Professor Arrowsmith was a classical scholar as far as I have read. I do
not think his word on Eliot makes any sense at all as I have read it
here. In any case, that he thought it does not make it necessarily apt,
and I do not find it at all convincing. From the work "Jew" to the sound
of "ju" to "juvescence" somehow proving that the squatting, spawned Jew
from an estaminet in Antwerp is Jesus is imaginative in the extreme. It
is an arbitrary set of associations imposed on a poem for which very
different readings have made far more use of the text. The comparison to
Simeon is equally arbitrary; there is no suggestion that Simeon is a
Christ-to-be. On the contrary, he is very specifically caught between
the old and new dispensations as a person without Christ. He is waiting
for Christ, not being Christ.

These readings seem to arise from simply finding words and creating
one's own experience in a collection of them while totally ignoring that
Eliot did not, in fact, give up syntax. For all the use of "verse
libre," he remains very much within standard syntax despite breaking
line endings at new (then) places and using juxtaposition without
copula. But the words are not--as sometimes in Language poetry or very
experimental contemporary poetry--scattered on the page to be re-formed
by the reader without the frame of sentences, especially in the later
work. "Gerontion," for example, is totally in complete sentences with
the exception of a fragment at the end, and they make clear syntactic
sense. Sentences are not simply random words to be taken and associated
in any way at all, and Eliot was very precise about his syntax and


>>> Tom Colket 02/28/10 3:38 AM >>>

As I mentioned in my post to CR, I do not feel I've studied Gerontion
enough to comment on it. The post to CR, as you'll recall, was
commentary by Professor William Arrowsmith, not my me.

By the way, Professor Arrowsmith had a few more things to say about
Gerontion in that same article. I've scanned it in and am posting it

-- Tom --


William Arrowsmith,
"Eliot's Learning",
Literary Imagination, vol 2, number 3, spring 2000, pages 155-156

Like others, Bateson would prefer to solve matters by reducing Eliot's
learning to slapdash and sciolism. Thus, he regards the word
_juvescence_ in Eliot's lines "In the juvescence of the year / Came
Christ the tiger" ["Gerontion" 11. 19-20] as a "slip," albeit a happy
one, since the proper form is _juvenescence_. Technically, Bateson is
right; but nobody familiar with Eliot's fierce exactitude in matters of
diction and his effort to make every word realize the maximum meaning,
will find the objection convincing. On the contrary, _juvescence_ is an
obvious and deliberate conflation, a punning neologism akin to such
_symboliste_ coinages as _bibliopole_, _stagnance_, _navrance_, etc. Its
purpose is surely to galvanize the crucial syllable _ju_ (Jew) of
"juvescence of the year"-that cruellest of months, the season that
transforms the Jew into "Christ the tiger." In short, the same Jew who,
as Christ-to-be, squats like a slum landlord at the threshold of his
ruined "house," the liminal, looming presence waiting to _repossess_ and
evict his unworthy tenants. We will meet the same Jew again, surrounded
again by the same verbal echoes, in the figure of Simeon, tragically
caught "at the birth season of decease," patiently waiting for "the
Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word" to assume flesh and
forever alter his life-in-death in the interregnum between two worlds
["A Song for Simeon"]. 


Date: Sat, 27 Feb 2010 07:49:44 -0500
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: 'Gerontion' -- the dramatic arc
To: [log in to unmask]

Dear Tom,

When you have time, would you address my questions regarding the
possibility that Gerontion's narrator suffers from psychological or
biological aberrations ?

He sounds to me like someone aggrandizing ordinary depression.


Sent from my iPod

On Feb 26, 2010, at 9:40 AM, DIana Manister <[log in to unmask]>

Dear Tom,

Why limit the poem's 'dryness' references to mysticism? Lack of
enjoyment, a dearth of sensual pleasures, creative infertility,
procreative infertity, overwork, these and other deprivations in the
mundane sphere could make the speaker experience living as dry.

As for "Gerontion" being the name of the narrator, where is that
established?If it's certain it's his name it must be pseudonymous, like
"Call me Ishmael" Surely no parent would give that name to their baby!


Sent from my iPod

On Feb 26, 2010, at 9:16 AM, Tom Colket <[log in to unmask]> wrote:


I have not studied Gerontion enough to make my own comments on it.
However, I thought you might find interesting some comments made by late
William Arrowsmith, an Eliot scholar from Boston University who died in
the 1990s while working on an Eliot book.

Professor Arrowsmith has an interesting section about Gerontion as part
of an article he wrote that was posthumously published in 2000. In his
reading, the end of Gerontion is an allusion to John Ruskin's account of
Tintoretto's painting, _Last Judgment_, and the reference to 'dryness'
is "the sensation persistently associated by the great mystics with the
'dark night of the soul' that precedes all vision."

