Dear CR: Kearns observes that "Lanman's Sansrit Reader, the textbook Eliot had used at Harvard, included several passages from the Rig Veda related to Indra's freeing of the waters...the song itself is compared to the waters Indra has released. The Vedic invocations, however, can be instituted effectively on ly singer-priests who have undergone appropriate ritual purifications. "
"Some of these are described in the Sama Veda, which lays down the austerities such priests must practice in order to invoke, through sympathetic magic and onomatopoeia, the water-releasing power of Indra...By a metaphorical extension suggested in the Vedas and, of course directly within classical and romantic poetic traditions in the West, Eliot took this theory of priestly speech or song as an alanlogue for the understanding of the role and function of poets and poetry. The modern poet, like the priest of Indra, is responsible for the invocations that will initiate and foster the social and spiritual life of the community, and like the priest he must undergo trials and purifications...Eliot performs that release through the power of sound, a power the "dreadful and dangerous potency" of which he was well aware."
Thanks, Diana, for quoting very insightful excerpts fromCleo McNelly Kearns.Interestingly, when Eliot's attention was drawn to themantric quality of the Vedas, he remarked he wishedpoetry were mantras again. (ref. Anand, Mulk Raj :'Conversations in Bloomsbury', Delhi: Oxford UniversityPress, 1995) It is in this context that Kearns' followingstatement acquires a special significance:"Eliot translated these dimensions of mantra-shakti, ormantra power, to the language of poetry, where meaningwas also, for him, communicated through sound or effect,which depended on quite subtle arrangements of rhythm,breath, and sound (what he called 'the auditory imagination.)"To me, in Eliot's poetry, especially, this mantric quality isdiscernible not only in the rhythmic effects of verse but alsoin its revelatory aspect. To quote Baudelaire, "In certainalmost supernatural states of the soul, the depth of life isrevealed in ordinary everyday happenings. The ordinarylife then becomes the symbol so that the images from theexternal world correspond to the poet's own inner life,loaded with deep spiritual meanings." I find this revelatoryaspect suffusing Eliot's poetry to an extent that nothing elseseems to matter. I find it there from first to last, especiallyin the poetry that Eliot chose to get published in his lifetime.As to why Eliot chose to retain expressions from otherlanguages in his poetry as such and not their Englishtranslations, it's a moot question, a matter for justspeculation.One reason could be the mantric qualityinherent in the sounds and rhythms of the originals,which might not always be amenable to the samecondensed version in English. For another, itconspicuously draws attention to the insights drawnupon variegated sources in the Indo-European"tradition".I must thank you again, Diana, for drawing ourattention to this fascinating subject.Regards.~ CR
Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> wrote:In T.S. Eliot and Indic Traditions: A Study in Poetry and Belief, Cleo McNelly Kearns describes Eliot'sstudy of the Vedas under Charles Lanman at Harvard, and notes his special interest in the Rig and Sama Vedas in which "the aid of the gods was often invoked by means of mantras for the purpose, among other things, of averting drought...mantras correctly uttered or sung became part of the liturgy of sacrifice which gave them additional authority...and a mantra's efficacy was not dependent on its meaning but rather on the subjective effect of the exacting mental discipline involved in its correct utterance, and the accompanying mode of breathing."Kearns goes on: "Eliot translated these dimension of mantra-shakti, or mantra power, to the language of poetry, where meaning was also, for him, communicated through sound or effect, which depended on quite subtle arrangments of rhythm, breath, and sound (what he called 'the auditory imagination.)"...So directly did Eliot wish to incorporate these auditory aspects of mantra into his work that he employed atthe end of The Waste Land the mantric forumula "Shantih, shantih, shantih...." Kearns notes that Eliot omitted the Om that traditionally precedes this mantra.I found this pertinent to our discussion of why Eliot did not translate languages in his poetry, but presented them in the original languages.Diana
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