I think this is all apt and important. No word has any precise meaning outside of syntax. I take "the" in "the hot water" to mean that there is a regular ritual of washing at 10--or tea at 10? or coffee at 10? and therefore we cannot find any single overall "meaning" we can find and be satisfied. We cannot even do that with doggerel and bad, clichéd poems I suppose. Whatever does it mean to say the "only God can make a tree?" That God makes each tree somehow as s/he was said to make Adam or as, in the second story of creation (not the first) to make Eve out of Adam (an endlessly odd reversal of procreation)? Or does it mean God made tree forms in some permanent way in Genesis? But how does that explain cross cultivation and new kinds of trees? No doubt it did not really mean any very precise thing but only a pious convention. Still, it creates questions of how we read.
>>> Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> 08/04/07 1:23 PM >>>
Richard Seddon wrote:
> Poetry for both of these very good poets was simply much much more than the
> literal meaning of words strung together in lines and strophes.
You don't mean this -- that is, you can't believe that for unspecified
"other" poets, poetry was simply the "literal meaning of words strung
together in lines and strophes."
The problem is that it is both a tautology AND false. A tautology, and a
trivial one, because no one in the history of literature has ever
thought that poetry was only "the literal et cetera"; false because
whatever meaning poetry has (or whatever effect it might have) can only
come from such a "literal meaning etc..." And finally, it is not only
both false and a truism but also incoherent, because the phrase "literal
meaning" is itself something of a blank check. What does literal meaning
April is the cruelest month . . .
Does not "April" mean a month of the year, and is that not what the line
says, that April is a month? And if one cannot construe this literal
meaning can one then read the poem at all?
"Cruelest" the most cruel of all 12 months. How literally are we to take
the superlative ending. Are we to think, for example, of August as "less
cruel" than April but more cruel than February? What _is_ the "literal
meaning" of the line -- and is it possible to find any non-literal
meaning before we have some sense of a literal meaning. But can "cruel"
have a literal meaning applied to a month? What sort of entities can
"cruel" apply to? Wimsatt notes that an evening and an owl can both be
cold, but cold in different ways, hence the importance of elegant
vatiation in "St. Agnes eve, ah bitter chill it was, the owl for all its
feathers was a-cold," though (except for the exigencies of rhyme) it
would have done just as well to have the evening a-cold and the owl
chilled. Is a month "cruel" in the same way that Himmler was cruel. Are
both April and Himmler cruel in the same way that trench warfare was
Literal meaning, whatever we mean by literal meaning, is not something
one should sneer at. Poets really couldn't get along very well without
marshalling lots of literal meanings. And we certainly do need literal
water in TWL: "The hot water at ten." Why "THE hot water"? Is "The"
there simply for the sake of the meter, or is that hot water some very
special hot water that requires a definite article. Diana seems to want
everything to be meaningful in some big way, so we had better decide
what "The" means here.