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Listers,
      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 meanings....."
 
Regards,
Barnwell




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