805), 14-5)
The mind itself,
The meditative mind, best pleased perhaps
While she as duteous as the mother dove
Sits brooding. . . .
(I (1805, 139-42)
[No one has said "If it aint in Milton it aint in bhe bible" -- but
someone should have.]
Unburthened, unalarmed, and unprofaned.
(III (1805), 245)
-- a treasure by the earth
Kept to itself, a darling bosomed up
In Abyssinian privacy . . . .
(VI (1805), 660-61)
Only the first of these, with its claim to have found a theme mightier
than Milton's (as Milton had found a theme mightier than Homer's)
requires (or at least urges) focus on the source. Brooding on the
others, as so many brood on one echo after another in TWL, misses the
point: We are tracing the growth of a poet's mind, a mind which has
absorbed one line or theme after another from Milton, from Spencer, from
a fabliau of Chaucer's, from Thompson, from Homer -- on & on. It is that
sense of other minds echoing within the poet's that counts, not any
painful parsing of all that one isolated allusion might be forced to
sink under. It is or can be important to note the echoes -- _very_
quickly -- and pass on, grasping the accumulative weight within the poem
of these echoing voices.
I suppose a reader could claw into the last of the Wordsworth lines
above and write several thousand words on the importance of false
paradises in the Prelude, but in the process the poet's voice, and with
it the poet's mind, and with it the poem is lost under an incrustation
_no_ poem can bear up under.
A suggestion (which I presume many critics have offered already) -- see
all the allusions in TWL not as hares to chase down but subordinate to
the line, "These fragments I have shored against my ruins." The
allusions are fragments, best seen as fragments, meaning _unknown_.
That, incidentally, is the 'point' of "Papyrus," especially if one sees
it in the context of all the other poems gathered (in the collected
poems) under the title of "Lustra."