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Dear George,

You're absolutely right on the history as well as the analysis.  Many
early readers did say that in the initial reviews. As I've noted
elsewhere, TWL was called "a mad medley," an "unhappy composition," and
"so much waste paper."  People had to learn how to read it, and one of
the most fundamental sources for decades was the notes--as in Cleanth
Brooks and Grover Smith.  Eliot did direct how he was to be read for a
very long time.
Nancy

>>> [log in to unmask] 02/20/04 1:09 PM >>>
I think that the question of whether the poet should play the role of
interpretor/explicator of his or her own work often comes down to the
question of whether the poetry "does its job" (and, of course, what that
'job' might be can itself be up for debate).  If the poetry is not
understood, if it leads to confusion, and if the poet refuses to provide
any information as to how the poem should be read, then I think we
really
we have two options: that we're too dumb to grokk the poem, or that the
poem's not very good (or, better, that it's "nothing special").  The
latter view is often taken by those who don't want to read poetry, who
consider poems to be just a jumble of words with pretty sounds; and
clearly there are many poems -- and good ones -- that don't attempt to
be
any more than that.

But Eliot's generally a complicated and an intellectual poet, and I
think
his poetry demands to be taken seriously, to be studied, etc.  And I
think
that if the whole world doesn't understand certain parts of his poems
then
they have not (yet?) succeeded in portraying their intended message - if
they did have one, and if Eliot wasn't (as some, including he, have
suggested) just throwing things in that sounded good and that fit the
feel
of the poem.  I say "yet?" because I think that in many of his poems
there are parts of the poem that hinge on very specific allusions that
require very specific reading to be properly understood - with the
problem
that there are many possible sources for so many of those allusions.
But
since there *are* those depths of meaning, I think it's not entirely
true
or fair to say "Eliot has written the poem - why should he write it
again?" -- TWL in particular compresses so many different threads, so
many
different sources, that it in a real sense *cannot* be read fully "on
its
own terms".. so by providing some insight into those sources, Eliot is
not
doing any disservice to the poem itself or saying "I didn't do my job
properly when writing the poem"... it's just a case of providing some
guidance to the reader.  And I don't think the notes are as much of a
'hoax' as some people believe - I think that parts of them serve a real
purpose in helping the reader.

But when Eliot is simply unhelpful as to the meaning of what he's
written,
then yes - it's the reader's responsibility to figure things out; but
it's
also the reader's prerogative to say "well, that's just silly nonsense".

--George