Actually, no new critic, including the ones I practically memorized and
based my own thought on, _ever_ actually thought a poem was an isolated
As I mentioned when I first came on the list some years ago I was here
mostly for nostalgic reasons; back in the 1940s and 1950s Eliot as poet and
critic was very nearly central in my education and thought. That affection
remains but a dozen or so other pets, novelists, dramatists, & critics have
come to have far more weight in my reading. I am increasingly bored by those
on this list who seem to think any response to Eliot other than their own is
not only incorrect (everyone has to believe him/herself :-;) but somehow
immoral. That sort of juvenile egotism is a great yawn. Ignore it.
From: T. S. Eliot Discussion forum. [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
Of Nancy Gish
Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 11:30 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Further Observations on Prufrock
I have been trying to think how one could answer this very personal, rude,
and astonishing direct address informing me by name what I need to do and
how I have failed.
So I have failed again. There is no way to answer it except in kind, and
that is not useful.
But the assumptions behind Ken's theory (it is a theory, not a fact or set
of facts) are simply no longer tenable. As a quick random sample, read Jayme
Stayer's work that CR posted. Or the fascinating sources in Robert
Crawford's bio or Nancy Hargrove's account of Eliot in Paris or the
connections in Däumer and Bagchee's collection of essays on international
Eliot or Anita Patterson's fascinating account of links to Japan or Louis
Rainey's dating of TWL fragments by paper and typewriter or the many studies
of Eliot and Dante or Eliot's own letters or the writings of his colleagues
and friends--read anything other than New Critical rewrites if you are at
all interested in poetry and its importance. Read any major scholarship in
the past several decades, and you will not find this assumption that a poem,
as published, is a thing in itself with no connection to its author,
culture, history, composition, or anything at all except its meaning "to
me"--which many students imagine is anything at all.
I have no idea what Ken imagines I have been doing for half my life to be
utterly obtuse and incompetent about reading poetry.
>>> Ken Armstrong 10/25/15 10:20 AM >>>
You and I it appears think of "making" differently. In my way of thinking
about it, it is not possible for us to "know a great deal more about it than
Lewis did" -- because Lewis had the poem. We might learn more about the
background to its composition, but either the "making" is accessible through
the poem itself, ie it is a successful poem, or it isn't. And the degree to
which it is or isn't, or a comprehending rendering of its registry as a
poem, what it does as a poem, also does not depend on ever expanding
I know what the usual objections to this are, and I know where they go off
track. But communicating that I'm not so good at, because really, to
understand what I'm trying to get at you 'd have to, as Eliot once said,
believe it first. Perhaps "see it first" or "experience it first" would be
less objectionable ways of putting it. The long and short of it is, you have
to work out not what the poem meant for Eliot -- he gave you all you need to
know when he published it -- but what it means for you, Nancy Gish, for your
existence as a human being, i.e. you have to participate, really participate
with your whole being, in the creative act that is the making of the poem.
It can't just be Eliot's life on the line, it has to be yours, too. Always
referring it back to Eliot only guarantees that the creative act will never
be availed to a reader, thus the whole purpose of having the poem in the
first place is defeated.
As I said, I'm not particularly skilled at presenting this. I offered the
Lewis piece really just because Eliot in it is so un-Prufrock like, I hoped
it might be a wake-up call that shakes someone off that dead-end track.
On 10/23/2015 12:49 PM, Nancy Gish wrote:
I am unable to see here what the "meaning" of the poem ostensibly
is. But if it is about the "making," we know a great deal more than Lewis
did (though the excerpt below says nothing about the "making" of "Prufrock."
In a fascinating seminar led by Cassandra Laity at the TSE Society, a lot of
new information appeared. In my own case, I was focused on the writing of
"Prufrock's Pervigilium," which was inserted in the Notebook and then
removed (See IMH). It offers a quite disturbing and very different voice.
But it is part of what was very much in the "making."
What, for example, is presumed to be the meaning that provides an
absolute significance to "grow old" as literal?
Or did I miss something?
>>> Ken Armstrong 10/23/15 12:30 PM >>>
Some years ago, when my wife's father was stopped going the wrong
way on a one way street in this small town, the officer, well known to Red,
said, "Red, don't you know this is a one way street?" "But Rod," said Red,
"I'm only going one way."
Red, of course, knew he was making a joke with the law. Happily he
was let off with a warning. Carrol, on the other hand, wants us to believe
that a one way street really is a two way street. Well, okay, you pays your
money and you makes your choices. But what you choose doesn't determine the
nature of the street, only the approach you bring to it.
I don't see any new questions or pressing observations in his post,
and all in all don't believe my certainty exceeds anything Carrol always has
on display. To the degree that "Prufrock" is a successful poem, it's meaning
inheres in its making, which, again, would have been what Pound so
enthusiastically pounced on.
Consider Wyndham Lewis' account of meeting TSE:
" As I entered the room I discovered an agreeable stranger parked up
one of the sides of the triangle. He softly growled at me, as we shook
hands. American. A graceful neck, I noted, with what elsewhere I have
described as 'a Gioconda smile.' Though not feminine -- besides being
physically large his personality visibly moved within the male pale -- there
were dimples in the warm dark skin; undoubtedly he used his eyes a little
like a Leonardo. He was a very attractive fellow then....I liked him, though
I may say not at all connecting him with texts Ezra had shown me about some
fictional character dreadfully troubled with old age, in which the
lines....'I am growing old....'.....I was unable to make head or tail of.
Ezra now lay flung back in typical posture of aggressive ease...
However, he kept steadily beneath his quizzical but self-satisfied
observation his latest prize, or discovery -- the author of Prufrock. The
new collector's piece went on smiling and growling out melodiously his apt
and bright answers to promptings from the proud figure of his exhausted
After this description of a most un-Prufrockian like character,
Lewis stumbles in the same place Carrol does, but only partly for the same
reason: he can't make sense of the meaning of the "growing old" line for
Prufrock, whereas Carrol's attention is in another dimensionaaaaa, trying to
make it work for Eliot. The answer lies in how Prufrock's actions and alarms
make him what he is and bring him to an end meant to be perceived as his
fall, but moreover, in the first place, meant to be perceived by the
structure and technique and signs in the poem. I think the telling phrase
used to be "follow the lines of force."
PS I am impressed by Carrol's evident respect for "Prufrock." In a
post from him I stumbled upon by virtue of my email client deciding to open
to posts from 2009, he noted that in the long run Eliot would be largely
forgotten by future generations with only two poems, in a minor way, meeting
the test of time. No doubt "Prufrock" is one of them. I suppose it is only a
matter of time until this projection comes to pass, and we will all be on
the Marianne Moore list, discussing as per Carrol those much richer and more