I scanned in the relevant pages and am posting it in this email. I
believe I have posted this before, but I can't find when so I'm
reposting it here. I hope you find it interesting.

-- Tom --


From "Eliot's Learning" by William Arrowsmith, Literary Imagination,
Spring 2000, volume 2, number 2, pages 162-166.


Consider Eliot's allusive practice as it appears in the famous
concluding period of "Gerontion": 

What will the spider do, 
Suspend its operations, will the weevil 
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear 
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Be11e Isle, or running on the Horn. 
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims, 
And an old man driven by the Trades 
To a sleepy corner. 

Tenants of the house, 
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season. ["Gerontion" lines. 67-77] 

Of these lines George Bornstein remarks: 
"Only toward the end does his imagination erupt .... These lines do not
depend on the finite, disparate links of the other sections but rather
on direct assertion of imaginative power. But the poem does not demand
this sudden transformation of its creeping corruption into the nearly
apocalyptic image of the fractured atoms of De Bailhache, Fresca, and
Mrs. Cammel. Nor does it demand the lovely image of the gull against the
wind. . . The poem does not demand these ... because Gerontion's mental
processes do not: he has progressed by chance associational links,
rather than by ordered preparation for vision ... the very end ...
["Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season"] undercuts the imaginative
vision .... Gerontion ends where he began. The vision makes no
difference to him."

Bornstein admittedly follows Kenner's reading: 
"["Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season"] has a look of exegetic
universality ... restoring us to daylight. Actually it is an index of
the speaker's failed imagination, at the furthest extreme from his
earlier polysemous intensity. He [Gerontion] begins to talk what we are
accustomed to regard as sense only at the instant when he is too
fatigued to hang onto the rich vision any longer." 

The fatal flaw in these readings is that both critics have missed the
allusion that governs the apocalyptic closing passage. No less
important, neither seems to recognize what is meant by _dryness_, the
key term in the poem, a poem that ends with the line quoted above. The
allusion in question is indeed apocalyptic-a paraphrase of Ruskin's
stupendous and famous account of Tintoretto's _Last Judgment_ in Santa
Maria del'Orto in Venice. Nowhere is Ruskin's genius for creating the
verbal equivalents of painting more apparent than in the single,
non-stop Miltonic depiction of the great Apocalypse. I can cite only the
phrases most pertinent to Eliot's poem: 

The oceans of the earth and the waters of the firmament gathered into
one white, ghastly cataract; the river of the wrath of God, roaring down
into the gulf where the world has melted with its fervent heat, choked
with the ruin of nations, and the limbs of its corpses tossed out of its
whirling, like water-wheels. Bat-like, out of the holes and caverns and
shadows of the earth, the bones gather and the clay heaps heave,
rattling and adhering into half-kneaded anatomies, that crawl, and
startle, and struggle up among the putrid weeds, with the clay clinging
to their clotted hair, and their heavy eyes sealed by the earth darkness
yet, like his of old who went his way unseeing to the Siloam Pool;
shaking off one by one the dreams of the prison-house, hardly hearing
the clangour of the trumpets of the armies of God, blinded yet more, as
they awake, by the white light of the new Heaven, until the great vortex
of the four winds bears up their bodies to the judgment-seat: the
Firmament is all full of them, a very dust of human souls, that drifts,
and floats, and falls in the interminable, inevitable light; the bright
clouds are darkened with them as with thick snow, currents of atom life
in the arteries of heaven, now soaring up slowly, and higher, and higher
still, till the eye and the thought can follow no farther, borne up,
wingless, by their inward faith and by the angel powers invisible, now
hurled in countless drifts of horror before the breath of their

[Ruskin, _Modem Painters_ in _The Works of John Ruskin, 4:277]

