I agree with Jarrell, mainly. I was fortunate to study Eliot first with X. J. Kennedy, who read us TWL in jazz rhythms and made us memorize poems. So for me it was never an intellectual's crossword puzzle. I have my seniors take voices, and we all read it together: they love it and discover it is alive. Only then do we move on to ways of reading. But the other thing about Jarrell is that the poem really is so far "undersea" and full of anguish. I have often thought of it as Eliot's Hamlet--by his own criteria, something without his notion of the "objective correlative" but powerful and "daemonic." That is why it still matters. and its "meaning" cannot be fixed or absolute, even--or especially--by him.
Unfortunately, I have a sad idea that the Yale lecture is more typical.
On the other hand, all that scholarship becomes a series of new and fascinating layers once one loves the poems. Eliot himself said something like that--that one must read a difficult poem first and just hear and love it; only then does one go back and study. It's in an introduction to David Jones's In Parenthesis, but I am not sure if that is quoted there or the place he says that precise thing. I have done that with IP: It took three readings for me to see it well: once just right through, once taking painstaking notes on 187 pages, and a third time to link those. It is very demanding and so well worth it. It's brilliant.
Nancy>>> Tom Colket <[log in to unmask]>07/22/13 1:41 PM >>>
Nancy, I know that there are many ways to teach Eliot in the classroom, and beginners have to start somewhere. Nonetheless, when I heard the rather obvious and passionless points made in the Yale lectures I was reminded of a passage about Eliot that I've always loved, from Randall Jarrell’s 1962 lecture, "Fifty Years of American Poetry":
Won't the future say to us in helpless astonishment: "But did you actually believe that all those things about objective correlatives, classicism, the tradition, applied to his poetry? Surely you must have seen that he was one of the most subjective and daemonic poets who ever lived, the victim and helpless beneficiary of his own inexorable compulsions, obsessions? From a psychoanalytical point of view he was far and away the most interesting poet of your century. But for you, of course, after the first few years, his poetry existed undersea, thousands of feet below the deluge of exegesis, explication, source listing, scholarship and criticism that overwhelmed it. And yet how bravely and personally it survived, its eyes neither coral nor mother-of-pearl but plainly human, full of human anguish!"
-- Tom --
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2013 11:24:40 -0400
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Yale "open course" lectures on Eliot
To: [log in to unmask]
I think there are two likely reasons for what you note: first, it seems to be an introductory class, so it probably assumes students with little knowledge of the basics; second, Hammer is not a specialist on Eliot--his books are on Hart Crane and other American poets. So he is not an Eliot expert with a graduate seminar. It is no doubt a useful film if one does not know Eliot.
>>> Tom Colket 07/22/13 10:55 AM >>>
While doing some on-line searching, I came across some lectures on Eliot as part of the Yale University "Open Courses," where major colleges and universities make video recordings of actual class lectures available free of charge on the web. I was initially excited to find that there were three 50-minute Eliot lectures, consisting of an introduction, a lecture on Prufrock, and the final one on The Waste Land. Unfortunately, after hearing the lectures, I cannot recommend them to the List. Anyone with even a small amount of Eliot knowledge will, in my opinion, find nothing new or insightful in what this Yale professor has to say for almost three hours.
I'm curious as to how this situation could have come about. How is it possible that a professor at a major university could have so little to offer his students about Eliot?
-- Tom --