Ken Armstrong wrote:
> I wonder if that is what TSE gets at when he says that
> poetry (from memory) doesn't work without meanings.
Ken , I hope you can find this. It seems contradictory to
other statements Eliot wrote. One was "genuine poetry can
communicate before it is understood" (Dante, 1929).
The chief use of the 'meaning' of a poem, in the
ordinary sense, may be (for here I am speaking of some
kinds of poetry and not all) to satisfy one habit of
the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while
the poem does its work upon him: much as the imaginary
burglar is always provided with a nice bit of meat for
While looking for the "meat" quote on the web to cut and
paste I came across a blog on Terry Eagleton's review of
Craig Raine's "T.S. Eliot" biography. A portion is:
Eliot's stature as one of the truly great poets of the
modern era is beyond reasonable dispute. And Eagleton
is surely right that Eliot would have frowned a
supercilious frown at Raine's attempts to reveal the
"meaning" of his poems. Eagleton writes:
Raine, then, is certain that he has the "meaning" of
The Waste Land under his belt. He does not understand
that Eliot's poetry is not a question of meaning in the
first place. The meaning of a poem for Eliot was a
fairly trifling matter. It was, he once remarked, like
the piece of meat which the burglar throws to the guard
dog to keep him occupied. In true symbolist fashion,
Eliot was interested in what a poem did, not in what it
said—in the resonance of the signifier, the echoes of
its archetypes, the ghostly associations haunting its
grains and textures, the stealthy, subliminal workings
of its unconscious. Meaning was for the birds, or
perhaps for the petit bourgeoisie. Eliot was a
primitivist as well as a sophisticate, a writer who
made guerrilla raids on the collective unconscious. For
all his intellectualism, he was averse to rationality.
Meaning in his poetry is like the mysterious figure who
walks beside you in The Waste Land, vanishing when you
look at it straight. When Raine enquires of a couple of
lines in one of Eliot's poems whether we are supposed
to be in a brothel, the only answer which would be true
to Eliot's own aesthetic is that we are in a poem.
The blog is at
It has a link to
which appears to be the source for the Eagleton comment but
I could not access the full article there to say for sure.
Ken also wrote:
> It also reminds of Auden's statement, that a poet is someone
> who likes to see words play together,
Sunday, on the radio, I heard part of a interview with
the late poet John O'Donohue who said (from memory):
"Music is what language would like to be if it could."
This thought seems close to Eliot's views as language deals
mainly with meanings and music with emotion.
The radio show can be heard by following links at
which is the page with the info on the O'Donohue show.
There is a link there with the unedited interview almost
twice as long. The show was until recently called
"Speaking of Faith" but is now titled "On Being." The
website is http://onbeing.org which redirects to
The host, Krista Tippett, has a new book out titled
"Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit."
It looks like something some here may be interested in (I'm
thinking especially of Diana) but read all the reviews at
since some think that the book is too rambling and the "Speaking
of Faith" online interviews on which it is based is the better
way to go.
Eliot had something to say about Einstein and God or religion.
Though I read it recently I can't remember where it was.
Ken Armstrong wrote:
> Chokh Raj wrote:
>> Pure Poetry
>> I knew very well what I meant by these words, but I did not know that
>> they would give rise to such echoes and reactions in the world of
>> lovers of literature. I merely wanted to draw attention to a fact, not
>> to enunciate a theory, still less to define a doctrine and hold as
>> heretics all who did not share it. In my eyes all written works, all
>> works of language, contain certain fragments or recognizable elements,
>> endowed with properties which we are about to examine and which I
>> shall provisionally call /poetic/. Every time words show a /certain
>> deviation /from the most direct, that is, the most /insensible/
>> expression of thought, every time these deviations foreshadow, as it
>> were, a world of relationships distinct from the purely practical world,
> Interesting selection, CR, as per usual. It put me first in mind of a
> joke that McLuhan liked to repeat, that "dictionaries drive words out of
> their senses," which condition is what I take Valery to mean by
> "insensible." I wonder if that is what TSE gets at when he says that
> poetry (from memory) doesn't work without meanings. It also reminds of
> Auden's statement, that a poet is someone who likes to see words play
> together, not an area of perception I think you'll find in the
> Merriam-Webster. The one thing with which I'd take exception in the
> Valery quote is the word "deviation," as I think that words playing
> together exert more force on us in our day to day lives than we may be
> award; but I suppose that still could exist within a "certain deviation."
> Ken A