contemplating words  

Words Alone
The Poet T. S. Eliot
By Denis Donoghue 
Yale University Press 

an excerpt

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Two verbs in the present tense—the same word, "rubs"—yield to a sequence of verbs in the past tense—"Licked ... Lingered ... Let fall ... Slipped ... made ... and fell asleep." But the relation of the language to its ostensible referents is equivocal. The lines don't say that the fog and the smoke were like a cat. Nor do they quite describe a city under fog. The scene is internal to Prufrock's state of mind, or to a hypothetical state of mind we have to call Prufrock in default of another designation. The apparently objective references enable us to imagine a scene, but they don't establish it as independent of Prufrock. The plural nouns—"corners ... pools ... drains"—generalize the impression and release the language from the mundane duty of referring to something: no particular corner, pool, or drain is intended. Cat and fog do not hold their places, as they would if a definite relation between them were in view. The verbs—"made a sudden leap" and "curled"—point to a cat, but "Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening" is more fog than cat. The effect is to keep the reader among the words and their internal relations, as if the apparent local meanings were an unfortunate but necessary distraction, a gesture toward an external world that has to be placated, short of being granted its independence. We are not allowed to escape from the words into another place.


Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote Thursday, November 15, 2012 6:38 AM

Let me share with the list Peter's warm response to my post.
Well, reading Dame Gardner is always rewarding!
Thanks again, Peter.

From: P <[log in to unmask]>;
To: Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]>;
Subject: Re: OT (sort of) Philology. Sort of.
Sent: Thu, Nov 15, 2012 1:56:13 AM

Excellent, CR. A person who grasps that understanding, will be able to develop strong critical insights into any branch of literature that is of interest.


Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

from the opening chapter, 'Auditory Imagination,' in The Art of T.S. Eliot 

"Four Quartets is the mature achievement of a poet who has in a long period of experiment effected a modification and an enrichment of the whole English poetic tradition. It is impossible to believe that poets a hundred years hence will not be aware of what Mr Eliot has done with the English language. They may be developing his way of writing, or they may be reacting against it; they will, one feels certain, be conscious of his poetry as part of their poetic inheritance. Such a modification works backwards as well as forwards. His poetry, in becoming part of English literature, has modified our reading of earlier poetry. We, who have grown up with it, find that we read earlier poetry to some extent through it. It has affected our taste and judgment, by awakening responses to what we might otherwise not have noticed, and by attuning our ears to particular poetic effects and rhythms. Most important of all, it has made us more critically alert to the language of poets. By refreshing the poetic vocabulary of our own day, Mr Eliot has refreshed our appreciation of the poetic diction of earlier poets. He has made us more aware of its different vigour, by making us conscious of the potentialities of the language which we make dull by our common use." 


Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote Wednesday, November 14, 2012 5:12 PM:

Yes, the book is right now with me and bears marks of many a reading I've given it.
I shall undergo the labour of love all over again!
Thanks Peter, and David.

P <[log in to unmask]> wrote Wed, Nov 14, 2012 7:16:55 PM :

Look in The Art of T.S.Eliot
P. M.

Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

The book should be with me within a week and I should be with you on it soon. 

And thanks, Peter, for bringing up the subject. I'll try to find what Dame Gardner said on it. 


Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote Wednesday, November 14, 2012 10:33 AM:


T.S. Eliot and the Language of Poetry (Studies in Modern Philology)
By Ferenc Takacs

I'd urge my library to acquire it for me, or help me access it. 


Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote Wednesday, November 14, 2012 9:53 AM:

But Dame Philology is our Queen still, Quick to comfort Truth-loving hearts in their mother tongue (to report On the miracles She has wrought In the U.K., the O.E.D. Takes fourteen tomes): She suffers no evil, And a statesman still, so Her grace prevent, may keep a treaty, A poor commoner arrive at The Proper Name for his cat. -- W. H. Auden, "A Short Ode to a Philologist"


P <[log in to unmask]> wrote Wed, Nov 14, 2012 9:10:12 AM:  

One obvious place to start would be the homage to Dante in Little Gidding, but perhaps that is a special case because it is such direct stylistic creation, outstanding though it be. A more appropriate example is MITC which uses the Anglo-Saxon and medieval rhythms of works like Everyman. That was quite deliberate as Eliot himself said. I believe Helen Gardner remarked on it more fully somewhere.

Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote: 

That facility and through that facility getting at the essence of things.
Thus, for instance, not merely learning Sanskrit but through it
getting at the heart of ancient Indian wisdom.
The marvel ceases not.


Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]> wrote Mon, Nov 12, 2012 8:35:53 AM:

Mark Twain once said, "My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years."

Eliot seems to have learned them all, all at once, not to mention Latin and Sanskrit.

I don't recall our having discussed Eliot's facility with language, which it seems to me to have been quite phenomenal and one of the things that makes his work so incredibly attractive. I know it is gauche on this list to say nice things about Eliot, but there it is. I've done it and I'm very glad.