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TSE  August 2007

TSE August 2007

Subject:

Re: Water in TWL--why? Plus more on Stray Thought

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Sun, 5 Aug 2007 00:06:44 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (142 lines)

On the point about elegy:  For Miller that WAS the "hidden reason." 
When his book came out, it received a good deal of scathing response,
though the idea of homosexuality in TWL went back further to a 1952
article by John Peter.  Stephen Spender also said "Eliot once referred
to The Waste Land as an elegy.  Whose elegy?  His father's"  Jean
Verdenal's--mort aux Dardanelles in the  war?"  (Quoted in Miller,
though I have Spender here somewhere)  It's also discussed in Robert
Sencourt's memoir in note 7 to Chapter 3.  Sencourt says, "Jean
Verdenal, as Phlebas the Phoenician, has left a profound imprint on The
Waste Land.  The idea of Eliot's potential erotic/emotional response to
him is now not so dismissed.  Verdenal's letters are intimate, if not in
a way that would then have been impossible.  

Verdenal, according to Gordon, "spent most of a night in water up to his
waist in order to evacuate the wounded" though he apparently died on a
battlefield while tending a wounded soldier.

Also, it was apparent to those in WWI at the time they were fighting
that it was utterly mad and meaningless.  Read Graves's GOODBYE TO ALL
THAT or any of the WWI poets.

>>> Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> 08/04/07 7:26 PM >>>
Ken Armstrong wrote:
> 
> --On Saturday, August 04, 2007 1:48 PM -0400 Nancy Gish
> <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>  Whatever does it mean to say the "only God can make a tree?"
> 
>   Is this really all that difficult to comprehend? Doesn't it express
the
> realization
>  of an insight? All such expressions become cliche or "pious
convention,"
> but their
>  meaning can be recovered.

The topic is _literal_ meaning. If meaning has to be "recovered," then
whatever kind of meaning it is it doesn't seem to be literal meaning. If
a tree is made in some indirect way and not by a direct and visible
fashioning, then almost anyone can make a tree by planting a seed or a
seedling and nurturing it. And I would suppose most conceptions of god
making a tree dont' involve him come down from heaven and going
abracadabra or something. Kilmer's line is not difficult to comprehend
as long as you don't try to comprehend it. Once you look at it, as Nancy
did, and it's all mush.

On another point from Nancy's post.

Nancy Gish wrote:
> 
> 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. 

Ritual, regular custom, daily rut, something like that is established by
the "the." (I hadn't thought of this -- but then I'd never particularly
paused on the line before.) Extrapolating a bit, when someone asks "What
shall we do?" they don't usually want a reply such Lock the door, Wind
the Clock, Serve tea -- i.e. that the reply should be a form of Repeat
the usual pattern. So the answeris a rejection of the question -- a
refusal to take it seriously????

But daily ritual is the substance of what I think is the most wonderful
episode in all of literature, or at least in all of the literature I
have read. Here it (or part of it) is in Fagle's translation:

"Yur son is now set free, old man, as you requested.
Hector lies in state. With the first light of day
you will see for yourself as you convey him home.
Now, at last, let us turn our thoughts to supper.
Even Niobe with her lustrous hair remembered food,
though she saw a dozen children killed in her own halls,
six daughters and six sons in the pride and prime of their youth.
True, lord Apollo killed the sons with his silver bow
and Artemis showering arrows killed the daughters.
Both gods were enraged at Niobe. Time and again
she placed herself on a par with their own mother,
Leto in her immortal beauty -- how she insulted Leto:
"All you have borne is two, but I have borne so many!"
So, two as they were, they slaughtered all her children.
Nine days they lay in their blood, no one to bury them--
Cronus's son had turned the people into stone. . .
then on the tenth the gods of heaven interred them.
And Niobe, gaunt, worn to the bone with weeping,
turned her thoughts to food. And now somewhere,
lost on the crags, on the lonely mountain slopes,
on Sipylus where, they say, the nymphs who live forever,
dancing along the Achelous River run to beds of rest--
there, stuck into stone, NIobe still broods
on the spate of griefs the gods poured over her.

 So come -- we too, old king, must think of food.
Later you can mourn your beloved son once more.,
when you bear him home to Troy, and you'll weep many tears."

-----

That was a leap, but actually that is what I love most about literature,
the opportunity for the mind like a mountain goat to leap from crag to
crag. In this episode from the Iliad we see humanity learning that the
death of an enemy can be tragic -- in a sense, we see humans learning
that they _are_ humans, not just Trojans and Achaeans. And humans need
to eat.

Getting back to TWL -- it seems to delineate a world where there really
is no place for the everyday routine of eating. In fact, there is no
time for eating (or at least no time to complete an anecdote of a meal:

And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot--
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME

------

Nancy Gish wrote:
> 
> James Miller's T. S. ELIOT'S PERSONAL WASTE LAND (1977) read it as an
> elegy for Jean Verdenal and for a homosexual love.  He has reiterated
> this in his recent T. S. ELIOT:  THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN POET
(2005),
> where he links it with "In Memoriam" and sees Verdenal as Phlebas.

Suppose that were the 'hidden reason' behind TWL -- though I know no way
that such hypotheses can be confirmed; still, for the reader it would
generalize itself, become an elegy for all those lost in WW1, an elegy
even for a world lost (the "botched civilization," the "few thousand
battered books" of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley). This tends almost inevitably
to occur, even where we know in detail the background, if a text is well
enough written. We know the history of the Atticus portrait in Epistle
to Arbuthnot, but still it generalizes itself as we read, and we think
of a possibility in human relations, not Joseph Addison. 

I'm quoting someoone but I don't know who when I claim that any detail
rendered strongly enough generalizes itself. Already by 1921 many must
have been realizing that the deaths in The Great War were absolutely
meaningless, a human sacrifice to stupidity. I saw quoted a day or so
ago (and have already forgotten my source) a British General describing
an attack, highly pleased at the fine discipline the men in a brigade
had shown in the attack -- in which brigade casualties had been 100% and
they hadn't come close to the German lines. Nevertheless the discipline
was really remarkable.

Carrol

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