It is probably a case-by-case basis. In the case of Eliot, by his own acknowledgement, much of his life is in the poems, and we do learn a great deal from study of the life. He made similar claims about Yeats and others.
It depends what is meant by "stand on their own." If one uses a strictly New Critical assumption about works of art, that might be the case. I don't share that view, and I think its general value ran its course even though it remains a useful way to introduce students to close reading.
I was trained in that view, so I have gone in the opposite direction as it came to seem, to me, more and more disconnected from life. Shakespeare is not comparable here, I think. He was creating characters, not his own voice, though it does matter that most of the sonnets are to a young man.
Nancy>>> "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>11/13/12 2:06 PM >>>
As I age and reread the truly lasting poems I have come to conclude that poems should stand on their own, independent of the lives of the poets. In other words, a reader can grasp great language without biographical reference. This I am not deterred by the destruction of letters. Consider what little of Shakespeare we have and how weighty and worthless was that massive volume last year of Larkin's every scribble and a few years past a similar scraps collection of Bishop.
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It's an argument for scholars having access to Philip Roth's letters....
On Tue, Nov 13, 2012 at 10:21 AM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
I agree with you, though I feel much more able to bear up under the loss of Roth than of Eliot. But I think, while you are right about the pain of his marriage, WWI was also a key factor. Many of his letters talk of how difficult it is for everyone, and the combination of his marriage with the War made for what I think was a life-changing view of the world. I'm not sure he would have been ready or able to appreciate Valerie or what that marriage meant when he was young.
>>> John Angell Grant
11/13/12 12:38 PM >>>
Phillip Roth says he will destroy his papers so scholars can't root through them after his death:
It seems a pity Roth is doing this--an act of selfishness and fear--though certainly Roth gets to do what he wants with his papers. The more I re-read and think about Eliot, the more I am sympathetic to the view that the misery of The Wasteland was, in significant part, the misery of his marriage to Vivien, and his problems with women. My understanding is that when Eliot found happiness in his relationship with Valerie, he wrote no more poetry. What kind of poet would Eliot have been with a happy first marriage?
When Eliot's letters to Emily Hale become public, we will understand Eliot better.
I hope Roth reconsiders, but that seems unlikely.