Print

Print


Carrol wrote:

>The problem (which I call lack of a control) is that there is nothing in
>either the Preludes or in Sebastian to link the one to the other

Oh, but there is.  First and foremost is that they were written by 
the same person during roughly the same period.  Secondly, there are 
images or tropes introduced in the Sebastian poem that Eliot reworks 
in "Preludes":

Sebastian: I would come with a lamp in the night
Preludes: And then the lighting of the lamps

Sebastian: To follow where your feet are white
Preludes: Or clasped the yellow soles of feet

Sebastian: In the darkness toward your bed
Preludes: Sitting along the bed's edge

Sebastian: And when the morning came
Preludes: The morning comes to consciousness

Sebastian: Your ears curl back in a certain way
Preludes: You curled the papers from your hair

Were I writing an article instead of an e-mail, I would discuss his 
reworking of these images.

Third, there are the lines from "Preludes" that I quoted in an 
earlier post: "The thousand sordid images / Of which your soul was 
constituted."  The images in "The Love Song of St. Sebastian" are 
nothing if not sordid.  That Eliot thinks this sordidness has 
something to do with "soul" may be inferred from the fact that he 
makes the person who fantasizes these images a Christian saint.

>Eliot's abandoning of the scribble leaves us no grounds
>for assigning genre [...]

But we don't assign it a genre; that task is done by its title, which 
identifies its genre as "love song."

>It would be just as tenable to assign it the genre of a patient's free
>association on the Freudian analyst's couch.

The fact that Eliot gave the piece a title at all automatically 
differentiates it from a patient's free association.

>"the reader" figures awkwardly in Debra's construal because the poem was
>never published: it has (had) no reader but Eliot himself!
>
>Eliot's abandoning of the scribble leaves us no grounds for
>assigning [...] _any_ particular relationship between writer
>and (virtual or actual) reader.

It may well be that "the reader" figures awkwardly in my construal, 
but if it does, the fault lies with me and not with the fact that the 
poem was never published.  Before a poem or an attempted poem is 
abandoned -- that is, while it is still in the process of being 
composed -- it does assume a reader.  If I were to trash this e-mail 
now without sending it and you were to retrieve this e-mail from my 
trash, you would not suppose that it had been composed without any 
notion of a reader just because it had been abandoned as worthless 
scribble.  The grounds for talking about the reader in Eliot's poem 
are the same grounds for all talk about a piece of writing: the words 
the author wrote.

>So why can't
>one hypothesize that the poem was unfinished because it was _only_ a
>random (perhaps merely personal) scribble which Eliot was unable to link
>to his poems of the period. If he wasn't, then why should we be able to?

I don't know if the poem was unfinished, or finished and deemed not 
worthy of publication, but I also don't know that Eliot was "unable 
to link [it] to his poems of the period."  It's just as likely that 
he declined to publish it because he recognized its inferior quality, 
whether or not he believed it had thematic links to his other poems. 
Or maybe he had some other motive for not publishing it.  Whatever 
that motive may have been, I take your point that since he decided 
not to put the thing he wrote into public view, we the public ought 
to respect his decision.  There is, I think, a solid ethical basis 
for refusing to poke into that which was not intended for our eyes. 
But to  be entirely consistent, one ought never to publish or read 
any writing that its author choses not to publish, whatever it is -- 
an unfinished or discarded poem, a casual note to the milkman, an 
intimate letter to a lover.  One ought not to publish or read Emily 
Dickinson's poems ("Publication - is the Auction / of the Mind of 
Man") or the work by Kafka that Max Brod, his literary executor, 
refused to burn.  One ought not to publish or read Eliot's private 
correspondence with his mother, his brother, his friends, his 
associates.  One ought not to peruse manuscripts of drafts, exhume 
juvenalia, or write biographies that probe into personal matters.  I 
suppose the question is: are these violations of privacy and of the 
right to self-determination justified by the fact that they sometimes 
help us better understand and assess the accomplishments that made 
the person famous?

Debra