The _gulf_, the _atoms_ in the arteries of heaven, the _snow_, the great
vortex that scatters them, _whirled_ like water-wheels-the points of
contact seem, to my eye, too numerous to be coincidental, all the more
if we bear in mind that the texts circulating through Gerontion's revery
are not only biblical, classical, and Jacobean, but above all Victorian
-- Newman, Bradley, Arnold's _Empedocles on Etna_, etc. -- and that
Eliot's debt to Ruskin is, in both the poetry and the criticism, as
pervasive as it is unacknowledged. The revery, then, culminates, as it
should, in the awful vision of a Last Judgment awaiting the dispersed
and aimless tenants of the Christian "house," an annihilation into a new
life struggling, under all the fragments, to emerge. The Word (with a
capital W) is gestating, stirring beneath the rhetorical word
(lowercase) of the texts supplied by the boy who is reading to
Gerontion, all apparently dream-jumbled, but constantly, in the way of
revery, gathering momentum; apparently random associations secretly
linking, piling up, as they grope with subliminal purposiveness toward
the supervening vision of the Last Judgment, as aweful in its promise of
birth through death as the coming of "Christ the tiger" must have been
to the citizens of the Old Dispensation. Bornstein claims an "ordered
preparation for vision," a claim that does not stand up for the simple
reason that spiritual vision is not born of consciously ordered
preparation; but there is, in fact, both preparation and, beneath the
textual jumble, an _emerging_ order -- the infant Word, gathering the
strength to speak -- order caught in the-act-of-becoming order. To see
it this way is to see the labyrinthine texts as they percolate through
the dreaming mind as a spiritual experience, an exercise in _askesis_
unaware of its own purposiveness. Hence the relapse into fatigue at the
close is only apparent relapse; what in any case can be affirmed after
one _sees_ the Last Judgment? What is left to say? This emphatically
does not mean that "we end where we began:' [Bornstein of "Gerontion":
"Unlike the speakers of early and late Greater Romantic Lyrics,
Gerontion ends where he began"]. We began with "dry month"; we close
with "thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season." This "dryness" is the
sensation persistently associated by the great mystics with the "dark
night of the soul" that precedes all vision. In the words of a book
always dear to Eliot, even in his college days, Evelyn Underhill's
_Mysticism_, the mystic's depression is "due to the double fact of the
exhaustion of an old state, and the growth towards a new state of
consciousness." The self feels "a complete emotional lassitude ... now
replaced by a callousness, a boredom which the self detests but cannot
overcome. It is the dismal condition of _ennui_ which ascetic writers
know so well under the name of 'aridity." [Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism:
_A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness_
(New York, 1955), pp. 386, 391]. Saint Teresa describes the symptoms in
minute detail, always a "condition of dryness" marked by doubt,
restlessness, mental dispersion, torpor, irascibility, boredom, fear,
anxiety, "the dispossessed soul in the act of dispossessing itself," as
Professor Schuchard puts it in another context. [Ronald Schuchard,
Eliot's Dark Angel: Intersections if Life and Art (Oxford, 1999), pp.
119-30]. _Aridita, secheresse du coeur, siccitas_ - wherever one turns
among the mystics, one finds the experience and the term. And it was
precisely these mystics, as Lyndall Gordon has shown, whom Eliot was
assiduously reading during his Harvard years [Lyndall Gordon, Eliot's
Early Years (Oxford, 1977), p. 60, and, more recently, T. S. Eliot: An
Imperfect Life (New York, 1998), p. 89]. Whatever else Eliot may be
doing, he is clearly giving us an account - an interior dramatic
monologue - based firmly upon the experience of mystical "dryness"; the
imagination, far from being cowed by the experience, is gropingly
shaping the texts to which allusion is made into a unified _poem_ - a
poem that aims at delineating the spiritual crisis of contemporary
Europe in the _historical_ terms by which that crisis came to be. We are
being given, in an extremely ambitious poem of great allusive
complexity, an account of the continuing European mind, and the fact
that that mind is "a mind which changes." Here, in short, is precisely
the poem - allusive, complex, indirect, difficult, and historically
_ordered_ - predicated by Eliot's critical pronouncements at the time.
It could not be as successful as it is unless the erudition had been
imaginatively engaged. It should not be read as the defeat of
imaginative vision, or as "ventriloquial passtiche," but rather as a
record of an _incipient_ vision, a coming-to-consciousness of a vision
to which the conscious mind of the dreamer is blind, which it can
perceive only by that subliminal organization of what, only later, the
mind realizes what it previously felt and even thought - an order that
can be detected only after it has been achieved. 

-- end of section on Gerontion --

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2010 19:53:27 -0800
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: 'Gerontion' -- the dramatic arc
To: [log in to unmask]

to observe -- to state by way of comment; remark


--- On Thu, 2/25/10, Marcia Karp <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

It may be observed is not the formulation I'd advise if you believe what
you are claiming. It may be observed that people walk on their heads in
Boston, but that doesn't make it true, unless you use observe to mean to
witness, but you don't in your quotation from your book.

Chokh Raj wrote: 

It may be observed that without empathizing with the poet's inner
turmoil that gives birth to his/her poetry, it is well-nigh impossible
to get into the spirit of his/her work, much less decipher or appreciate
it. 'Criticism', said Owen Barfield, 'must try to alter the state of
mind of the artist's audience, from mere wondering contemplation of an
inexplicable result, towards something more like sympathetic
participation in a process.'

-- C.R. Mittal, Introduction, 'Eliot's Early Poetry In Perspective' (New
Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2001)

avec humilité


ps - please excuse my posting it again

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