Print

Print


First of all, I was responding to a specific question about the relation of the
life and poetry.  So it is not valid to shift the terms of the question as a
way of dismissing my point.  I did not say "simply in terms of"; I merely
noted that those images are in the play.  "Simply" is your addition.

As for what he could have done for Vivienne, I have said before that if I
were married to someone who went to America and came back without
letting me know and served me separation papers through lawyers and
never came home or even talked with me once in my life afterwards, I
might have behaved a lot worse than Viv.  He could have done the pretty
common thing of facing up to the need to leave and made an attempt at
honesty.  On Emily Hale, yes, he gave her a ring, said he loved her,
corresponded with her for 30 years, visited her in America and had her visit
in England to the point that his family members also thought they would
marry.  Then she learned of his marriage to Valerie after the fact and had a
breakdown.  So she was a naive lady from New England.  That seems to
have been why he was attracted in the beginning.  This is all too bad to
bother disagreeing over.  I think you should read Gordon if you want to
know.  But most women (and men I assume) would think 30 years of
sustained relationship and visits that included being, for example, taken to
Virginia Woolf's and other friends as one's companion means something.

No one is asking for stone throwing.  I don't think much of Pound's
broadcasting for Mussolini, but it has not hurt "In a Station of the Metro,"
let alone the Cantos and the rest.  But the reason I care about this is that
so often Eliot is treated as if his ability to write brilliant poetry made him a
person with moral standing to pronounce truth.  It is quite the opposite of
any interest in throwing stones--with the caveat that he did write very
personal poetry despite all his disclaimers.  TWL is often, in Pound's
words, "too photog."  So I am more concerned to resist hagiography than
to make any judgment.  One may be interested in the sources of poems
without taking moral stands on the poet either way.  But it does matter, for
example, that "on Margate sands/ I can connect nothing with nothing" was
written when he had just been to Margate and was having a breakdown.
Nancy



Date sent:              Fri, 27 Sep 2002 22:54:27 -0700
Send reply to:          "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From:                   Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:                Re: Deluge coming: New online Eliot material
To:                     [log in to unmask]

From: Nancy Gish [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
His late poetry and his plays are full of images of guilt and fantasies of
killed or dead women.  But I think he assumed that feeling the guilt was
what defined repentance.  That does not help the one you harm.  I am
referring here to specific lines in Little Gidding and in plays, for
example.
======================================================
=======

I guess I half way agree, Nancy. Except what could he have done
for the woman? As I remember he pretty much let it all hang out,
in ways one might think contradicted the principle of de-
personalisation in THE FAMILY REUNION. Was he not chided for
wearing his heart on his sleeve therein? At least that's as far as
Viv goes. As for Emily Hale, I just don't know enough. Did
he really lead her on to believe that he would marry her,
or did she do that to herself? I realise it's ignorance
on my part. I just haven't followed the issue. He was obviously
quite happy with Valerie. If he was a man of pained
conscience, it's hard to see how that could have been.

Then of course there are the figures of the Erinyes that
are alluded to even in Sweeney Ag. and that appear in
one form or another in the other plays. Was he looking at the
universal dimensions of conscience and obsessive guilt,
or just his own? Was his own simply a jumping off point
to get at the core of the whole thing?

He may have been a patronising slummer in his early
days, but it sure seems like he was trying to make
his own class take a long hard look at itself in the
later work. If he used his own experience transformed
to do that, what's to be criticised there? Joyce did
something similar with Stephen Daedalus.

Bottom line, I don't think one can read the plays
simply in terms of Eliot's own guilt and repentance, or
working out his feelings about it for his own sake.
I think he was trying to make a much more serious
contribution in line with his thoughts on the social
function of poetry. There was a maturation process.

As for judging how he lived his life and whether one
likes it or not, well I'm not going to throw the first
stone. I owe him far too much.

Cheers,
Peter