I'm reading with enjoyment the
discussion of meaning in TWL. Many of the points made seem to have validity and
insight and the give and take is interesting. Great poetry is
timeless. To many readers of poetry TWL is as relevant today
and to today as it was when Eliot wrote it. The "waste land" of post WWI
England and Europe is, to some readers, here with us now in post 9/11 America.
The meaning of the poem is, to a significant extent, in the mind of the reader.
This keeps the poem always fresh and alive.
To put this
in perspective, below are discussions of "the meaning of poetry"
excerpted from essays by T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens:
From: "The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism" by T. S. Eliot
".....There are two reasons why the writer of poetry must not be thought to
have any great advantage. One is that a discussion of poetry such as this takes
us far outside the limits within which a poet may speak with authority; the
other is that the poet does many things upon instinct, for which he can give no
better account than anybody else. A poet can try, of course, to give an honest
report of the way in which he himself writes: the result may, if he is a good
observer, be illuminating. And in one sense, but a very limited one, he knows
better what his poems 'mean' than can anyone else; he may know the history of
their composition, the material which has gone in and come out in an
unrecognizable form, and he knows what he was trying to do and what he was
meaning to mean. But what a poem means is as much what it means to others as
what it means to the author; and indeed, in the course of time a poet may become
merely a reader in respect to his own works, forgetting his original meaning --
or, without forgetting, merely changing. ...."
From: "A Comment on Meaning in Poetry" by Wallace Stevens
"Things that have their origin in the
imagination or in the emotions (poems) very often have meanings that differ in
nature from the meanings of things that have their origin in reason. They have
imaginative or emotional meanings, not rational meanings, and they communicate
these meanings to people who are susceptible to imaginative or emotional
meanings. They may communicate nothing at all to people who are open only to
rational meanings. In short, things that have their origin in the imagination or
in the emotions very often take on a form that is ambiguous or
uncertain. It is not possible to attach a single, rational meaning to
such things without destroying the imaginative or emotional ambiguity or
uncertainty that is inherent in them and that is why poets do not like to
explain. That the meanings given by others are sometimes meanings not intended
by the poet or that were never present in his mind does not impair them as